A little collection of feathered visitors during spring bird migration on the North Shore of Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota.
After a long, cold, snowy winter, we have finally turned the corner along the North Shore of Lake Superior and in the woods of Superior National Forest in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota. The lakes have only recently opened up from their frozen, icy, winter covering. The rivers raged with historic, record breaking levels along the North Shore as the snow-pack and spring melt moved downstream. You can still find some snow in the shadows of the woods, but for the most part, signs point to spring. The cow moose are currently giving birth to this years calves and the bull moose are just starting to sprout their velvet covered antlers. Bears are awake and on the hunt for this years crop of nuts and berries and the deer seem to be moving into the woods, away from the shore. All good signs. All welcome signs. For me, one of the most reliable signs that spring may truly be here is the arrival of the variety of spring birds to the area. Weather it’s at the feeders in my yard, along the shores of Lake Superior, deep in the woods of Superior National Forest or just along Highway 61, there are always signs of the arrival of a new season if you are watching closely. You can almost predict who is going to show up and when.
Here’s a collection of feathered spring arrivals to the North Shore woods, along Lake Superior and in my yard the past few weeks. Keep your binoculars and bird books handy on your next spring visit. You never know what you’ll see flitting around in the trees this time of year.
Warblers are a nice arrival in late April and May in our area. The yellow-rumped is one of the earliest. It’s always nice to see those little flashes of yellow that give them away. Here are just a few that I have seen so far this spring. I’ll include a few of the strikingly beautiful, black-throated blue warbler that graced me with it’s presence in my own yard. Prints available of these and many others at this link. Thanks for your support! https://thomasjspenceimages.smugmug.com/2022/
You can’t imagine the thrill… I was on my deck photographing a red-headed woodpecker that has been hanging around. I had ok light and it was eating worms in my yard, so I was standing still on my deck waiting with my camera in hand and ready. From the corner of my eye, a small bird landed. In a flash, I went through the ID process in my mind. Chickadee? No. Nuthatch? No. Warbler?!?! Yes. It stood on my deck for a second, flew to a branch for a second, landed on my railing for a second and landed on a planter for a second. It was a great yard bird to have visit and I’m glad I was ready! You can click on these to open the gallery.
Here are a few more interesting and notable visitors to the area including a new one for me here, a yellow-headed blackbird.
Another surprise, entertaining visitor this spring has been a red-headed woodpecker. I can’t recall having one in my yard, and this one seems to have all it needs here. I mostly observe it eating worms off the lawn. It eats, then rests for 20 minutes, then eats another worm. Not a bad day, really. It’s been a welcome addition to the array of feathered friends in the yard. https://thomasjspenceimages.smugmug.com/2022/
Lastly, I had a fantastic close encounter with a scarlet tanager deep in the woods of Superior National Forest. I usually see one of these birds at home near a feeder during migration, but I hadn’t had one yet. On a drive looking for moose and other critters, I spotted an orange/red dot along a gravel road. Upon inspection I was shocked to see a scarlet tanager just hopping and flittering along the road. I thought it was injured, but it was hunting some kind of bugs and having great success! It may have been off course, but is was getting all it needed, it appears.
Thank you for reading along and taking a look at some spring birding photos. Please take a look at my online catalogs and consider a print purchase if you see anything you like. Stay tuned and subscribe to this newsletter. I’ll do a recap of photos from my early spring trip to Utah and the southwest in my next post. Happy Spring everyone! Tom https://thomasjspenceimages.smugmug.com/
A collection of winter photos from Superior National Forest and Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota – 2022
It’s the last official day of winter. Spring begins tomorrow, and a lot of us are probably ready for it! Here’s a collection of photos from the past few winter months. There are some dog sledding photos, a lot of grouse, some lynx, a moose and some other random, scenic winter wonders. I hope you enjoy.
This winter, we got some ice. It never really stayed long enough up here in our neck of the lake, but we did have some great ice piles and ice sheets breaking up and moving.
Grouse are probably the most abundant wildlife species I find in the winter months. The moose tend to move a lot less, and therefore, I rarely spot one. The grouse seem to be plentiful, especially the spruce grouse. Here’s a fun collection from this winter.
The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is always a winter highlight along the North Shore. The race takes dog teams from Duluth, MN through the forests along the Lake Superior Shoreline inland, almost to the Canadian Border and to the finish in Grand Portage, MN. Here is a small collection from the race at the end of January.
