February – On The Shore And In The Woods

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.

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Lake Superior from the hillside – February beauty on the North Shore.
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Tofte, MN sunrise after an 8 or 10 inch snowfall. We had some snow in February and it’s looking good. Even the smartphone can take a nice photo!
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Sugarloaf Cove and Lake Superior Ice. We had some great Ice pile-ups on Lake Superior this month. Lots of below zero nights and cold, calm days caused a lot of lake ice to form. When the wind picks up, the sheets move, and often come into shore where they break up and pile up. It’s a favorite winter phenomenon along Superior. I have video over on Facebook. Plate Ice Piling on Lake Superior

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…

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Great grey owl – I watched great grey owls on numerous occasions this month along the North Shore. Usually, you can catch them hunting near dusk along the edges of clearings. Early morning is another great time for owling on The Shore.
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Great grey owl hunting a field – I watched this owl at dusk make a few plunges into the snow. It was a cold, windy evening, and the owl was having great success hunting a clearing in Superior National Forest. February is a good month for North Shore owling.
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Beautiful February ice on the Temperance River – Winter photography on the rivers and on The Lake can be incredible. February was no exception.
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More February beauty along Lake Superior
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Ice on the river side…

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.20180224-_MG_0056

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Tall pines and sunrise in the forest

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.

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Yearling bull moose with antlers in late February – Minnesota
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Tracks, tracks, tracks… Use tracks to your advantage when winter hunting with your camera. You can tell how old tracks are by observing a few things about the tracks and knowing a few things about the current and previous days weather. If it’s windy, they’ll be washed out and drifted in. If it has snowed, less defined and slightly covered. If it’s been warm, they can be melted a bit on the edges, softened. You get to know how “close” you are by the tracks. You can also make note to return to an area based on the tracks you see and how old they appear. These were very, very fresh tracks. I knew that because I also saw the moose who left ’em!
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Doin’ a little dance. Those hooves…
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Yearling bull holding antlers in late February – My previous blog post talks more about a couple moose I ran into in February. Looking for moose in winter months can be a challenge, for various reasons, but the rewards are always special. This was the latest I can remember seeing a bull with antlers personally. This was February 23rd, likely a yearling bull. Those antlers will soon fall off, only to begin the regrowth process again. The bull moose can gain almost 3/4 of an inch per day in summer months when the antlers are growing strong. Here is a collection of Minnesota Moose photos Minnesota Moose Photos

 

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Red Fox On The Temperance – See my website for purchasing this February favorite.Ordering Info Red Fox
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Red Fox – The fox can be very curious, often to a fault. This red fox is a fixture in one area I frequent. While I don’t feed or entice the wildlife with food, it’s clear that this fox has been getting handouts. It often approaches me, sometimes very closely. It is always looking at my hands, especially if I reach for something or crinkle anything paper/bag like.
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I watched this pine marten attack a snowshoe hare one morning in the woods. The chase went on and off for about 15 minutes. Both seemed to take rest periods. I think the marten eventually had it’s breakfast judging by the noise I heard in the brush at one point. The marten is a vicious little creature for its size.
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Following in the hare tracks in fresh snow…
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Hare hopping along, likely tired from being chased. The marten was nearby…
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Not a good morning for the snowshoe hare.

And enter the Lynx…

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Lone Canada lynx eyeing the woods for a meal
A mother and two young lynx get back to hunting after an already successful morning hunt. Their diet consists mainly of snowshoe hare. I was fortunate enough to witness them hunt on more than one occasion earlier this winter. The family would hunt together as a team. One or two would wait in the open, usually on a road or in a clearing, while the others stalked and flushed snowshoe hare out of the thick brush.
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A lone lynx, or was it…
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A few parting looks from the group…
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Hare in the snow – The hare is the main food source for the lynx in our woods…
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One of the young kittens looks at me curiously through the brush.
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Back on the hunt, following tracks and using their acute hearing and sight…
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More about the lynx…The characteristic ear tufts which top the lynx ears are thought to further aid their already impressive hearing. Once the cats seemed to decide I was not a threat, they went about their business. They would sit and look, and listen, sometimes for minutes. When it appeared that they heard something, they would silently slink through the brush in search of the hare.
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A cat-nap in the road after a breakfast of snowshoe hare. The cats would break for about 20 minutes after eating, and before resuming the hunt. It takes a few hare to fuel this large group on a daily basis. Lynx Link
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Cat pile – young watching mom as she holds the newly killed snowshoe hare firmly, making certain it was dead. She would then tear it into a few pieces and which point the young took a hunk off into the brush to eat.

 

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In a flash, they burst into action at the sight or sound of something deeper in the brush. Soon, the whole group would be back to stalking, watching, listening for snowshoe hare.
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A re-take session with the lynx family earlier this winter. Getting them all to look at the camera is nearly impossible. I’ll take 4 out of 5! If you made it this far, here is a link to some lynx video footage I put together. See you next month! Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog to be notified about new posts. Thanks – Tom

February Moose in the Minnesota 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.

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Bull moose in fresh snowfall – Superior National Forest – Feb. 2018

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Doin’ a little dance. Those hooves…
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Yearling bull holding antlers in late February – Minnesota
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Yearling bull moose with 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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What appears to be a pregnant cow moose in Superior National Forest. She should be about 5 months along by now, usually giving birth in May. She had company about 15 minutes behind her.
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Following mother moose by 15 minutes…
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With hair standing up, mother moose had been on the run for a bit. A pack of 3 wolves were close behind.
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Hot pursuit – just 15 minutes after I saw the moose, the wolves moved in.
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Two of the three, sniffing the tracks of the pregnant cow moose as the sun set and night falls…
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And a pine marten just for fun!