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.
I hadn’t had a good moose sighting in quite some time. A couple quick, blurred flashes of black in the distance, but nothing identifiable or photographable. Late February was better though! Here are some photos of a nice, healthy looking yearling bull moose. He and I had a nice standoff and photoshoot before he took off into the newly fallen snow, deeper into the woods. The bull moose will shed their antlers anytime between November and March. Larger, older male moose have likely lost their antlers by early and mid winter, but the youngest moose can hold them into February and March. This was the latest I had personally seen a moose with headgear. February 23rd, 2018. At first, I thought the rack was bigger but it turned out to be it’s ear I was seeing! This is a yearling bull moose and I hope to run into him when he’s older.
Yearling bull holding antlers in late February – Minnesota
Then there was the cow moose… When I saw her, she was standing still with hair raised. She did not stick around long and I was pretty far off in the distance. She ran within seconds of me stopping, running through the deep, new snow. First tracks. I thought she would reappear on the other side of the clearing, so I waited. She looked to be pregnant, and hopefully with twins! She would be about five of eight months along right now. Usually they give birth in May to one, two, and even three!!! calves at times. About 15 minutes passed when I saw motion in the woods near where the cow went in. She had company, and who knows how long they were on here tail. Hope she is still out there fighting the good fight. Here are a few photos I got right at sunset. night was falling and the wolves didn’t look like they were in a big hurry. Mama was healthy looking.
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We don’t often see the Canada lynx in our woods, so we tend to cherish the brief glimpses we get. I’ll share a few of those brief glimpses I have had in recent months and a full set of photos from a recent, unbelievable lynx encounter with a family of five. I’ll also add a few comments that could help you prolong and enrich your photo excursions into the woods if you encounter wildlife from your vehicle.
The population of lynx in our forest tends to fluctuate with the population of the snowshoe hare, the primary food source for the lynx. Hare seem to be plentiful in the woods this winter. Lynx will also dine on grouse and other small critters like mice and squirrel. I have been seeing a lot of grouse and hare in recent months and my lynx sightings have increased this winter for sure. I have had many fun grouse photos this year. The hare photos below are from last year.
Ruffed Grouse all puffed up on a cold afternoon.
Spruce Grouse in January
Snowshoe hare – Look at those shoes!
Hare in the snow
You really never know when a great wildlife sighting will occur. This past summer I had a very close, brief encounter with a lynx at a boat landing. I had just finished canoeing on a remote, inland lake and was tying the canoe onto the truck. I came around the back to sit on the tailgate for a minute and as I rounded the back of the truck, a Canada lynx walked right by the back of the truck and past me. It was within 10 feet of the truck. It walked slowly by and looked at me like I wasn’t even there. I rushed to grab a camera and was able to snap a couple quick shots before it disappeared into the woods. Although my camera was in the truck, it was ready to go with a long lens for wildlife and settings for the light of day. I always keep the long lens on my camera when I am driving hiking, canoeing. If I want to shoot landscapes, and wide angle, I can always switch lenses for that. You won’t have the time to change to your long lens if a moose or a lynx walks out of the woods, most of the time.
I don’t know a lot about the lynx, as I just don’t see them a lot and they aren’t always on my radar. I am learning more this winter and with this recent experience, though. I have had a couple encounters this winter just prior to the family group. Below is a recent lynx photo shot from waaaaaaayyyy down the road. I could have tried driving up closer to take shots, but that rarely works out with wildlife. Slowly pull over and shut off your vehicle whenever possible. I tend to assess the situation quickly to determine if my subject is about to run, or if they are going to be comfortable enough for a photo shoot. Sometimes you get close, and sometimes you just have to take the long, landscape type shot.
Often times, if you are lucky enough to see one cross a road in a flash, they will lurk in the woods not too far off the road and offer you a quick glimpse through the trees. While they avoid us when they can, they seem to be curious like any cat and not necessarily threatened by us. Another step you can take to prolong a wildlife experience is to stay still and don’t wander too far from your vehicle. The animal may already be nervous about the car, now with a couple people out milling about in the road you tend to look like a pack of predators. Sometimes the wildlife won’t seem to mind our presence, but more often than not, they do.