The backroads are always a treat in the winter months. We really had a LOT of snow piled up by the end of February. It was a TRUE Minnesota winter.
Happy Spring, everyone! As much as i like the beauty and variety our winters bring, this has been a long one and I’m ready for the greens of spring and summer. Thank you for taking a look at this winter collection. Tom
I hope everyone is having a fantastic fall season. We have finally been hit with rain off and on for a few weeks. It’s been a much needed reprieve from the dry summer. Fire bans are off, the BWCA and surrounding areas are open, and foggy and rainy has been the norm for a bit lately. The rains seemed to save the fall color season to some extent. September was gorgeous and the yellows of October are here, including the glowing tamarack trees deeper in the forest. It’s also been a moosey fall season! Ill share a few encounters as well as some fall photos in this post. I’ll also share a couple video links and a link to buy my 2022 Wildlife Calendar. I always appreciate the support!
So, here’s a fun phenomenon I encountered this fall. Have you ever seen a FOGBOW on Lake Superior?? It’s formed much like a rainbow, but in the fog, usually quite low to the water and when the fog is burning off or fading in the mid day sun(here on the North Shore, anyway). The tiny droplets that make up fog are the cause of the lack of color in the fogbow. You can faintly see color at the top and bottom of the bow, sometimes. Here’s a YouTube video minute of one.
I have had some fun moose encounters over the past couple months. In one instance, I came across a scene in a road where there was an obvious bull moose fight. In addition to the dirt road being torn up with hoof prints, digging and sliding, there was also a brand new, busted off antler! It must have been one hell of a fight and I JUST missed it. I also have bumped into one MASSIVE bull moose this fall. I will include photos and video below. Thanks for taking a look, and thank you for your calendar orders! Links are above.
I’ve got a ton of fall photos to share. It seemed like a long, vivid and memorable fall color season. Early September was showing nice reds and oranges in areas already, giving way to 3 weeks of bright yellow, orange and red autumn change along the Sawtooth Mountains and surrounding woods. October started just as colorful with the yellows along the shore filling in and the blazing yellow tamarack following back in the forest. The October 12-13 snowfall added to the mix and really capped of a great color season. Now, with the leaves all gone and the tamarack starting to fade, we move into the next phase of fall. Another season of change and beauty all it’s own. Below I will share a lot of fall photos I haven’t really posted anywhere. Thanks for taking a look.
I also have 2020 Calendars available for purchase now. I made two different calendars, all with different images. The Up North – Superior Country Calendar is all landscapes of Lake Superior, the surrounding woods and the BWCA. The Superior Wildlife Calendar is all wildlife from the woods of the Arrowhead region. You can take a look at a preview and order at the links or this link below. I appreciate your support. They would make great gifts. Print within 5 days of order and shipping info will be shown when you order. Plenty of time for holiday deliveries. http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/ThomasSpence
And now some more fall color photos from the past month or so…
The rising moon over Lake Superior is one of, if not the best sights The Lake has to offer. I always try to catch the rising moon over Superior when it is full or near full. While it is spectacular after it has risen high in the sky, shining it’s path on the water of The Lake, it’s the moments it first appears that really grab me. The moon will take on deep orange, red and yellow colors due to atmospheric distortion. It will also distort and waver as we view it through many layers of Earth’s atmosphere. When the moon is high in the sky, we aren’t viewing it through near as many layers as when it is low on the horizon, so it glows a steady white/yellow and the shape is clearly defined. When photographing or viewing from shore level, we are looking at an angle through a lot more atmosphere, so the light of the moon is “filtered” through the atmosphere. I use a phone app called The Photographers Ephemeris to calculate where and when the moon will rise from wherever I am. I use a tripod and a remote shutter release when photographing the moon. This is a series of photos from the recent Full Snow Moon rising from Tofte, Minnesota on the shore of Lake Superior.
February has been a fun month for wildlife, too! The moose have been elusive, but I have had numerous other notable encounters and sightings. Pine marten and lynx have been actively controlling our snowshoe hare population. I have observed a lot of tracks from the marten and lynx. The common denominator has been the presence of snowshoe hare tracks. I think the marten and lynx have been eating well this winter.
Lake Superior Ice
The ice has been fantastic this year on Lake Superior. Though never completely safe, the ice can be fun to explore. Here are a few photos from recent weeks.
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.
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.
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…
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…
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.
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…
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