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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Tettegouche State Park

Through a very strange series of events my wife and I found ourselves at Tettegouche State Park, on the North Shore of Minnesota, this past weekend. We had originally planned to make the trip on March 19th-20th but received a call on the 17th at 4am from our son in Japan indicating that he was ordered to evacuate the country. We spent that weekend arranging tickets and picking him up at the Twin Cities airport.

Tettegouche State Park

We decided we would make the trip the next weekend. On Tuesday there were reports of a major storm headed for the upper Midwest. Duluth was supposed to be hit by a blizzard including strong winds from offshore. We were only going to receive a couple of inches of snow. As late as the 10pm news on Tuesday evening the weatherman was sticking to this story. I was a little concerned when I looked out the window after the weather report and saw that we were in the middle of a blizzard. It turned out that we received 15 inches of heavy wet snow and were snowbound on Wednesday. Duluth didn’t receive any snow.

Tettegouche State Park

By the weekend the roads were clear and we headed up to the Minnesota North Shore. We made our normal pit stop at Tettegouche State Park. I asked the ranger about trail conditions which ranged from snow to ice to bare ground. The only thing they didn’t have was mud. I was complaining about the lack of ice. The lake was open and shipping was underway. The ranger got excited and said we have ice and showed me a photo taken a couple of days earlier. It showed pine trees completely encased in ice. Although the North Shore didn’t receive any snow they did experience strong winds from the Northeast had created huge waves that slammed into the cliffs. He gave us directions to the ice formations and we headed out.

Tettegouche State Park

We walked across the bridge over the Baptism River and took an ice covered trail leading to the cliffs overlooking Lake Superior. On the trail we met another photographer returning from the cliffs and I asked him if it was worth the trip. Talk about pumped, he got really excited and started talking about the storm. It turns out he headed to Tettegouche as soon as he knew the storm was going to hit. He knew that the storm would create huge waves that would spray water over the cliffs. This in combination with the cold weather created ideal conditions for photography. On the day of the storm he was out photographing dressed in a wetsuit. He had been out photographing every day since and had taken over a thousand photos as well as video of the event. He also mentioned that this was a very rare event. The last year something like this happened was in 2004. This was the second time it happened this winter. He then went on to tell us how to find some even better photo locations.

Shovel Point Tettegouche State Park

About that time the sun broke through the clouds so he decided to walk back to the cliffs with us and take some more photos. He was glad to see that we both had traction devices on our boots because the cliff tops were covered in ice. At one point he had slipped an spun around several times before he was able to grab an ice formation to prevent himself from going over the cliff. Had he fallen into the lake he would have been dead in a few minutes.

We spent about a half an hour carefully walking around the Ice encrusted trees. It was a surreal landscape with very strange ice formation. Many of the tops of the trees looked like the twist on a soft ice cream cone. Just as we were about to leave the area another group came. they had no traction on their shoes and had little kids in tow. All we could do is shake our heads.

Shovel Point Tettegouche State Park

We then drove north of the park entrance for about a mile and parked along the road. The directions were to take a faint trail in toward the cliffs, make a left then a right to reach the cliffs. The trail seemed to disappear so we worked our way toward the cliffs bushwhacking along the way. We found ourselves north of the Shovel Point Overlook. It was a wild scene. In places the ice covered trees that were thirty feet high and in other places the ice stretched several hundred feet inland from the cliffs. We worked our way back south toward Shovel Point until we reach a gorge. At that point we decided to try and find the car and then drive back into the park and take the Shovel Point trail in from the visitors center. It took a lot of bushwhacking to make it back to the car.

Shovel Point Tettegouche State Park

The trail from the visitors center to Shovel Point was in a little better condition although it was ice covered in many spots. When we reached Shovel Point were able to look north along the coast and get a Birdseye view of the alien landscape we had been hiking in earlier in the day.

Camera Assistant

This was clearly one of those rare occasions that a photographer encounters. It was just luck that we asked the park ranger about ice and even better luck when we encountered the local photographer on the trail. The photos really don’t capture the experience but I hope they give you some idea of the landscape we encountered.

More photos from the day can be found on my website.



