A little collection of feathered visitors during spring bird migration on the North Shore of Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota.
After a long, cold, snowy winter, we have finally turned the corner along the North Shore of Lake Superior and in the woods of Superior National Forest in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota. The lakes have only recently opened up from their frozen, icy, winter covering. The rivers raged with historic, record breaking levels along the North Shore as the snow-pack and spring melt moved downstream. You can still find some snow in the shadows of the woods, but for the most part, signs point to spring. The cow moose are currently giving birth to this years calves and the bull moose are just starting to sprout their velvet covered antlers. Bears are awake and on the hunt for this years crop of nuts and berries and the deer seem to be moving into the woods, away from the shore. All good signs. All welcome signs. For me, one of the most reliable signs that spring may truly be here is the arrival of the variety of spring birds to the area. Weather it’s at the feeders in my yard, along the shores of Lake Superior, deep in the woods of Superior National Forest or just along Highway 61, there are always signs of the arrival of a new season if you are watching closely. You can almost predict who is going to show up and when.
Here’s a collection of feathered spring arrivals to the North Shore woods, along Lake Superior and in my yard the past few weeks. Keep your binoculars and bird books handy on your next spring visit. You never know what you’ll see flitting around in the trees this time of year.
Warblers are a nice arrival in late April and May in our area. The yellow-rumped is one of the earliest. It’s always nice to see those little flashes of yellow that give them away. Here are just a few that I have seen so far this spring. I’ll include a few of the strikingly beautiful, black-throated blue warbler that graced me with it’s presence in my own yard. Prints available of these and many others at this link. Thanks for your support! https://thomasjspenceimages.smugmug.com/2022/
You can’t imagine the thrill… I was on my deck photographing a red-headed woodpecker that has been hanging around. I had ok light and it was eating worms in my yard, so I was standing still on my deck waiting with my camera in hand and ready. From the corner of my eye, a small bird landed. In a flash, I went through the ID process in my mind. Chickadee? No. Nuthatch? No. Warbler?!?! Yes. It stood on my deck for a second, flew to a branch for a second, landed on my railing for a second and landed on a planter for a second. It was a great yard bird to have visit and I’m glad I was ready! You can click on these to open the gallery.
Here are a few more interesting and notable visitors to the area including a new one for me here, a yellow-headed blackbird.
Another surprise, entertaining visitor this spring has been a red-headed woodpecker. I can’t recall having one in my yard, and this one seems to have all it needs here. I mostly observe it eating worms off the lawn. It eats, then rests for 20 minutes, then eats another worm. Not a bad day, really. It’s been a welcome addition to the array of feathered friends in the yard. https://thomasjspenceimages.smugmug.com/2022/
Lastly, I had a fantastic close encounter with a scarlet tanager deep in the woods of Superior National Forest. I usually see one of these birds at home near a feeder during migration, but I hadn’t had one yet. On a drive looking for moose and other critters, I spotted an orange/red dot along a gravel road. Upon inspection I was shocked to see a scarlet tanager just hopping and flittering along the road. I thought it was injured, but it was hunting some kind of bugs and having great success! It may have been off course, but is was getting all it needed, it appears.
Thank you for reading along and taking a look at some spring birding photos. Please take a look at my online catalogs and consider a print purchase if you see anything you like. Stay tuned and subscribe to this newsletter. I’ll do a recap of photos from my early spring trip to Utah and the southwest in my next post. Happy Spring everyone! Tom https://thomasjspenceimages.smugmug.com/
A collection of winter photos from Superior National Forest and Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota – 2022
It’s the last official day of winter. Spring begins tomorrow, and a lot of us are probably ready for it! Here’s a collection of photos from the past few winter months. There are some dog sledding photos, a lot of grouse, some lynx, a moose and some other random, scenic winter wonders. I hope you enjoy.
This winter, we got some ice. It never really stayed long enough up here in our neck of the lake, but we did have some great ice piles and ice sheets breaking up and moving.
Grouse are probably the most abundant wildlife species I find in the winter months. The moose tend to move a lot less, and therefore, I rarely spot one. The grouse seem to be plentiful, especially the spruce grouse. Here’s a fun collection from this winter.
The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is always a winter highlight along the North Shore. The race takes dog teams from Duluth, MN through the forests along the Lake Superior Shoreline inland, almost to the Canadian Border and to the finish in Grand Portage, MN. Here is a small collection from the race at the end of January.
The backroads are always a treat in the winter months. We really had a LOT of snow piled up by the end of February. It was a TRUE Minnesota winter.
Happy Spring, everyone! As much as i like the beauty and variety our winters bring, this has been a long one and I’m ready for the greens of spring and summer. Thank you for taking a look at this winter collection. Tom
I hope everyone is having a fantastic fall season. We have finally been hit with rain off and on for a few weeks. It’s been a much needed reprieve from the dry summer. Fire bans are off, the BWCA and surrounding areas are open, and foggy and rainy has been the norm for a bit lately. The rains seemed to save the fall color season to some extent. September was gorgeous and the yellows of October are here, including the glowing tamarack trees deeper in the forest. It’s also been a moosey fall season! Ill share a few encounters as well as some fall photos in this post. I’ll also share a couple video links and a link to buy my 2022 Wildlife Calendar. I always appreciate the support!
So, here’s a fun phenomenon I encountered this fall. Have you ever seen a FOGBOW on Lake Superior?? It’s formed much like a rainbow, but in the fog, usually quite low to the water and when the fog is burning off or fading in the mid day sun(here on the North Shore, anyway). The tiny droplets that make up fog are the cause of the lack of color in the fogbow. You can faintly see color at the top and bottom of the bow, sometimes. Here’s a YouTube video minute of one.
I have had some fun moose encounters over the past couple months. In one instance, I came across a scene in a road where there was an obvious bull moose fight. In addition to the dirt road being torn up with hoof prints, digging and sliding, there was also a brand new, busted off antler! It must have been one hell of a fight and I JUST missed it. I also have bumped into one MASSIVE bull moose this fall. I will include photos and video below. Thanks for taking a look, and thank you for your calendar orders! Links are above.
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/