Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Thanksgiving Day Chickadee 2008

Thanksgiving Day Ruffed Grouse 2012

St. Paul writes, "In all circumstances, give thanks." 

In my mind, the month of November is the prelude to thankfulness and remembrance, as it ushers in the grand season of Christmas and the New Year. 

My mother was the "patron saint of thankfulness."  She believed that God bestowed His grace on all of His children.  We should be thankful  for our family, good health and each opportunity to be together.  I remember many days in the 1940s were bad days, but mother could transform most of them into good days.  Her  prophetic Norwegian adage, "things could be worse" is still shared with a wink and a smile by our family.   I was also fortunate to have a dad that engrained in me the ideals of nature stewardship.  He loved the outdoors and was an expert fisherman and hunter, a true visionary and caretaker of the environment.  I am grateful for his legacy. 

These "Images of November" are dedicated to fond memories of my parents... for I know how much they would have enjoyed them.

The Bald Eagle is one of my favorite winter subjects to photograph.  I don't know how the winter fate of the eagle is decided, but as I have said before "the Lake Superior eagle must draw the short straw."

Photographed this November in Grand Marais.  I see this beautiful eagle each November and throughout the winter months.

Cruising the Grand Marais harbor.

Each time I view this photo, I think what are the odds of capturing the north shore icon as a background for our national symbol.

If I was to choose which animal is the most fun to photograph, it would be the fox.  As my blog and photo archives show,  the fox is my favorite animal of the forest.  I have been privileged to observe almost on a nightly basis the Gray Fox.  Through the years we have had many generations of the "gray ones" visit our front yard at night.  One interesting fact few people know, the Gray Fox love peanuts.  I found this out accidentally while observing their nocturnal feeding habits.  One night I saw a couple of my adults sniffing around below my bird feeders.  I couldn't figure out if they were after a mouse eating the seeds or a large insect such as a moth.  I have seen these fox dine on Luna Moths and other large insects as they fly low under our motion light.  But this night they were eating the residue sunflower seeds that littered the ground around the bird feeders.

I took a can full of hulled peanuts that I feed my Blue Jays and put them in the middle of the yard.  I whistled as I always do when I have scraps to feed them.  Out of the woods comes my Gray Fox family; immediately polishing off the scattered peanuts.  As time went on during all four seasons, the foxes choice of gourmet dining was always the lowly peanut... even when a prime chicken scrap was available.


The other fox near and dear to my heart are the Red Fox and the Cross Fox.  Unlike the Gray Fox they are not primarily nocturnal and show up at any time.  Almost every Red Fox I have had in our yard has been precocious, fun loving and quite tame.

I once had a young Red Fox enter the yard at night when the Gray Fox was present.  The young Red Fox seemed a bit lonesome and wanted to hang out with the gray.  In years of observation of the Gray Fox, I knew what was about to happen.  The little Red Fox wanted to play and ran around the gray like a puppy.  He would prance and run toward the gray, putting his head on the ground between his front legs, like a dog's visual play request.  The gray would have none of this nonsense and proceeded to chase the little red into the woods.  He eventually came back and spent his time with us lying in the daytime sunshine.  Free from the antagonistic adult Gray Fox with no sense of humor.

It is difficult to pick a favorite fox of the decade visits from our furry visitors, but the Cross Fox was a true highlight.  As a morph of the Red Fox, his gene is present and a litter of Red Fox can have a combination of cross or red kits.

He also would show up at any time, usually posing on our deck in front of our patio door, looking for a handout.  The cross would sleep on our lawn during the day and try to chase the grays off the yard at night.  It was a never ending and dauntless task as the grays with their kits, always outnumbered the cross.  He would chase one of the grays into the woods and another of the family would come and eat his scraps.  He too would learn, that the daylight hours provided a more friendly atmosphere for his dining.

Depending on the mountain ash berry and crab apple crop, so goes the chances of photographing winter Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings.  Two years ago there was a berry "blight" in the tip of the arrowhead.  There were few berries to be found and I knew not the reason.  That winter was pretty much waxwing-less and quite traumatic for me as I love to photograph these birds.  I was thrilled to see a bumper mountain ash berry crop this fall, but my joy was soon dashed by the advent of thousands of American Robins.  They proceeded to eat almost every berry in the county, leaving only a few for the Bohemian Waxwing I photographed last week.

And one from last November.
One of the winter birds that saves me from a case of "cabin fever" is the Pine Grosbeak.  They are also fruit eaters, but thankfully for winter bird photographers they also eat seeds.
I really enjoy these beautifully color toned birds, I fondly refer to them as the "parrots of the northland."  The males vary in pinkish reds.

While the female Pine Grosbeaks vary from light gray to tangerine.

And a shot of their cousin the Evening Grosbeak.