Northern Cardinal

On Wednesday we had our third major Blizzard of the winter. I watched the 10 pm weather and the report was for rain and a few inches of snow. When I looked out the window it was already snowing hard. On Wednesday morning it was a full blown blizzard consisting of heavy wet snow. The windows were covered with snow and ice and you could hardly see 30 feet it was snowing and blowing so hard.


Mourning Dove


The week before had been warm and there were few birds around the feeder so I took some of the feeders down. When I got up on Wednesday morning the feeder was packed with frantic birds. Unfortunately it was difficult to get any photographs because it was snowing and blowing so hard and the windows were covered with ice. I decided to go out and put up some more feeders and took and ice scraper and cleaned off the basement windows so I could get a few photographs.




Dark-eyed Junco

In an earlier post I had indicated that the Dark-eyed Juncos had left the feeder. They were back in record numbers during the blizzard. Also in an earlier post I had indicated that the spring birds had returned to Gilbert Creek and Hoffman Hills. The day following the storm I couldn’t find a single bird at either site.


Canada Geese

I drove around to some of my favorite locations for viewing wildlife to see it there was any activity now that spring has arrived. My first stop was Gilbert Creek Wildlife Area. Bird activity was in full swing. I first noticed a couple of Bald Eagles in a tree. One was mature and the other immature.  The Redwing Blackbirds were active among the cattails. Canada were starting to lay claim to nesting spots. Mallards were active in a small open water area. I also saw a Common Merganser in the area. I mentioned seeing Sandhill Cranes flying a couple of weeks ago and there was a pair of them at Gilbert Creek. The water is still frozen in the pond and they were not nesting yet.

Canada Goose

I then drove out to Hoffman Hills Recreation Area to check out the Wetlands and Prairie areas. The first bird I saw was a Male Eastern Bluebird perched on a Common Mullen. The same bird was flying between the wetlands and prairie areas. There were a couple of Canada Geese on the larger of the two ponds. The trails are still covered in snow in spots but the snow should be gone by the end of the week. The ponds are starting to melt but are still frozen. There were a number of other birds around including Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays and Juncos. The pussy willows are also starting to bloom.

I also drove past the Red Cedar Waterfowl Production area and noticed a number of Canada Geese and a couple of Blue Herons.

Things are really starting to pickup with the early spring birds arriving.

Dark-eyed Junco

Well it looks like the birds of winter are starting to leave. The only bird at my feeder that leaves for the summer is the Dark-eyed Junco. On Tuesday there were lots of them around. Yesterday I had one and today they are gone probably to northern Wisconsin or Canada.


Northern Cardinal

I came to bird photography accidently several years ago. I started photography as a hobby after I retired. During the winter there wasn’t a lot to photograph. One day during a blizzard I noticed some Northern Cardinals by my bird feeder and tried to photograph them from my front window but they were a little too far away. After watching them for a while I decided that I might be able to get some shots from my basement window which was a little closer to the birds. I grabbed a step ladder and climbed up to the window which was at ground level. I managed this photography of a cardinal which was later published in Birds and Blooms.

It has been a hard winter for the birds. We had an early December Blizzard that dumped over a foot of snow along with high winds. This was followed by rain which created a crust on the snow. During January we saw at least one clipper each week that dumped several inches of snow each on top of what we had. Many of the seeds that the bird world normally feed on were buried in the snow.

Each year is a little different that this year was no exception. When I started writing this blog I hadn’t reflected on how few species of birds I’ve photographed at my feeder. In actuality it has only been ten. I’ve presented the birds in order by the numbers I’ve seen this winter.



American Goldfinch – in an earlier post I called this the year of the American Goldfinch because I had so many of them. One year I didn’t have any but normally I have a few around. This year it was not uncommon to have thirty or forty at my the feeder at any given time. They seem to come in flocks. A few turn up then the rest of them fly in then all of a sudden they are gone.