On the morning of February 3rd, a very cold, sub-zero morning, I headed out to look for grouse and a possible moose to photograph. I had been seeing moose tracks in a few different areas in recent days and weeks. I had an uneventful morning and was retracing my drive after turning around and heading back home. As I rounded a corner I had just driven by minutes ago, I saw a solitary wildcat in the middle of the road.
I was able to pull off and shut the truck off without scaring the cat off. I was amazed. It was immediately evident that it wasn’t put out by my presence. It was locked on the woods and sat down in the middle of the road as I planted myself in a snowbank just in front of my truck. I was certain this forest feline was honed in on a hare. I waited for the action. To my surprise and amazement, a second cat came over the snowbank and onto the road to join the other lynx.
The two lynx interacted for a bit. It was obvious that there was a size difference and there was a difference in attitude in the two as well. The second was more playful, curious and energetic, it seemed. The larger cat still seemed intent on the woods. Never really moving much and paying me little attention. The smaller cat was a bit unsure of me at times.
I knew the opportunity could end any second, and I didn’t have a lot of light to work with, but the subjects were cooperating so well! I couldn’t believe it! I boosted the ISO a little and tried to remain still while I took pictures. The two at one point locked on to something in the woods and stared for a few seconds. I thought about switching to video, but the tripod was in the truck and I knew with the long lens it would be shaky at best. My cell phone was in the truck charging or it would have made great video.
With the camera to my eye, aimed at the pair, I notice movement and realize there are more cats entering the road from the woods. I took a few photos and lowered the camera and watched, amazed.
Right away I noticed the difference in size between the first lynx and the three who joined. The three were smaller than the first and similar in size to each other. The four cats nuzzled, cuddled and circled with the larger cat. At this point i’m thinking it’s a family unit, but know so little about them. They seemed to check in with and not stray far from the larger, adult cat when in the road. They stayed in a tight group together.
The four cats milled about, circled, checked me out a bit. It seems like they were curious, but also attentive to all directions around them. When they grouped up in the road, in the open, they got in a pile and were all looking in different directions it seemed. 360 view. Maybe I am imagining that, but when I look at the photos it looks like that is what they were doing. Maybe the fact that they were in an open clearing(roadway) and my presence triggered an instinct they have as a family unit? Huddle together to look larger and watch in all directions while we are exposed in the open. Anyway, that’s what I observed.
As I was photographing and watching the group of four another animal appears!! Number 5 enters the scene and explains what the others were still looking at in the woods. Looking for their other sibling. It’s now fairly certain this is a mother and 4 kittens nearing a year old. I have since learned that this is the time of year that the lynx will mate. At that time, almost year old kittens will go out on their own, away from mother. It’s known that a mother lynx will have up to 6 or so kittens and will teach them to hunt and nurture them for their first 9 months or so. It’s great to see that 4 healthy looking lynx have made it almost through their first winter and are strong and smart enough to be on their own. Here are some of the shots of the group of 5 Canada lynx.
Whenever I can I get out of the vehicle for roadside wildlife photography, especially in winter. The heat from the truck can cause blurry waves as it hits the cold outside air and can make photos difficult. Also any vibrations can cause problems. If you have to shoot from a vehicle in winter, try to keep the heat down and open other windows to balance the temperature when shooting. That will reduce heat blur. Some will use a beanbag type setup on their window or door for comfort and balance. I find it too constricting and tough to make a good composition from a car, so I avoid it at all costs. I’m not sure I could have captured this encounter as thoroughly from the truck window. It always just feels better to be out there, too. I often snowshoe or hike to look for wildlife in winter, but some 20 below mornings are better suited for a drive 😉
When the group of lynx had enough of my gawking, they all got up at once, in unison, and headed up the road together in a little pack. Their movements in that group, and as they stood up, and as they marched down the road looked like a polished, practiced routine they have played out many times. This looked to be a strong, healthy, and I like to think happy family group. I hope you’ve enjoyed this encounter and maybe learned a thing or two. I am using this experience to learn more about this mysterious mammal we have roaming, and I like to think playing, in the woods of Minnesota.
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One of the most sought after experiences for visitors to the North Shore is to see the aurora borealis, or northern lights. We have great, dark skies Up North and often see them through out the year. My first experience with them was over 20 years ago, shortly after moving to Tofte Minnesota. I’ll include some tips for viewing and photographing them as well as some photos to try to explain the differences between the photos you see and what your eyes may see without a camera. I’ll keep it pretty simple as I am still learning about the science of it all myself.