The loudest rat-a-tat sound echoing through the forest is that of the Pileated Woodpecker.  I have been able to discern the rhythmic differences between the Downy, Hairy, Black-backed and American Three-toed woodpeckers with a high percentage of accuracy.  The Pileated's volume puts them to shame.  I love listening and observing this woodpecker and enjoy the closeness I can get to this bird in the winter.  I don't know why, but the winter months seem to temper the "twitchy-ness" of the Pileated.

I took this shot a few days ago in the yard.

Mary calls the Northern Shrike the "nasty bird" as he dines on whatever chickadee and nuthatch not paying utmost attention.  The shrike shows up every November and hangs out into the spring months.  My chickadees seem to fear this bird even more than the Sharp-shinned or Cooper's Hawks.

The comedian of the forest has to be the Pine Marten.  We see him more in November and the winter months.  He in our opinion is a "10" on the "cuteness scale."

Well, maybe this denizen is also quite high on that scale.

One of the birds migrating from the far north is the Common Redpoll.  They show up at our feeders usually at the end of October and gain numbers through November.  A few years back, we had an infestation of redpolls and they and the siskins ate us out of house and home.  They seem to love our hulled sunflower seeds and niger seed.  These two images were shot as the redpolls fed on Canadian goldenrod seeds.  I think the tiny redpoll is one winters more beautiful birds.

A bird many of you have at your feeder is almost a rarity on our ridge.  We have uncountable Red-breasted Nuthatches flitting busily into our forest.  The White-breasted Nuthatch is one we seldom see, and when we do, his presence is usually short lived.  This November we are fortunate to have two White-breasted Nuthatches, one male and one female.  Hopefully they will stay the winter.

As scenery goes, it depends on the snowfalls that beautify the forest landscape.  Until then, I will leave you with two November images of the Big Lake.

"Snow-squall over the Sawtooth Mountains"

Grand Marais Harbor Lighthouse in Novermber

“It was November--the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines." ... L.M. Montgomery

Monday, November 19, 2012


Wood Duck


One thing I know for sure, stories of animal interaction and behavior are beloved in America.  Especially when it involves birds and animals of complete diversity.  This last week I witnessed just this phenomena between a beaver and wood duck. 

My friend and fellow photographer Paul, journeyed to a beaver pond to observe six beavers working on their winter headquarters.  We previously watched them construct and patch their home and went back to check on their progress.  Ice had begun to form around their house and in many areas of the pond.  They were all busily involved in adding alder to their food pile for the winter months... and having lunch.

As we quietly photographed and watched the beavers work, the scene was interrupted by a colorful figure.   A beautiful, lone male wood duck appeared, paddling around sheets of ice.

Amazingly, his feathers were as beautiful as spring breeding plumage.  Not only were we surprised by the beauty of the woody, but by his late appearance in the month of November.  

The pond was about sixty percent ice covered and the wood duck either paddled or walked on the ice foraging for food.  His food search was quite unique.   He not only picked up floating particles, but but broke off ice chunks to free trapped morsels of vegetation.  

The duck and the beaver seemed to mind their own business as they maneuvered around the ice sheets and open water.  One of the adult beavers was comical to watch, because he moved effortlessly through the frigid water with a small ice sheet frozen to his head.

An unexpected behavioral moment took place and I almost missed it.  The wood duck was drifting along with one of the adult beavers.

Mr. duck and the beaver floated over to the reed shoreline and the duck cozied up to the beaver as she ate her shoreline lunch.

It is not like I see and photograph a beaver family every day... but I marveled  first of all, seeing a wood duck this late in the fall, then watching him of all things, bond with a beaver.  Secondly, the beaver seemed not to mind the intrusion of the bird.  Truly a strange partnership in my hundreds of  bird and animal observations through the years.

The interaction did not last long, as the duck paddled away to find more food.  It was however, an entertaining moment for the photographers watching this "odd couple"... and certainly a moment we were fortunate to capture.


We are hoping Mr. Wood Duck is now winging his way to a warm water pond in the south, while his beaver friends are snug in their far north house.

Beaver do better work than the Corps of Engineers. 
Mike Todd 

Thursday, October 25, 2012


This year I was privileged to take part in the production of Minnesota naturalist Jim Gilbert's new book "Minnesota's Outdoor Wonders."  
The book just came out this month and is available where all books are sold or online.  Earlier this month, Jim and I had three book signings here on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Norton Stillman (publisher) Mary, David, Jim & Sandy

More book signings are scheduled in the months of November and December. 

