The previous day I met three birders who had been to a blind to see sharp-tailed grouse courting display. The blind was more than 84 miles from where I was ( Crookston). After making few calls to local DNR, I had a reservation to the blind for 4/12/11. These blinds are by reservation only and usually available from mid April to early May. It was in Berner , Clearwater County. The closest town with a motel was in Clearbrook which was about a 15 miles south of Berner. I stayed at Piper’s Inn. Clean nice little motel. After checking out the blind that afternoon I decided to go to Itasca State Park. I didn’t realize that the mighty Mississippi river originated in lake Itasca.
About 1000 Trumpeter Swans were seen 5 miles north of Clearbrook in a lake. What a sight.
Windy day with wind gush up to 20mph. Chance of rains later in the morning. Early morning temperature was in the upper 30s. Not bad.
Got to the blind at 5.30AM. It was very quiet till about 6.30AM and I was getting worried. Then I heard 5-6 pairs of Sharp-tailed Grouse flying in. They were fascinating to watch. The mating ritual was somewhat similar to Prairie Chickens, but not as elaborate . The show went on till about 7.45AM. I used 600mm lens on my D3 and 70-200 with 1.4Tc on my d200. Some of the birds were as close as 3 feet. It was an awesome day.
I will be out photographing Prairie Chickens at Glacier Ridge National Wildlife Refuge this Sunday.
Here is a capture from last year at the same place.
After 7 hr drive, I safely arrived in Crookston, MN. The first thing I did was to locate the blind I reserved. It was in a middle of an old soy bean field. Getting there was not easy. The provided map was accurate. The most difficult part was crossing the muddy field without getting stuck. I arrived at the blind around 5PM. The blind was shorter and crampy compared to the one I had last year. Within minutes of my arrival I could hear the booming. I saw about 20 birds. The males were raising their head feathers straight up and inflating the yellow neck pouch to attract the females. It was an awesome sight. Worth the 7 hr drive just to see the display and hear the musical booming sounds.
Unfortunately all the birds were far away. No pictures were taken and I enjoyed just being out there.
the blind I had on PK Cty Rd 45 was in a much better location.
Tomorrows weather forecast- rain all day. Oh well.
I left the motel around 5PM. The day started with no rain but as soon as I was approaching my blind a heavy down pour started. Instead of getting my gear wet I decided to explore the area from my vehicle after the sunrise.
It rained non stop the rest of the day.
Blind #1 was located after several wrong turns. It was 7 feet tall and lot more specious. I flushed the chickens as I was approaching the blind. The blind was located in a different area than last year’s and it looks promising.
The day ended without taking a single picture. No rain is in the forecast for tomorrow but I am afraid that the whole area may be flooded by then.
The dawn sky was studded with stars. I was hoping the blind was dry and not flooded from overnight torrential rains. The minimum maintenance
road leading to the parking area was muddy. The parking area was full of water. Some of the reflectors leading to the blind were down from 20mph wind. I took a slightly different route to the blind to avoid large puddles . Needless to say I got lost in the vast open prairie. The sun was coming up quickly and I needed to find the blind soon. Then the chickens started booming and I started walking towards that direction and found the blind.
Prairie chickens put up a great show.
Katmai NP, Alaska. September 2010
I just got a letter from the Alaska Dept of Fish and Game stating that I won the lottery to photograph bears at McNeil River in August 2011. Needless to say, I am thrilled. I have heard that the wait for some people has been over ten years. The only way to go to McNeil is to win the lottery.
There is a $25 non refundable application fee. If your name gets drawn, the permit costs $350 for non residents and $150 for residents.
The facilities at McNeil are minimal. No electricity, telephone, food or drinking water. They do suply a stove and propane for the campers. Over next couple of months I will be thinking about the logistics of carrying all the provisions and gear to McNeil.
The only way to the camp is by air taxi. McNeil is 100 miles west of Homer, the closest air taxi service. The round trip to the camp from Homer is going to cost me $700. Ouch!
The North Wind Air allows total of 250Lbs including my body weight, so I have about 90lbs to play with.
Things I am going to take on this trip.
1. A tent. The weather at McNeil can be brutal. Winds gust up to 70mph and non stop rain is the norm. A tent is the only thing that is going to protect my gear and me from the elements. I need a strong but light weight tent. After lots of research, I decided on Mountain Hard wear SKYLEDGE2 1.
2. Rain Gear. The rangers at McNeil wear rubber rain jackets. They work great but they’re heavy. Given the weight limit, this is going to be out of the question. My choice here is CABELA’S GORE-TEX PAC-LITE RAINY RIVER PARKA.
The chest waders I got from Cabalas (Premium Dry-Plus™ Breathable Stockingfoot Waders) worked great when I was photographing bears at Katmai National Park, Sept 2010. I was crossing Brooks River several times a day wearing this. They kept me dry and comfortable.
3. Layers of clothing
4. Meals. Freeze dried meal packs from Mountain House , Various bars and few apples.
5. SteriPen Classic Handheld UV Water purifier
1. I am debating what long lens to take. My 600mm going to be great, but heavy to lug around. I am leaning towards leaving the 600 behind and taking the 200-400VR with me. 70-200VR will be my mid range zoom. The main camera is my trusty D3 and the back up camera is D200.
I have at least 4 batteris for my D3 that will provide plenty of juice for four days of shooting. My d200 battery pack takes AA batteries. I will be taking lots of lithium AAs for the battery pack. They last forever.
2. Kibiko back pack by Gura Gear. I pick this one over Kinesis long lens bag due to former having a rain cover. My camera and lenses will be placed in light weight sea to summit waterproof drysacks in case I fall into the river during river crossings
3. Gitzo 5541L heavy duty carbon fibre tripod.
4.. 80GBs of CF cards and two 160GB hyperdrives