One of the comments I get a lot is “We saw the northern lights last night too, near where you were taking photos, and they sure didn’t look like your photos, what gives?” The easy answer is that a camera has much, much better night vision than the human eye. Our eyes can see a wide range of colors in the light of day as the cones in our eyes do the work. At night, the rods are doing the work and they tend to see fainter light in dull, muted shades, for the most part. The powerful ISO’s in these cameras and longer exposures used for night photography really bring out the colors that are happening at the high altitudes that the lights are forming in. Below I will post two photos from the recent aurora event. The first will be what the camera captured and showed after I processed the RAW file in Adobe Lightroom. The second one I processed in a way that is more consistant with what I was seeing with my eyes and what a tyical viewer would see.
Now, that’s not to say the naked eye can’t see color in an aurora display. We can, and do. I have been lucky enough, and out often enough to see some surreal, colorful, mindblowing displays. Reds, purples, greens and even yellows, all with the naked eye. It can greatly depend on the strength of the display and how dark your skies are. One of the best, most dramatic displays I have seen was long before I was photographing them and they were multi colored and fantastic. A group of friends and I were dining at the Gunflint Lodge one fall night in 1995 when the waiter came and asked if we’d like to finish our drinks out on the dock to watch the northern lights. The whole restaurant cleared out and onto the shores of Gunflint Lake and we were all treated to one of the best diplays I have witnessed to date.
It’s very possible you have seen some faint northern lights without even knowing what you were seeing. Often times they can appear as a greyish/white, dull glow in the sky. The untrained may mistake them for clouds or a fog of some kind.
The wide variety of colors you see in photos and with the eye during a strong event is another area of the science that I am still learning. In short, it depends on the electrical state of different atmospheric gasses. Charged particles in the solar winds interact with the atmospheric gasses and these interactions create different wavelengths of light, and different colors. Oxygen and nitrogen are the two main gasses and are resposible for different colors depending on their electrical state. This is a very crude explanation as I am no expert!
Here are a few photos showing a range of colors possible.
It is always fun to look at the back of the camera when photographing aurora to see what shows up that the naked eye isn’t seeing.
Another question I am getting a lot is “When, where and how often can we see the lights?”
I have seen northern lights during all four of our seasons. Personally, I have no “best” season for viewing. The winter months are great because the nights are so long and dark. I have seen aurora displays at 5PM on winter nights all the way to the morning hours. Summer is nice because it can be a lot more tolerable weather-wise to be out at night. When I think of my top 4-5 displays I have seen, they span the four seasons. Last fall and 1995 were a couple of the best I have seen. A cold, winter night on Deeryard Lake in Lutsen, many years ago was another top display. Last summer in June we had possibly the best I have witnessed. There is an eleven year solar cycle which contains a “solar maximum” and “solar minimum” which has to do with sunspots and frequency of sun events that can cause northern lights. I believe we hit the max a couple years ago and are on the downslope. We are still getting and will still get displays though. More science I need to read up on…
If you are not into the science of it yourself, you can increase your odds of seeing them by simply watching certain websites or by installing an app on your phone to notify you if there is activity expected. I look at Spaceweather.com weekly and have an Aurora Notifier app on my phone. I also peruse a couple websites and Facebook pages that have enthusiasts as members who can decipher all the data and predict the lights quite well. The best rescource I have is a Facebook group called the Great Lakes Aurora Hunters. If there is a sun event, you will hear about it there. If there is a chance for aurora in the coming days, you will hear about it there. If there are lights happening anywhere in our region, you will see real-time reports.
As far as North Shore locations for viewing the lights, here are a few tips. I’ll base this on the typical viewer and not a photographer’s point of view.
Your best bet during a standard show would be to head inland, somewhere up over the Sawtooth Mountains. I like to head to one of the many lakes in the area. You can do a quick Google Map search for the area you may be vacationing in. Find a lake or open area with a nice view to the North. Boat landings are a good start. The lights can be in all directions at times, but a smaller display may be best viewed looking north. If you are on Lake Superior and can’t get inland, you’ll still want to find a nice point of land that sticks out a bit affording you a view north. Some of the best places to go would be the Gunflint, Caribou and Sawbill trails for inland viewing. On a good night, the Grand Marais harbor can give you a view in the right direction if you get out towards the breakwall. As you go west/southwest on 61, the Sawtooth Range gets in the way a bit so you’ll have to find a point of shore that sticks out a bit and orients you northish.
