It has been a great year and I am looking forward to next year for good photo opportunities. Here are my favorite images of the year. (Go to my website for larger versions. http://www.harshaj.smugmug.com)
Happy New Year
1. Rise above the clouds_ Mt Rainier, Washington USA
2. Wildflowers_ Columbia River Gorge_ Oregon
3. Ruby Beach Sunset_ Washington
4. Proxy Falls, Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon
5. Snowy Owl Hunting, Minnesota
6. Great Fountain Geyser. _Yellowstone NP
7 Yellow Hoodoos_Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness , New Mexico
8.Star Trails, Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness
9. Elk_ Yellowstone NP
10. Hawk Owl
Recently I had a chance to visit Vince Shute Wildlife sanctuary in Northern Minnesota to see
wild black bears. Some say that this is the best place to photograph black bears in the wild in
Northern America. The center is located in Orr and provide a safe sanctuary for the bears. Bears are free to move in and out of the sanctuary. Volunteers place
wild berries and other natural food at various places in the sanctuary grounds.
The bears from the surrounding forests come looking for the food.
There are two ways to
photograph the bears at Vince Shute which is open all week except Mondays. The
center is open to public from 5-8PM.
From the main entrance there is a 1 mile gravel road to the parking lot.
From there a courtesy bus takes you to the sanctuary. Wildlife viewing is done from a platform that
is 14″ high. You are free to move around. Only monopods are allowed.
Depending on the day you may have to fight with the crowds to get a vantage
point to view the bears. The day I visited they had 170 visitors from 5 to 8
The best way to observe and photograph the bears is to book
a private photo session. ( 175/- plus one year membership fee of $30) . This
way you get to spend the whole day at the center. Visitor is required to come the day before to
go through the safely instructions and sign the liability waiver forms. If you
go on a Tuesday ( Center is closed Monday ) prior arrangements are necessary to
fill out the forms.
The day I visited I was the only photographer there. I was
asked to meet at the main gate at 6.45AM . Mike the intern opened the gate and
took me to the main office to sign the forms and to go through the safety
rules. He spent the next hour with me to make sure I am comfortable roaming
around the place. You are allowed to walk and follow the bears in the open
meadow but not into the forest.
I spent one and a half days at the sanctuary. Unfortunately
both days were sunny with contrasty lighting.
A cloudy less contrasty conditions are best for bear photography.
Bears are very active from sunrise to 10pm. Early in the
morning there were about 12 adults roaming in the meadows. Spring cubs and the yearling are usually seen
in the trees trying to avoid the males during this time of the day. Some of the
yearling are best photographed from the 14″ high platform. You may be able
to get an eye level shots from this vantage point. Once the males leave the
area, the mothers with babies appear. The sows are aware of the danger to the
cubs from big males and constantly watching out for them. At the slightest
danger the sow makes a grunting sound
making the cubs scrambling aloft a tree. Once I saw a sow and her three
spring cubs climb a tree to escape a
From 10am to till about 3PM the sanctuary is quiet. You can
still find bears resting and yearlings going after whatever food left by the adult bears. You may leave the
premises to have lunch but I had my lunch inside the car in the parking area. When the general public start coming you are
not allowed to walk in the open meadow. You can join the crowd and photograph from the
platform or stay underneath the platform out of the sight of the public.
I took my 600mm, 200-400mm and 70-200mm lenses . Most of the
shots were taken using 200-400 and few with 70 -200. For canon shooter 100-400
would be an ideal lens.
Most of the bear interactions happen in the shadows of the
forest in very contasty conditions. I have to use very high ISO to get a decent
shutter speed. Some of the shots were done using ISO 3200.
I camped at Temperance river state park. My camp site was over looking the lake superior. It was spectacular.
Here are few images from Oberg trail near Lutsen, MN.
Taken with D3 and 16-35/F4VR and 70-200VR lenses
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.