April – The Lake and its Moods, The Northern Lights and Wildlife

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.

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Crashing waves at Tettegouche State Park – 4/14/2018
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Massive splash on the cliffs along Lake Superior. Wave height was in the mid teens but splash heights were reaching 100 feet, 150 feet and more in places.
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The ice coated trees take a beating in this little lake side forest at Tettegouche State Park.

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.

 

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Lone tree on Shovel Point – Lake SUperior, MN
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Beachside at Tettegouche State Park
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Clear, Calm, Beautiful
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A view of Shovel Point
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Split Rock Lighthouse
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Kayaking on the calmest of lakes…
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Split Rock Reflections
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Kayakers passing by Split Rock Lighthouse.
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The view from Shovel Point looking towards Palisade Head
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Stack Reflections

April Northern Lights – An All Nighter 

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April Aurora And The Setting Moon – 4/20/2018


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!

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April Wildlife 

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.

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Female spruce grouse – April in Superior National Forest
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Male spruce grouse – Superior National Forest
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Whiskey Jack or Canada Jay – Superior National Forest

 

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Turkey vulture and the nearly full April moon.
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Though I had heard loons the previous week, this was the first one I actually saw close enough to get a photo. Always a fun spring “first”.
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A pair of moose on the run in Cook County.
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And gone, into the woods.
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One would emerge, briefly, and gone again!
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I had a late afternoon encounter with 3 lynx in earlier April. I saw each one alone, about a mile apart from each other. Something tells me this was 3 of the 4 kittens I had been seeing earlier in winter with the mother. Once the mother mates again, the kittens are set off on their own to figure out how to hunt and survive alone. The size and proximity to one another tells me this is the same family, now entering the next phase of their lives as solitary animals.
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A lone lynx prowls for an afternoon meal
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Grouse – Superior National Forest
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Male Spruce Grouse – Superior National Forest

 

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.

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Current conditions on local lakes as of 5/2/2018 – Little ways to go for that Fishing opener! 😉

 

 

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March – Two Full Moons, Some Moose and Florida

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!

March 1st, 2018 Full Moon
March 1st, 2018 Full Moon
March 31st Full Moon Rise
March 31st Full Moon Rise Reflection and Shadows

 

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…

Another moosey month in the area. One of four I spotted earlier in March.
The two moose from the video after getting unstuck from the snowbank.
Moose in the deep stuff!

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.

Male Spruce Grouse
Male Spruce Grouse
Female Spruce grouse getting gravel 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.

Aurora and Snowshoes – March 2018
Aurora and iridium flare from a satellite.
Star trails and northern lights – Sawbill Trail March 2018

 

Aurora 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.

Heron in Cedar Key, FL
Gator at Manatee Springs State Park near Chiefland, FL
Roseate Spoonbill – Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge
Great Horned Owl – Cedar Key, FL
Barred Owl – Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge
Great egret – Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge
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Spoonbills in the rain
Cardinal – Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge
Owl Nap – Cedar Key, FL
The cemetery at Cedar Key
Preening Spoonbills
Cedar Key by Night – Old Fenimore Mill Condos
Great Smokey Mountain Sunset
Smoky Mountain Views

 

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

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.
Tom

Fall 2015 – Leaves, Aurora and Moose, Oh My!

Fall is a great time in the Northwoods. This has been a busy and rewarding season for photography and exploring the woods.  Most of my explorations and photography have shifted inland this year.  I have not been visiting The Lake for sunrise as often as I am most often into the woods by sunrise time.  This has been great for fall colors and moose alike.  Don’t worry Lake Lovers!  I will likely return more often now to Lake Superior as winter approaches and takes hold.  Lake Superior photographs well in winter 🙂 This will be a three-part post highlighting my three favorite things to photograph, all of which happened to happen in the past few months.  Fall colors, the northern lights, and the majestic, Minnesota moose.

This year it seems that our fall color season was long, but not as “spectacular” as past years.  In my observation, color started early in some spots and finished late in others.  This never gave us a really great “peak color” time as the forest was changing at different rates, often in pockets.  I still had some great photography days chasing fall color…

Early color along the Honeymoon Trail. Sept. 23, 2015
Foggy, misty morning along the Honeymoon Trail. Sept. 2015
Six Hundred Road looking beautiful every fall. A fall favorite and fall classic back road drive.
Forest Scene near Tofte, MN.
October and nearly the end of fall color. This was a great scene as the leaves were floating on 8-10 feet of crystal clear Lake Superior water.

If you are an aurora chaser, or one whom enjoys pursuing the northern lights in the night sky, this has been a good fall.  The Great Lakes Aurora Hunters Gathering also took place in October.  We are on the downslope of the peak of a “solar maximum”.  Much like our seasons, the Sun has cycles.  The Sun goes in 11 year cycles with a minimum and maximum.  At solar maximum, sun spots and solar flares are more prevalent.  This means better chances for better aurora, more or less.  The whole year has been good for northern lights, in my opinion.  Things have slowed down here in late October, but early fall was great for night sky fun…

One of the best, although brief, displays of the northern lights that I have witnessed. This was early September and it was a wild sight for about 25 minutes. One to remember. 9/8/2015 near Schroeder, MN
The Schroeder dock and Lake Superior – September 2015.
October lights along the Temperance River outside Tofte, MN.
Another view of the Temperance River reflecting a light aurora glow from above. October, 2015
October was also the annual Great Lakes Aurora Hunters Gathering in Two Harbors, MN. 200 people from 10 states and two countries got together for three days of fun. Fantastic speakers and meals all weekend. The northern lights were not cooperating, so steel wool spinning was the evening’s activity at Gooseberry State Park. This is Jamie Rabold of Willowmaker Images spinning steel wool.
Matt Rohlader spinning steel wool at the annual Great Lakes Aurora Hunters Gathering.
Double spin…
Happy Halloween! Carved up the pumpkin from my mother on a nice, starry, aurora filled night. October, 2015
The International Space Station often becomes visible in the night sky for a few days in a row. I use this site to predict the times. It is always spot on! http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/ ISS and northern lights – October, 2015

