I’ve got a ton of fall photos to share. It seemed like a long, vivid and memorable fall color season. Early September was showing nice reds and oranges in areas already, giving way to 3 weeks of bright yellow, orange and red autumn change along the Sawtooth Mountains and surrounding woods. October started just as colorful with the yellows along the shore filling in and the blazing yellow tamarack following back in the forest. The October 12-13 snowfall added to the mix and really capped of a great color season. Now, with the leaves all gone and the tamarack starting to fade, we move into the next phase of fall. Another season of change and beauty all it’s own. Below I will share a lot of fall photos I haven’t really posted anywhere. Thanks for taking a look.
I also have 2020 Calendars available for purchase now. I made two different calendars, all with different images. The Up North – Superior Country Calendar is all landscapes of Lake Superior, the surrounding woods and the BWCA. The Superior Wildlife Calendar is all wildlife from the woods of the Arrowhead region. You can take a look at a preview and order at the links or this link below. I appreciate your support. They would make great gifts. Print within 5 days of order and shipping info will be shown when you order. Plenty of time for holiday deliveries. http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/ThomasSpence
And now some more fall color photos from the past month or so…
It’s been a fun summer for wildlife and landscapes in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region. I have spent a lot of time working on the Gunflint Trail and the rest of my time exploring and photographing the rest of Cook County, mostly on the backroads and at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Here is a selection of photos that may or may not have been shared on my social media pages. We still have plenty summer left, so I’ll update and do another post a little closer to fall. Thanks for stopping to take a look. As always, you can browse more photos for viewing and for purchase at my Gallery Site by using this link. Photo Gallery
I have had numerous moose sightings this summer. I think I have already seen more moose this summer than I did all of last summer. This young bull ate in a swampy river area for 30 minutes one cool morning at sunrise as fog moved across the water.
Turtles have been abundant. Early summer, our painted and snapping turtles can be seen along roadsides near lakes, swamps and rivers as they lay their eggs. It is a time to use caution, but it is a great opportunity to see turtles somewhat close. Of course, do not disturb them as they are digging and laying eggs. Give them and all wildlife a respectable amount of space. Pictured here are a couple Snapping turtle shells and an odd, deformed painted turtle. The painted turtle has a condition known as kyphosis. Kyphosis is a condition that causes an abnormal, convex curvature of the spine. It happens in humans as well as turtles. I had never witnessed this condition in our painted turtles.
Working this summer in the mid Gunflint Trail area has provided a few fun wildlife sightings. The early morning commute was good for a handful of great, yet brief moose sightings. This red fox greeted us many mornings at our jobsite on a BWCA entry point lake. Some mornings, it would be sitting in the grass nearby when we arrived.
I have had numerous wolf sightings and encounters this summer as well. They are always pretty shy, but this one cooperated for photos
More moose! This healthy looking cow moose gave me a few minutes of photo opportunities. She looked pretty flighty at first, but she calmed down and allowed me to take a few photos and some video as she chewed on the grass and brush one morning near the edge of the BWCA wilderness.
And a few more summer photos from the past few weeks in the forest. Still plenty of summer left, so I will be back with more in a few weeks. In the meantime, keep following on Facebook and Instagram for more weekly photos from Minnesota’s wildest, most beautiful area. The woods and lakes and shores of Superior National Forest.
The rising moon over Lake Superior is one of, if not the best sights The Lake has to offer. I always try to catch the rising moon over Superior when it is full or near full. While it is spectacular after it has risen high in the sky, shining it’s path on the water of The Lake, it’s the moments it first appears that really grab me. The moon will take on deep orange, red and yellow colors due to atmospheric distortion. It will also distort and waver as we view it through many layers of Earth’s atmosphere. When the moon is high in the sky, we aren’t viewing it through near as many layers as when it is low on the horizon, so it glows a steady white/yellow and the shape is clearly defined. When photographing or viewing from shore level, we are looking at an angle through a lot more atmosphere, so the light of the moon is “filtered” through the atmosphere. I use a phone app called The Photographers Ephemeris to calculate where and when the moon will rise from wherever I am. I use a tripod and a remote shutter release when photographing the moon. This is a series of photos from the recent Full Snow Moon rising from Tofte, Minnesota on the shore of Lake Superior.