Time of night is a tough call. Not everyone can pull an “all nighter” and wait for it to happen. Occasionally I have seen them go from sunset to sunrise, but that isn’t always the case. I like to tell people to head out shortly after sunset when the skies first get dark. Give it a chance and wait a couple hours if you aren’t seeing anything. If you can’t stay out, set an alarm for after midnight and go take another look. Things can change fast.
I’ll leave you with a few more tips and a checklist for heading out to view the lights…
If you are able, plan your hunt around the moon cycle. The less moon the better for viewing, although the above photo was taken in near full moonlight during an epic aurora event. The darker the better, typically though.
Bring a group! It’s always more fun and can fight the boredom of waiting if you are with friends.
Look for other night sky landmarks and phenomenon while out hunting. Milky Way, meteors, International Space Station. Our night skies are quite amazing.
Chairs and blankets
Telescope for star gazing
Headlamps and flashlights for getting around
Star chart for identifing constelations and stars
Full tank of gas
Hot chocolate, coffee or other beverage
And most of all – Patience!
I hope this helps you find and experience the amazing aurora borealis on your next trip North. Feel free to send me any other questions you may have and I’ll do my best to answer. Next blog post will be tips for finding another sought after north shore treasure, the moose!! Stay tuned and Thank you!
More and more signs of spring are appearing daily in the northwoods. We have had some great spring weather and the rivers are free from winters icy grip and flowing free to Lake Superior. The inland lakes are still melting and we have had recent rain. The waterfalls are fantastic right now for spring viewing! The woods are almost free of snow in our area, though some pockets of good snow cover still exist in some areas. Just over a week ago I saw minus 17 one morning… The coming of spring has brought out the wildlife in force, too. In the past month I have seen many grouse, both roughed and spruce. Pine marten and fisher, a few of both. The robins, flickers, geese and ducks are all back on the roadways and open waters. Signs of wolves on the roads have also been observed. I had one brief sighting and i’ll include a photo below. And the moose! The moose seem to have reappeared after being fairly scarce the past few winter months. Nice to see things coming “alive” in the forest.
Things will be greening up soon, flowers blooming, boats on the lakes, fish on the stringer and before we know it, we’ll be cooling our way into fall, wondering where spring and summer went. Get out often and enjoy the seasons as they come and go.
Here are photos from the past few weeks as winter let go…
Thank you all for taking a look at some spring scenes from the past couple weeks. I’ll update y’all next month. In the meantime, you can find weekly photos on Facebook and prints and other photos to view HERE. Take care, and Happy Spring!
Happy New Year, friends! I thought I’d share some recent photos from the past week or so. Winter has been slowly trying to arrive in the Northland. Inland there is plenty of snow for skiing and some snowmobiling and the ski hill at Lutsen is open with a brand new gondola servicing Moose Mountain. The lakes are frozen, though not where they should be for this time of year. It was 33 degrees this morning by the shore and rain/snow mix all day. It does not feel like January! I have had some oportunity to capture some fun scenes and photos that I haven’t shared on Facebook so here are some recent ones. Hope everyone is having a great start to the New Year.
These first photos were taken on New Year’s Eve Day at a jobsite I have been working at. The shore was coated with spray from big waves when the temps were colder and the winds were right. Amazing ice…
New Year’s Eve was pretty great too. After an early NYE party with family, I planned to go see the fireworks at Lutsen Mountains. On my way up Highway 61 I noticed some great northern lights through a hole in the clouds. I knew we had mostly thick clouds forecast, so I hadn’t planned on aurora. I was able to get the camera and get to a spot for about five photos before the clouds closed up and the sky went dark with clouds. The skies started clearing later and the lights were very faintly visible over the course of the evening. I never made it out to the fireworks! Here are a couple of the northern lights over the Temperance River along the Sawbill Trail near Tofte…
These last few are random photos from the past week or so. Nice waves in Grand Marais, MN and some friends that hang out in my trees.
Thanks for taking the time to check out this post. I appreciate all the support, print purchases, new followers and feedback on Facebook and here. Check back for updates and Photos Of The Week(link on the sidebar) Stay warm, friends.