November 14 (Wednesday) B & N Galleria, 7 pm
November 18 (Sunday) B& N Har Mar, 2-4 pm
November 24 (Saturday)  Bachmans Heritage Room, 6010 Lyndale Ave S. 10-12 am
November 24 (Saturday)  Magers & Quinn, 2 - 4 pm
November 25 (Sunday) Jim Gilbert's Wildbird Store, Waconia, 11-2 pm
November 29 (Thursday) St Olaf Bookstore, Buntrock Commons, 5:30-7:30 pm
December 2 (Sunday) Wildbird Store, 98th & Lyndale, Bloomington, 1-2:30 pm 
December 8 (Saturday)  Leopolds Excelsior, 1-3 pm
December 15 (Saturday) Lake Superior Trading Post (w/David Brislance) 1-3 pm 
December 16 (Sunday) B & N Duluth, Miller Mall (w/David Brislance) 1-3 pm

"Minnesota's Outdoor Wonders" is a book for all ages, young and old alike.  In my mind, the writing and photos are geared to enhance the reader's love of the outdoors and hopefully brings to mind past observations and memories.  It is a month by month chronicle of nature's happenings and beauty in both the north and south of Minnesota.

In Jim's own words: "The greatest show on earth is just outside our doors and windows.  Life is full of wonders if we only open up our eyes and use our other senses."

"This book, in words and images, attempts to capture the essence of the marvels we can observe, centered on Minnesota, both north and south.  Hopefully it will remind us of nature's wonders throughout the earth and the importance of keeping the planet healthy, clean, and safe for future generations.  We can never have world peace when we exploit the environment."

It is my hope, that you who read this book, enjoy the labor of love I present in my photos.  As there are stories that accompany the capturing of each image.  It is my hope that someday I will be able to personally share them with you.

"Nature is a revelation of God, Art is a revelation of man” ... Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Thursday, September 13, 2012


Jean & I at one of his races

My eldest son Jean has been running in races for 8 years, for fun and staying in shape.  He has participated in over 75 races, 7 being at least marathon distance.  This summer, Jean has taken on a running, service project to raise funds for Wild & Free, an animal rehabilitation center in Garrison, Minnesota.  

As a three year old he could look at a bird book and identify most of the common song birds of our area.  His baby sitter once said to him as she looked out on the lawn, "Look Jean, a birdie."  Jean replied, "No, it's a robin."  His love and knowledge of birds and animals has always been a special part of his life.  So it wasn't surprising to me, that Jean came up with this great and unique fundraising idea.

On October 27th he is running the "Surf the Murph 50K Ultramarathon."  It is a trail race in Savage, MN and it will be Jean's second ultramarathon.  His original goal was to raise one thousand dollars for the Wild & Free rehab center.  As the news got out, the thousand dollar goal kept rising.  Friends and relatives opened their hearts and wallets; plus the Pfizer Animal Health Company offered to match funds up to $5,000.  Now the fundraiser has mushroomed to a grand total of $5,215 and hopefully the new goal of $6,000 will be reached by October 27th.

The Wild & Free story in Jean's words:  "Wild & Free is a non-profit wildlife rehabilitation center in Garrison, MN that is near and dear to my heart.  They take in injured and orphaned birds and animals in and effort to rehabilitate, care for, and release them back into the wild, and they are dedicated to wildlife and habitat education.  I have been a supporter of theirs for a number of years now, and a barred owl, great-horned owl, and an American white pelican that I helped sponsor are now back in the wild thanks to these people.  They do extraordinary work."

I can personally testify to their extraordinary caring for sick and injured animals.  A few years ago I had a gray fox den on my property with a litter of four kits.  Unknown to me, the mother disappeared and the kits were left on their own without nourishment.  During a rainstorm I found one of the kits had wandered up and died on my lawn.  That morning I searched for the other kits and found two.  I tried to feed them the best I could, but one of the kits died that night.  

With the help of my daughter in law Blythe, I decided to take the last kit to Wild & Free to try and save him.  We made the 200 mile trip to the rehab center and dropped off the kit.  Over the following week I called each day to find out the condition of the kit.  Unfortunately the kit was too far undernourished and did not survive, but I have never forgotten the caring the staff of Wild & Free showed in trying to save the little gray fox.  

I was saddened by the loss of the little gray fox, but on a positive note, I learned about all the many injured animals and birds Wild & Free has saved... around 350 orphaned or injured a year, released into the wild when healthy enough.  

A recent Wild & Free triumph was a release of a bobcat May 15th.  The bobcat was brought in this January with a diagnosed concussion, it was thought he was hit by a car in Hermantown, MN.  Rather than letting authorities put down the bobcat, the residents took the animal into their care and brought it to Wild & Free.  

The heart-warming story line here is, injured animals come to Wild & Free and they are fed and taken care of, then released when good health is achieved.  Animals that aren't set free because of the inability to take care of themselves usually go to a zoo, endangered animals are taken to breeding projects.

I am extremely proud of Jean's efforts in raising funds for Wild & Free.  When Jean crosses the finish line on October 27th the animals of Wild & Free will be the winners.  

If you wish to contribute to the Wild & Free fundraiser Jean's website is:

"Our treatment of animals is important to our own internal state. If we are to expand our horizons, to grow to understand what the relatedness of each and every thing means, then our love and appreciation of all life is essential. Our respect and reverence for all living things will be reflected in our own living." - Bill Schul (Author of The Psychic Power of Animals)