Black capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

The Black-capped Chickadee  is the old standby. They show-up late in the fall and at the birdfeeder throughout the winter. They seem to be the hummingbird of winter in constant motion an continuously feeding. I think this year I’ve managed to get more pictures of them than in past years. They are friendly but are in constant motion. By the time you focus on them they have moved to a new location. When they are perched they are constantly in motion eating seeds pinned to the branch they are feeding on.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Juncos are another bird that frequents my feeder although I’ve not seen as many of them this year as in past years and they arrived a little later than usual. I much prefer to photograph the females because they seem to have much more interesting color.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

The Blue Jay has been a rare visitor to my bird feeder although I frequently see them flying around in the woods in large numbers. If they did come to the feeder they were so skittish that I was rarely able get a shot of them. For some unknown reason this year I’ve had a large number of them at my bird feeder. It is not uncommon to see six or eight of them at a time. Most of the time they are cleaning up the seeds that fall on the ground and making a racket.

Northern Cardinal male

Northern Cardinal female

The Northern Cardinal is a frequent visitor throughout the year but they really stand out during the winter. I love to photograph them during snow storms when they come to the feeder in greater numbers. Their bright reds contrast with the greens of the pine trees and the white of the snow.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpeckers also frequent the feeder during the winter. this year for the first time I build a feeder out of some small logs by drilling holes in the log and filling them with peanut suet.  The log provides a better prop than the wire suet holder that I had been using. Even better they much prefer this type of feeder.

Coopers Hawk

Coopers Hawk

Coopers Hawk – I have been plagued the past several years by one or more  Coopers Hawks that seems to be hanging around the feeder. At first I thought it was great because I was able to get some nice photographs but I got a little old when they started  scaring away the other birds. It got to the point that the Cardinals would only come to the feeder early in the morning and late in the evening to avoid the hawks. Then just after Christmas the hawks disappeared. All of a sudden the cardinals started returning to the feeder. In February a smaller version of the Coopers Hawk came to the feeder a few times but it only hung around for a few weeks before leaving for good.

Downey Woodpecker female

Downey Woodpecker male

Downey Woodpeckers also come to the feeder generally to feed on suit. They are another bird that really likes my new log feeders.

Hairy Woodpecker male

Hairy Woodpeckers occasionally turn up at the feeder. This photo was taken on a very cold morning. It is the first time I’ve ever seen a birds breath.

Pileated Woodpecker

This year for the first time I’ve had Pileated Woodpeckers at my feeder. In the past I’ve plenty of signs of them in the woods and had seen they fly by the house on occasion but they never stopped at my feeder. One day while reading I noticed a large shadow passing the window and looked up to see a pair of them fly right by the feeder. Several times this winter I have been photographing from my blind when they have stopped to feed. They are very skittish so I haven’t been able to get many photos but I’m hoping they will continue to return.

More winter bird photos can be found on my website.

Sandhill Cranes and friends

I was out working at the birdfeeder this morning when I heard a familiar sound, one I haven’t heard since last fall on a visit to Crex Meadows. It was the sound of Sandhill Cranes. I looked up and there were a pair of Sandhill Cranes circling above. This is the earliest I have seen cranes in the area. It seems a bit early considering we still have a foot of snow on the ground. Normally I don’t see them around until the end of March or the first week of April. This is a shot taken a couple of years ago at the Gilbert Creek Wildlife Area near my house.

Toadstool Paradise Valley

It has been a difficult winter to photograph in Paradise Valley. The Heavy rains last summer cleaned out some of the logs that had fallen across the small stream in the valley. In normal years I was able to shoot some nice ice formations which I call reverse toadstools. This is an example from several years ago.

Ice Paradise Valley

The very heavy snows in early December also eliminated some of nice ice formations that usually form on the small stream that flows through the valley when the cold weather starts. Constant clipper snowfalls also prevented good shots of ice in the stream because it was usually covered with snow. This year I have seen what I call rotten ice as opposed to the nice clear blue ice that I usually see. It consists of frozen snow than rather ice. This is one of the few shots of stream ice from this year.

Stream Paradise Valley

There is still a lot of snow in the small valley as you can see by this shot.

Ice Blocks Paradise Valley

The warm weather during the latter part of January has caused some of the ice formations to fall resulting in a jumble of large ice blocks at the foot of the small waterfall in the valley.

More photographs from Paradise Valley can be seen on my website.