It’s been a fun summer for wildlife and landscapes in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region. I have spent a lot of time working on the Gunflint Trail and the rest of my time exploring and photographing the rest of Cook County, mostly on the backroads and at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Here is a selection of photos that may or may not have been shared on my social media pages. We still have plenty summer left, so I’ll update and do another post a little closer to fall. Thanks for stopping to take a look. As always, you can browse more photos for viewing and for purchase at my Gallery Site by using this link. Photo Gallery
I have had numerous moose sightings this summer. I think I have already seen more moose this summer than I did all of last summer. This young bull ate in a swampy river area for 30 minutes one cool morning at sunrise as fog moved across the water.
Turtles have been abundant. Early summer, our painted and snapping turtles can be seen along roadsides near lakes, swamps and rivers as they lay their eggs. It is a time to use caution, but it is a great opportunity to see turtles somewhat close. Of course, do not disturb them as they are digging and laying eggs. Give them and all wildlife a respectable amount of space. Pictured here are a couple Snapping turtle shells and an odd, deformed painted turtle. The painted turtle has a condition known as kyphosis. Kyphosis is a condition that causes an abnormal, convex curvature of the spine. It happens in humans as well as turtles. I had never witnessed this condition in our painted turtles.
Working this summer in the mid Gunflint Trail area has provided a few fun wildlife sightings. The early morning commute was good for a handful of great, yet brief moose sightings. This red fox greeted us many mornings at our jobsite on a BWCA entry point lake. Some mornings, it would be sitting in the grass nearby when we arrived.
I have had numerous wolf sightings and encounters this summer as well. They are always pretty shy, but this one cooperated for photos
More moose! This healthy looking cow moose gave me a few minutes of photo opportunities. She looked pretty flighty at first, but she calmed down and allowed me to take a few photos and some video as she chewed on the grass and brush one morning near the edge of the BWCA wilderness.
And a few more summer photos from the past few weeks in the forest. Still plenty of summer left, so I will be back with more in a few weeks. In the meantime, keep following on Facebook and Instagram for more weekly photos from Minnesota’s wildest, most beautiful area. The woods and lakes and shores of Superior National Forest.
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.
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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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