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

January

Winter is in full swing and the thermometer has really shown it in recent weeks.  Sounds like we are in for a reprieve from the sub-zero and windy conditions for a spell, though!  The recent cold has been fantastic for winter photography along the lake and in the woods.  Here are a few favorites that you may or may not have seen from recent hikes, drives and trips to The Lake.
You can see weekly posts on Facebook, too – www.facebook.com/ThomasjSpenceImages

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The High Falls on the Pigeon River in Grand Portage State Park. A MUST see in any season, though I prefer the winter ice that forms and the contrast of the snow on the cliff faces. Although, spring melt is a fantastic time to be there… and after a summer rain…
A winter hike up to Palisade Head.  Some bilion years ago, rhyolitic lava flows formed these impressive formations along Lake Superior.
A winter hike up to Palisade Head near Silver Bay, MN.  Some billion years ago, rhyolitic lava flows formed these impressive formations along Lake Superior.
The freighter Walter J McCarthy Jr. passes Schroeder, MN.  The ships have been a regular site as the season comes to a close and the final loads are delivered around the Great Lakes.  The locks will be closed in just a few days until the ice lets up in March.
The freighter Walter J McCarthy Jr. passes Schroeder, MN. The ships have been a regular site as the season comes to a close and the final loads are delivered around the Great Lakes. The locks will be closed in just a few days until the ice lets up in March.

Otter

I came across a the remnants of an otter party!  These playful critters love to run and slide in the snow and on the ice.  They had made a hole near a spring and appeared to have had a great time sliding and slipping!
I came across a the remnants of an otter party! These playful critters love to run and slide in the snow and on the ice. They had made a hole near a spring and appeared to have had a great time sliding and slipping!
And finally, the winter moose.  I have been happy to catch up with a group of moose quite often over the past few months.  Glad to report that I am still seeing a few of them out and about.  I hope you get to see one of these fantastic animals on your next visit to the North Shore.
Winter moose!!!! I have been happy to catch up with a group of moose quite often over the past few months. Glad to report that I am still seeing a few of them out and about. I hope you get to see one of these fantastic animals on your next visit to the North Shore.
The Full Wolf Moon rising through the sea smoke on a VERY frigid January evening.  Put a Lake Superior moon rise on your bucket list!
And finally, the Full Wolf Moon rising through the sea smoke on a VERY frigid January evening. Put a Lake Superior moon rise on your bucket list!  I try not to miss one when I am around The Lake at the right time.  There is a great moon/sun app called The Photographer’s Ephemeris that I would highly recommend to any sky-watcher.    

This year I will keep you updated on the changing seasons and the changing light with frequent posts, so stay tuned! 🙂

Thanks for the visit –
Tom

Caribou Falls on a July morning – 7/19/2014

The hike to Caribou Falls on the Caribou River is a fairly short and easy walk in the woods.  The stairs may be the only area that may deter some, but without them the climb down to the base of the falls would be dicey.  This is an awesome hike any time of year, but winter may be my favorite.  In the winter months we walk right up the frozen river on snowshoes or Sorels.  Find the time to do this short, rewarding hike on your next trip to the North Shore.
Until next time…  Tom

The half mile(one way) trail starts along the river just off Highway 61 at the parking area near the county line between Silver Bay and Schroeder.
The Caribou River and the unique color of the river bottom…
A solid, long staircase takes you from the ridge down to the base of Caribou Falls.
Playing with a new camera (nikon AW120) that I can take underwater 🙂
The falls and river – great area for a little picnic….
Another fine falls view at Caribou Falls.
This old cedar tree is pretty amazing the way it clings to the riverbank and weathers through the rise and fall of the river…








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.