February has been a fun month for wildlife, too! The moose have been elusive, but I have had numerous other notable encounters and sightings. Pine marten and lynx have been actively controlling our snowshoe hare population. I have observed a lot of tracks from the marten and lynx. The common denominator has been the presence of snowshoe hare tracks. I think the marten and lynx have been eating well this winter.
Lake Superior Ice
The ice has been fantastic this year on Lake Superior. Though never completely safe, the ice can be fun to explore. Here are a few photos from recent weeks.
Hey friends, I have been asked a lot over the past few years if I make a calendar of my images. This is the first year I have tried my hand at it and they are available now. I have compiled 12 photos, recent and older, that I think capture the essence of the North Shore of Lake Superior, the BWCA and Superior National Forest. Here are just a few of the images in next year’s calendar. You can also click the link or any photo to take you to the ordering page which also will allow you to preview the entire calendar. Just click on “My Calendar” on the order page to get to the screen that allows full preview. http://www.lulu.com/shop/my-calendar/calendar/product-23866689.html
I don’t like to “spam” you all too often for print purchasing or product selling, but since these are time sensitive and once a year, I have been advertising a bit more than usual. I hope that’s OK 😉
These are some of my favorite images from the past year and previous years and I am happy with the selections. I think you all will enjoy them as well. The calendars are full color, gloss, wire spiral bound and 11 x 8.5 inches. They should make great gifts or nice additions to your home or office.
They can remind you of past trips to the North Shore, help you plan your next trip, or just plain make you long for the seasons and sights we hold dear here on The Lake and in the woods of the Arrowhead region. I just wish there were a few more months so I could add more photos for you! Oh well, there’s always next year! You can even cut the calendars up and frame the monthly photos for your home after each month expires.
Thank you all for the orders so far, and thanks in advance for anyone else who orders. This support helps me keep going and helps ensure I’ll be able to keep providing you with weekly photos from the North Shore woods and waters.
Here is the ordering information and a schedule for holiday delivery information. http://www.lulu.com/shop/my-calendar/calendar/product-23866689.html
Calendars are $22.00 plus shipping charges.
Calendars ship within 3 to 5 days of order.
Order by – For Holiday delivery…
The most frequently asked question I get as a photographer is “Where do you find all the moose?” I probably get asked this question at least once a week online and in person. If you have been following me for a while, you know I am pretty guarded and vague about where I find moose in Cook County. It’s not that I don’t want you to find a moose. I do! I just don’t believe it is good for the moose to announce their exact location on the internet to potentially thousands of people. The moose are already in trouble here in Minnesota and the extra pressure and anxiety it could cause them is probably not worth it. The moose population here in Minnesota has been in decline since the mid to late 2000s. In 2006 there was an estimated 8840 moose counted during the winter count. In 2018, 3000 moose.
Parasites like winter ticks and brainworm are two major factors in the decline of the population. Researchers have also seen a lot of wolf killed moose, though many of those moose already had underlying health issues which likely weakened the moose making them an easier target. They say the decline has plateaued, which would be good news, but only time will tell if these magnificent mammals will survive in the woods of Minnesota.
For many years I took for granted that the moose will always roam the woods of Cook County and Superior National Forest. Since news of their decline, I have tried to photograph and observe moose every chance I get. Over the years I have had countless sightings. Some last only seconds, but sometimes I am fortunate to watch the moose for as long as two hours before they move on.
Now, to share with you the information you kept reading for. Where exactly do I see moose in Cook County? The Bay in Tofte
I’ll start with a sighting from way back in the mid 90’s. I used to tend bar at The Bridge, the old upstairs bar at Bluefin Bay in Tofte. One football Sunday, as a packed bar watched the Vikings game on the TV, a customer shouted “There’s a moose out in the bay!!” We all looked in amazement as a bull moose swam across the bay in front of Bluefin. The whole bar emptied as everyone went out by the lake to get a view of the swimming moose. It tried to exit the lake from the bay, but all the onlookers must have scared it off and it continued swimming up the shore. We heard later that the DNR saw the moose exit the lake up shore a ways. That is the only time I have seen a moose in Lake Superior other than at Isle Royale. A pretty unforgettable encounter.
