Northwoods of Minnesota…
This year has been an extremely busy one for me so far, not only have I been busy with leading trips already in the program for Natures Images, I have also been recceing new trips for next year and beyond. It is difficult to come up with new trips all the time as a lot of factors need to work for it to be successful, co-operative subjects, ease of location, decent accommodation just to name a few. I guess that’s why you sometimes take the easy option and go back to the same places as you know them and know that they work. I don’t like working that way all the time though and I love the prospect of photographing a new area and new species. I was in Denali National Park last September looking for Moose and I bumped into Stan Tekiela and Agnieszka Bacal who live in Minnesota. They know the northern forests well and know a great location for photographing Black Bears, so we spoke about the possibility of organising a trip to this northern state. I have spent a lot of time photographing Bears over the past few years but I had never been successful with Black Bears, so I had to make a space in my diary to do so.
The plan for this trip was to work in two locations for Black Bears and Great Northern Divers. Both species are abundant in these northern forests. What struck me about Minnesota is its similarity to Northern Finland which I have been to many times. Like Finland you drive for miles along the roads that cut through the forests and see very little wildlife, it just doesn’t need to be near the roads as it has so much space. A lot of Scandinavian people emigrated to Minnesota and it must have felt like home to these early colonizers. It certainly had a familiar tone for me only I supplemented European Brown Bears and Black Throated Divers for Black Bears and Great Northern Divers.
I have wanted to add Black Bears to my bear portfolio for a number of years now and I have seen them before in Yellowstone National Park but the opportunity was poor and so the images weren’t great. When Stan was explaining this location in Minnesota it sounded perfect and it certainly didn’t leave me disappointed. In Finland the only chance you have of seeing and photographing a Bear is by attracting them by placing out food at a regular spot. Some people especially in the states think this is controversial but personally if it is done right I don’t see it that way. In the states I have photographed Grizzlies in Yellowstone and Alaska going about their natural business which is a fantastic experience. At this location they feed the Black Bears and so they have become accustomed to people at this location. I can understand why people think this can cause a problem as Bears become used to humans but I feel the complete opposite happens. Just like in Finland you have no chance of seeing a bear away from the feeding site. I have friends in Finland that have spent thirty years working with them and they have never just bumped into a Bear in the forest, the Bears are long gone.
What I really liked about this place though is the opportunity to photograph the females with their spring cubs. Usually females are very wary when they have their cubs but they come throughout the day here to feed. When the females feed, their cubs stay close and the first sign of danger they scamper up the trees. They are relaxed with people and so it is a great place to get images of them climbing the trees. Once the danger has passed they then re-join their mum and you can then capture images of them playing and just relaxing.
The danger that these young bears face is really from the large males that also visit throughout the day. These guys can be really impressive and you can get really close to these males. Over the past couple of years I have been looking at producing these intimate tight portraits and this location is perfect for that approach.
After the first part of the trip to the Bears we then moved on to try our luck at Great Northern Divers. Minnesota has a lot of lakes and the state supports an important breeding population of this iconic bird. In fact it is the state’s national bird. Stan has been photographing them for many years and has a number of locations to work with them. I timed my visit here in late June as this year’s chicks have just hatched and their parents are busy rearing them.
To get close to the family groups we used a small boat and it was a great surprise to me at how tame and confiding they were around our boat. I have worked with Great northern Divers before in Iceland and they can be very nervous birds. Not here though because they are used to the boat traffic on some of the lakes and so this is fantastic opportunity to get images of them.
The lakes that we were working on are quite large and support a number of pairs. We went out early mornings and late evenings to capture them in the best light. Stan knew were every pair was likely to be and so there wasn’t much time lost in searching for the birds. He is also excellent at getting his boat into the right position which made my job much easier. It is great fun messing about in boats and to be in the company of such a beautiful bird too.
This was such a great combination and it will be a great trip going forward. Great company in the form of Stan and Agnieszka, great food and accommodation and of course two great subjects to get our teeth into. I still have one place left for next year and if you are interested use this trip link for further details. I would like to thank Stan and Agnieszka for their great company and I am already excited about coming back. After this trip I flew up to Alaska to photograph some new species so look out for a blog in the next few weeks. I will just finish off with a few more images from this great state.Back to news index