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.
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.
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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