The Highest Moose in Cook County
Encounter two was one of the most memorable. My friend Troy and I decided to take a fall grouse hike up to Eagle Mountain, Minnesota’s highest point, back in the late 90’s. The hike is in the BWCA and passes through some very moosey country on the way to the top. We saw a few grouse on the way, but no moose to speak of on our hike through the woods. Once we got up the final steep climb to the top, we decided to walk over to the plaque which designates the highest point in Minnesota. As we rounded a corner, standing RIGHT THERE in front of the plaque was a beautiful bull moose. We were both frozen in our steps as the moose glanced at us then ran off into the woods. This was long before I had a camera on me at all times, and long before the handy dandy camera-phone, so I have no photos of what was likely a once in a lifetime sighting of the highest moose in Minnesota.
Moose Birth Island – BWCA
Another very memorable moose sighting took place on a spring trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with my friends Jeff and Korey. We had been on a long canoe route through many lakes and portages and were camped on Makwa Lake, deep in the BWCA. As we paddled around fishing, we trolled around a small island on the lake. We rounded the island and saw a cow moose standing alone on the tiny island. She looked agitated and her hair was standing up straight. A few seconds later, a brand new baby moose shakily got up from the ground and stood on its feet. This calf was just born and we were likely witnessing its first steps if not its first time standing. We were lucky to have a camera with and we got a few photos before backing off and leaving them alone. The cow moose will often times swim out to an island to give birth to lessen the chances of predators like bear and wolves getting to their newborn calves. I have since seen two other baby moose take what were likely their first steps. Always give a cow with calf plenty of space. The cow and calf combo can be one of the most dangerous wildlife situations you’ll encounter in our forest. Respect their size and never underestimate their speed and instinct to protect their young.
Fore!! – Or one at least
Another 90’s encounter happened on Superior National Golf Course and was another time that I had no camera. The golf course in Lutsen has historically had numerous moose sightings. The proximity of the golf course to Superior National Forest lends itself to many wildlife sightings, though maybe not as many as in the past with all the new development. That being said, I heard of at least one moose sighting at Superior National as recent as this past spring. A real hole in one if you are there at the right time!
County Line Moose
Seeing moose on Highway 61 used to be pretty commonplace. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have seen the massive beasts on the highway. Those instances are getting more and more rare as their population declines in Minnesota. That being said, I still see about one per year on highway 61. In the early 2000s, I encountered one standing directly on the County line down near Caribou River. Had I been carrying a camera at the time, I could have gotten a photo of the moose and the Cook County sign. Another reason to always have a camera ready to go!!
City Moose in Grand Marais
In 2009 I was on a curling team in Grand Marais. It’s a fun way to keep active and somewhat warm during our long winter months. Upon leaving the curling club one January night, I saw a large, dark shadow moving down one of the residential streets. My first though was that it was a large deer. It seemed to be huge so I drove down the street I saw it on. As I rounded a corner to try to find out where it went, a HUGE dark spot in someones front yard caught my attention. To my surprise and amazement, it was a moose! This was the first and only moose I have seen in the Grand Marais city limits, though I am told it was not that uncommon “back in the day”. These days, the Grand Marais water tower or Murray are likely the only moose you’ll see in town.
The last location, and a fun one for sure, was just this past spring. You can even pinpoint the EXACT location by the photos if you know the area 🙂 One morning this spring I was alerted by a friend that there were two moose in the Tofte Town Park. I grabbed my camera and headed to the park hoping to catch a glimpse. I hung around the park area for half hour before deciding I had missed them. I figured they had moved on across the highway and back into the woods. As I waited to turn onto Highway 61 from the Tofte Park Road, I saw them appear out of the small patch of woods between the park and the highway. There was a fair amount of traffic, and everyone stopped to watch the two moose as they cautiously crossed the busy highway. Pretty fun to see them in town, especially after spending hours deep in the forest hoping to see one. This was a fun encounter.
