Two 2020 Calendars and a Lot of Fall Photos

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…

Gold Against Carlton Peak
Fall in the Fog
Blazing early color
Sawbill
Male and female spruce grouse in fall foliage
Lusen views from the Honeymoon Trail area
Big Fall Bull
Foggy fall mornings in Superior National Forest
Milky Way at Sawbill Lake – Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Fall – Minnesota
Welcome to Superior National Forest
Tofte Park Bridge
Fall Walk Around
the layers of autumn color
Seagull River on the Gunflint Trail in full fall color
Carlton Peak
Carlton Peak one week later
October snowfall
Temperance River Valley Fog
Snow Grove
Same Grove Different Day
That snow though…
Tamarack Flocked Forest
Fall Blanketed in White
Reflections and Morning fog
Spruce Grouse in snow and foliage
Big bull in the snow
The Temperance River Valley and a flocking of snowfall on the autumn woods.



April – The Lake and its Moods, The Northern Lights and Wildlife

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.

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Crashing waves at Tettegouche State Park – 4/14/2018

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Massive splash on the cliffs along Lake Superior. Wave height was in the mid teens but splash heights were reaching 100 feet, 150 feet and more in places.

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The ice coated trees take a beating in this little lake side forest at Tettegouche State Park.

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.

 

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Lone tree on Shovel Point – Lake SUperior, MN

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Beachside at Tettegouche State Park

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Clear, Calm, Beautiful

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A view of Shovel Point

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Split Rock Lighthouse

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Kayaking on the calmest of lakes…

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Split Rock Reflections

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Kayakers passing by Split Rock Lighthouse.

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The view from Shovel Point looking towards Palisade Head

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Stack Reflections

April Northern Lights – An All Nighter 

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April Aurora And The Setting Moon – 4/20/2018


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!

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April Wildlife 

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.

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Female spruce grouse – April in Superior National Forest

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Male spruce grouse – Superior National Forest

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Whiskey Jack or Canada Jay – Superior National Forest

 

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Turkey vulture and the nearly full April moon.

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Though I had heard loons the previous week, this was the first one I actually saw close enough to get a photo. Always a fun spring “first”.

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A pair of moose on the run in Cook County.

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And gone, into the woods.

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One would emerge, briefly, and gone again!

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I had a late afternoon encounter with 3 lynx in earlier April. I saw each one alone, about a mile apart from each other. Something tells me this was 3 of the 4 kittens I had been seeing earlier in winter with the mother. Once the mother mates again, the kittens are set off on their own to figure out how to hunt and survive alone. The size and proximity to one another tells me this is the same family, now entering the next phase of their lives as solitary animals.

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A lone lynx prowls for an afternoon meal

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Grouse – Superior National Forest

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Male Spruce Grouse – Superior National Forest

 

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.

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Current conditions on local lakes as of 5/2/2018 – Little ways to go for that Fishing opener! 😉

 

 

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Canada Lynx in the Minnesota Woods – A Rare Sight

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.

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Five Canada Lynx on the prowl in the forest…

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.

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.

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Summer lynx – a fleeting chance and an off center snap as it slinks into the woods…

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.

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Canada Lynx Roadblock – Winter 2018 in Superior National Forest

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.

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Briefly through the brush – Winter 2018 in Superior National Forest

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.

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Lone Canada lynx stares into the woods…

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.

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A second, smaller lynx joins the first…

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Two lynx in the road…

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.

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Two Canada Lynx in the Minnesota Woods – One a little more curious than the other…

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Two Canada Lynx in the Minnesota Woods – Paying attention to the woods in front of them…

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Two Canada Lynx in the Minnesota Woods – Number 2 is a little unsure…

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.

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The pair of lynx are locked onto something in the woods. I wait for what’s to come…

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.

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A third and fourth lynx join the scene…

 

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One, two, three, four…

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.

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4 Canada Lynx checking me out in Superior National Forest

 

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Always seemed like they were watching in all directions, as a group.

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The smaller kittens were a little curious, but playful.

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.

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A 5th lynx enters the scene!

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number 5, another smaller cat, joins the gang in the road.

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Still a little unsure about me over in the snowbank….

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It seemed like one was almost always watching me. It was like a group defence posture to look large and watch in all directions when out in the open. At least that’s my theory.

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One final group pose and cuddle huddle before continuing on up the road.

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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The gang of 5 head off to hunt in Superior National Forest.

For more you can visit me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ThomasjSpenceImages/
For prints – https://thomasjspenceimages.smugmug.com/Lynx-Family-in-the-Minnesota-Woods/
Photo Tools
Canon Camera and Lenses
Tameron Lenses
Manfrotto Tripods
Sigma Lenses
Lowepro Camera Bags

 

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