And let me tell you about the moose! 🙂 It’s been an exciting couple months when it comes to moosing.  Fall brings all kinds of wildlife activity to Superior National Forest and surrounding woods.  Everyone is preparing for the coming winter in various ways and it seems that the chances of fun, unique wildlife encounters are more common.  In addition to many moose encounters I have seen pine marten, spruce and ruffed grouse, ducks of all kinds, deer, eagles, a northern shrike out hunting in a field, and many more thrilling sightings.  The moose have been my main quarry this fall.  I have run into 8-10 different bull moose, likely 4 different cows and a couple with calves.  There is a cow with a GPS collar that I have not been able to photograph but have seen a couple of times.  The moose numbers are declining in NE Minnesota and there are some “research moose” in the area. (I pictured one below that I saw in Grand Portage)  These collared moose have GPS units that can track the animals habits throughout the seasons.  Important data is collected about seasonal habits and movements and the animals range.  They can also alert researchers if an animal dies.  This can be important so the researchers can get to the body asap to determine the cause of death.  It will be interesting to see the next count.  A January 2015 count showed the population at 3450 animals.  In 2011 the survey showed around 4900 moose and back in 2006 the count showed nearly 9000 animals. I have heard many theory on the subject and have not formulated my own conclusion but am following closely.

Collared moose – Grand Portage, MN

I have had the good fortune of following another big group of moose this fall.  It is rivaling last fall for quality encounters.  I have filmed a lot of video over the past two months and I am working on a project to compile video clips and still images into a nice, short video featuring these moose.  I will keep you posted on that.
Here is a sample of the massive moose I have seen starting with a unique looking bull from Labor Day weekend and taking us through November 1st…

BWCA Bull Moose I spent the better part of a HOT Labor Day Sunday out in a canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The fishing was slow that day but this big bull moose swimming in the lake made up for it.
Nothing like a dip in the lake on a hot afternoon. Labor Day Weekend – BWCA Bull Moose
One of the younger moose. He makes up for it in spirit and spunk. This one was prodding the larger bull on another occasion.
A frosty little beauty…
Cow moose. She had a bull off to the left that I could see. I did not know she also had a calf at her feet. It would later stand up, revealing itself when I got home and saw the photos on screen.
Bull, cow and calf. The calf is well hidden even after standing up. Can you see it? These three were together on multiple mornings.
Field of Cows – Two cow moose snacking in the late afternoon sun. October 2015
Another scene from an early morning wildlife cruise. Two eagles sparring over the high tree. There was a nearby bear carcass the two were feeding on.
I call this one Number Two. While a massive animal, he is a bit smaller than Hoss. He also seems to know his place around the bigger one. Smart animals in this post-rut group. We watched the sunrise together a few times this fall…
One of the smaller bull moose scenting, or just amazed that he can see his breath on this cold October morning…
Bully and Number Two Bully is the scrappy, smaller guy. Never afraid to test the limits of his elders…
Number Two likes to bask his face in the morning sun on these frosty mornings. I have watched him and the bigger bull do this a couple of mornings. Once, the group of four had their backs to me as they all raised their heads to the morning sun coming up over the trees.
Number Two watching over a cow. Her calf is nearby, too.
Four Bull Morning – the group on a frosty October morning.  I was able to watch this gang interact for almost two hours.  Once they ambled off out of range, I left them.  I try not to spook the moose.  If possible, I photograph them and leave them calm, grazing, like I found them.  I hate to see them running or in a panic because of me and that rarely happens.  Watching your step and walking slowly around them is key.
Mother and Child – Cow and calf with frost at first light.
Big Hoss. I have been fortunate with this moose. I have been running into him a lot and have logged a few hours watching him. Lots of video and photos of him with the group and alone. He is a sight to behold, especially in the near dark, early morning hours. I have caught him in photographable light, too.
Hoss watching over a cow and calf.
Another one of the locals. I don’t see this one as often but he sure is a beauty. He had a cow and calf with him for a couple of mornings, but now seems to be gone. I wonder if Big Hoss pushed him out and took over the cow and calf?? The bulls can be solitary animals, so they may be breaking up for winter already. They will often stay grouped up into winter, though.
These next photos are from yet another encounter with Big Hoss. November 1st in the light rain.
Outstanding in his field… 😉
He’s even outstanding in his swamp!
Great Profile – Great Rack
Hold it right there… November Bull

We may have a month or more of fall left here on The Shore, but there have been days that feel like we are turning the corner towards winter.  Before long, the tracks I see will be in the snow, not mud.  The animals will be stark against a white backdrop, if they aren’t hibernating or burrowed in.  The woods will be quiet except for the wind in the pines.  unless they are muffled by a fresh blanket of snow…  The ever changing seasons in The North.  Winter is coming.  11/2/2015 *edited 11/5

Aurora and Rainbows

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We’ve had some great skies in the past week.  Northern Lights last weekend, and rainbows and Lightning this week.  I was able to catch some Rainbow action and about 4 hours with the northern lights along the Sawbill Trail here in Tofte, MN.

I traded in my dial-up internet connection for high-speed broadband, thanks to a county wide initiative to bring broadband to Cook County.  It’s a treat, and I have a lot to learn and catch up on.  Bookmark this page, and I’ll try to keep you updated with photos and notes about my experiences along The Shore.