So, as promised, I have given you plenty of information to find a moose on your next Cook County/North Shore adventure. The map below will be your key. Take a pen and trace on the map from point to point to point until you have all the locations connected. It doesn’t matter which point you start or end with. Once the points are all connected, you will have an outline or a crisscross pattern of lines. If you have an oblong outline, you should be looking anywhere inside the outlined area. If you have a crisscrossed pattern of lines, you should be searching anywhere along those lines. I hope this was helpful in your search 🙂 I don’t often give out this valuable information. If I have any notable sightings, I may add them to the map. Let me know how your fall moose safari turns out and keep following my photo pages for the latest Minnesota moose sightings!
I hope you aren’t too disappointed as this was a pretty tongue in cheek post with pretty rare sighting locations. But keep in mind, a moose can happen just about anywhere in Cook County. Be ready!
May 2018 – in a few photos…
In May we saw a lot of changes and it seemed like we had all four seasons crammed into the month. Ice went off local lakes during the first week of May. It’s been great to back on the water in the canoe and boat. The open water brought loons, loons, loons! I am seeing a lot of loons including a nesting pair. Hoping to encounter babies soon. We also had some very warm weather for May. some mid 80s and a lot of 70 degree days. The Spring green-up has also been a welcome sight. The woods have come alive with buds, birds and flowers in the forest. We had some nice northern lights last month, too. Always a pleasure to be outside at night under our dark night skies in just a sweatshirt again. I saw a handful of moose in May, but not a lot of photo opportunities. June has already been better for moose 🙂 I am seeing a ton of tracks and occasional moose now. Cow moose had their babies at the end of May and are being seen in the woods of Superior National Forest. I hope to have some calf photos for next months post! So here are some photos from May, one of my favorite months on The North Shore.
May is an incredible month with the changes we see in the North. I always hate to see it go. Now, we move into the busy and buggy season! The black flies and mosquitoes are now here, waiting if you dare. The fishing is heating up a bit and the wildlife sightings are more frequent now so look for more wildlife in next months post. I have a few little local trips planned so I hope to have some nice photos to share. As always, thanks for following. If you are interested in prints or more photos, please check these links. Summer officially begins in two weeks! See you soon. https://thomasjspenceimages.smugmug.com/ https://www.facebook.com/ThomasjSpenceImages/ https://www.instagram.com/toftetom/
From Crazy to Calm – Lake Superior April weather really covered all the bases this year. We had snow, cold, warm, rain, wind and gorgeous. The big April Gale on the 14th and 15th was a highlight for sure. The northeast winds brought massive waves crashing along the shore. some of the best places to watch a northeast gale are in the Split Rock and Tettegouche areas. The cliffs in the area can make for dramatic scenes from the waves crashing and rebounding off the cliff faces. Even a smaller gale can be impressive against these walls. This particular gale wasn’t accompanied by much precipitation which made for a fun day of photographing the waves. Often times, these gales come with heavy rain or snow which can hinder photographing them a bit.
The calm clear views from Tettegouche State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park one week after the gales…
Earth Day was a picture perfect day to be outside in our State Parks. I made it a point to hit three in my travels that day. The calm, clear day was a huge contrast to the chaos of the previous week. Keep a circular polarizing filter in your camera bag. They are great for days like these. They can help you see into the water even more by removing some glare. They will also help create more contrast between blue sky and white clouds. A valuable tool to use in many photography conditions.
April Northern Lights – An All Nighter
The night and morning hours on April 19th and 20th produced a rather remarkable northern lights display. What started out as a faint glow for almost two hours, erupted into shimmering sheets and dancing waves of aurora which lasted until morning light. I put in a 4 1/2 hour shift of sky watching and photographing the lights. The slideshow shows you the progression, in a way, from around 10:00 PM CST on April 19th until around 1:00AM on April 20th. When the lights are strong, I have a pretty good view of the dark, northern skies from home. I spent another hour or two watching from the deck and even out the windows.
While there is no way to truely predict a good aurora display, you can do a few things to help alert you. Space Weather dot com is a great resource which can alert you via email when solar activity may cause aurora. They have a great photo gallery and information on all things space and sky related. Another resource are regional aurora “hunter” groups. These groups are full of entusiasts who will report in real time when the aurora are visible in your area. Great Lakes Aurora Hunters is a good one for my area. As far as viewing in Cook County, one needs to know that viewing with the naked eye and photographing the aurora can be two entirely different experiences. I won’t go into detail in this post, but our cameras see in the dark much, much better than we do, to make it short. So for viewing, you’ll want to get over the hills and into the darkest areas, away from towns, resorts, cabin lights. The overlook just past the Britton Peak parking area on the Sawbill Trail, just a few miles off highway 61 is a fantastic place to watch from a car or lawn chair. It has the best, widest northern view you can drive to that I know of. If you aren’t in Tofte, go up one of the “trails”, Gunflint, Caribou, Arrowhead, Cramer Road, and find a north facing lake, boat landing or hillside. Our dark skies won’t disappoint during a northern lights storm. For photography, I like to find a river, lake, or other point of interest for foreground attention and a sense of place or location. The scene becomes more important to convey the feeling, maybe, moreso than seeing the entire sky and display. If you have never seen the northern lights, and are not interested in taking photos, you’ll want to just stay put once you find a big, wide northern view. Hope this helps you see the aurora someday on the North Shore!
It was a good month in the woods for wildlife. From grouse to lynx to moose and loons!
Spruce grouse could be found most mornings pecking for roadside gravel. I have heard some drumming this spring, but not much. Moose sightings were few. I did manage to snap a few recent photos though. Two very healthy looking moose together at the end of the month.
Last year at this time we had already been on the lakes for almost two weeks. Now, we are still waiting for the thaw. The lakes still have a foot or more of ice on them in some areas. Recent warmer weather is helping to speed things along and I think we will see open lakes in the coming days. Fishing opener is near and I hope you’ll tune in again for all things May in my next post. Please subscribe so you’ll be notified when I post again.
March 2018 was a fun, quick month in my world. This post will cover the month I had in photos. From two full moons, to moose, grouse and a lot of Florida birds, I hope you enjoy these photos and notes on the month of March. We still have a lot of snow and ice in the Northwoods and it still feels like winter here, though we shifted to “spring” on the calendar!
I had a few moose encounters early this month. We still had a lot of snow in the woods, and one moose had stepped into the “deep stuff” on the roadside and got itself into a bit of trouble. It was stuck to it’s shoulders in the snow. I can happily report the moose and it’s partner both safelyu made it into the woods that morning. Video below…
Spruce Grouse were plentiful in the early morning hours this month. I had numerous encounters with them as they pecked gravel on the roadsides in the morning sun.
We did have some aurora activity in the month of March! Here are a few photos from earlyh March along the Sawbill Trail near Tofte, MN.
Florida and Smoky Mountains
March has historically been a time to get away for me. Below are a collection of photos from a roadtrip to Florida including a stop at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cedar Key, Florida, on the Gulf Coast was my destination, but other stops included Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, Manatee Springs State Park, Shell Mound Archaeological Site, Smoky Mountains, Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge to name a few.
It was great to get away from winter for a while, but it is always nice to be back on The Shore, near The Lake. April should bring us some warmer weather and the hopes of open waters on the inland lakes for paddling and exploring. Melt and break-up are on their way. Stay tuned for notes on April next month.
Here is a collection of photos and notes on February in the woods and along the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. As some of you know, things began a bit exciting for me this month with a rare encounter with 5 Canada lynx. In the weeks following, I was fortunate enough to spend well over 2 hours with these cats during multiple encounters. It’s my opinion/observation that the family has moved on to a different area. I haven’t seen signs in a while. The mother has likely moved on to mate and left the kittens to fend for themselves. After watching them hunt on a few occasions, I think they will do fine. I’ll talk a little more about that in this post. There is also a fun video of the lynx family if you find the link at the end of this post. I’ll try to keep you posted on the conditions and activity in our neck of the woods each month and A few winter or seasonal photography tips will be added as well. Please subscribe so you get a notification when I update! Otherwise you’ll miss out on most of my photos each month. February was full of Ice, moose, lynx, wolves, pine marten, snowshoe hare, snow, cold and a few unforgettable experiences.
Winter can be tough on you and your camera gear. There are a few precautions you can take and some tips that can help you on your February, winter excursions. Most modern DSLR gear can take fairly extreme conditions and still function, but there are things you can do to prolong and enhance your experience. Here are three big ones which will help you get into, and out of the cold… Acclimate Your Gear – From your house to your vehicle, vehicle to your location, back into your vehicle, and back into your house, your camera gear can experience a lot of extreme temperature differences. Quickly going from one to the other extreme can cause unwanted condensation in and on your camera. The key is to acclimate slowly which can take hours. . You’ll also very likely want to look at those images on your SD card right away! Your camera body and lens are cold after a day of February shooting. Very cold. Bringing it into your 70 degree house or cabin has to be done slowly. Before you put your camera away, remove your SD card while outside so you can review your photos sooner, if that suits you. Then, seal your camera either in a plastic, zip-lock style bag, or in your camera bag if it seals up decent enough. Leave it alone to acclimate for a few hours before opening your bag. I also keep some silica packets in the camera bag to help with any condensation issues. When you can, bag your gear and try to keep it from going through those extremes. It can be a challenge in winter, but it’s worth paying attention to. Batteries, Batteries, Batteries – You really can’t have enough fully charged camera batteries in winter. The cold can drain batteries in a hurry and you have to be prepared. I usually have 3 or 4 on hand. Try to keep them in a pocket in an inner layer, closer to your body to keep them warm. This can also prolong your battery life. Nothing can end a photo session faster than dead batteries, and winter is notorious for causing quick drainage. You can use the cheaper, off brand batteries, but I have had the best luck with my camera’s brand name Canon batteries. Gloves/Keeping Your Hands Warm – This can be a tricky one as everyone is different in the way they handle winter temperatures, especially when it comes to fingers and hands. My best advice, and what works for me, is layers. I have a two/three layer system, depending on the conditions. You’ll need something you can control your camera settings with, so a glove is essential for a base layer. I often use a cheap, knit work glove that is comfortable to me. My other glove is a Fjallraven Forest Glove which is warm and comfortable on most days. When it gets very, very cold, I use a lorge, gauntlet style mitt over the gloves. I use a 20+ year old pair of Granite Gear Lutsen Mountain Mitts. I don’t think they are made anymore, but they have truly stood the test of time, and use. A lorge, gauntlet or chopper style mitt which can fit over a glove will do.
Those are just a few of the many survival tips you’ll need in winter months to explore the snowy, icy, frigid, rocky, unforgiving landscape and conditions along the North Shore.
More photo fun from February…
Sunbursts can be fun with a dslr camera and I really like them in certain winter scenes. Here are a few tips on how to make the sun burst out in rays…
Sunbursts are fun and rather easy to do. You need to use a small aperture on a dslr. Anything around f/11 and up will work but the smaller the aperture the sharper the rays. I usually use f/18, f/20 or f/22. You want to partially block part of the sun with something, in this case, some of the branches of the tree. You can use a building, tree, person, the horizon, clouds etc. The number of rays coming off the sun is due to the number of diaphragm blades in my camera lens. The lens I am using has 9 blades and produces 2x as many rays, so there are 18 rays. I believe if the lens has an even number of blades, say 6, you get that many rays, 6. Odd number of blades it doubles. It can be a fun thing to experiment with in different situations.
And now for some more February, winter wildlife…
February was full with many different sightings in all areas of our forest and shore. Owls, lynx, marten, moose, snowshoe hare, and even two very brief fisher sightings. I have yet to photograph a fisher. They are much larger and much more elusive than our pine marten. I saw a lot of marten and caught one hunting a snowshoe hare one morning. Fun photos below… The resident red fox made a few appearances as did the occasional roughed and spruce grouse. I’ll let the photo captions do the talking about the many reasons to enjoy February in the North Shore Woods.