David Brickner: Blog https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog en-us (C) David Brickner (David Brickner) Mon, 15 Aug 2022 13:23:00 GMT Mon, 15 Aug 2022 13:23:00 GMT https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/img/s/v-12/u534311086-o208941375-50.jpg David Brickner: Blog https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog 120 96 Baskatong Bull https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2022/8/baskatong-bull *The following post was published in the Winter 2021 issue of the Boundary Waters Journal and titled "Baskatong Bull." It's a great publication and I would encourage anyone with a love for the BWCA to check it out. If you are interested in purchasing the Winter 2021 issue, you can do so by following this link: https://www.boundarywatersjournal.com/shop/available-back-issues/product/203-winter-2021.  

Over the last few years my wife and I have made countless trips to northern Minnesota. She’s a climber, I’m a wildlife photographer. We both love being outside. Our adventures have ranged from backpacking the Superior Hiking Trail, climbing Palisade Head, exploring the BWCA, and sipping whiskey under the stars on the shores of Lake Superior. Last summer I set out with the goal of seeing my first moose in the state of Minnesota. I had photographed moose in Montana, Wyoming, and Canada, but had yet to even see one in my home state. By the end of 2020 I had seen eight and even walked away with some quality photographs. Yet for the amount of time I spend looking, which primarily involves combing the backroads of Superior National Forest, I see far less moose than I would hope.

Minnesota once boasted a population of nearly 10,000 moose. Since 2006, that number has dropped dramatically with the most recent estimate to be around 3,000 individuals. Three thousand may seem like a lot of moose, but considering where the numbers once stood, as well as the vastness of Superior National Forest, moose sightings are rare. There are very few well maintained roads that travel through Superior National Forest. Aside from the Superior Hiking Trail, other trails, such as the Border Route Trail or the Kekekabic, are difficult to navigate without a GPS. Arguably the best way to navigate Minnesota’s backcountry is by canoe.

My wife and I decided to plan a trip up north that would consist of some day trips into the BWCA. We have not done much camping in the BWCA backcountry and decided a weekend of car camping and day trips would be an enjoyable and less stressful way to enjoy the area. So now it fell to the task of deciding which route to take into the BWCA. We have no problem being out all day, so long as we make it back to our campsite before dark. I have to imagine that searching for a portage in the dark could be a challenging task. But since we are both relatively active and fit individuals, we felt that day trips taking us three to four lakes into the backcountry was a realistic goal. 

I set about scouring the internet as we planned for our weekend up north, looking at BWCA maps to get an idea of entry points that would lead to a chain of lakes we could explore for an entire day. Soon my searches shifted toward my favorite northern Minnesota hobby - searching for moose. My searches shifted to, “where to find moose in the BWCA,” “best lakes for moose in the BWCA,” or just “moose in the Boundary Waters.” Obscure blog posts, miscellaneous reviews, and outdated magazine articles started popping up. One website in particular provided several articles of interest. It was an old, online publication focused on the Boundary Waters and its wildlife. It contained route suggestions, narratives of adventures through the BWCA, photo contests, information about wildlife, outfitter recommendations, and so on. 

There was one article in particular that caught my eye. It was titled “In Search of Bull Moose at Baskatong Lake.” The author, Toni Babcock, had purchased a shed moose antler that had originally been found along Baskatong Lake. The size of the antler was impressive enough that it inspired the author and her husband to make the journey out to Baskatong with the hope of encountering the individual this enormous antler had once belonged to. It was a beautifully written story, filled with detail about the journey out to Baskatong Lake and quiet mornings spent waiting and watching for the legendary moose to make an appearance. One could feel the sense of peace and aloneness that comes with being deep in the BWCA through her writing. 

Unfortunately, Babcock never saw her moose. Signs of moose were all around their campsite. A large splash in the middle of the night indicated they weren’t entirely alone. But the bull moose of Baskatong Lake never appeared. 

The intrigue surrounding Babcock’s search for this moose was enough to convince me to follow in her footsteps. Granted, the article was written in 2001, and while the bull moose from the article had likely passed on, it seemed like as good a route as any. Thus our trip plans materialized. Our first day would consist of entering the BWCA from Baker Lake, hoping to go as far as Jack Lake, then our second day would be the journey to Baskatong.

DSC01954-Mean Min Hor NoiseDSC01954-Mean Min Hor NoiseMilky Way over Crescent Lake in Superior National Forest, Minnesota We left after work on a Thursday evening. Most of our trips up north begin shortly before sunset so by the time we arrive at a campsite it is almost always dark. We’ve become pretty adept at setting up camp with our headlamps. The stressful part is often finding a campsite. This trip was no exception as it was nearly 9:30 before we turned onto Sawbill Trail to begin our journey into Superior National Forest. The North Shore has become increasingly popular since the start of COVID, forcing us to become increasingly creative when it comes to finding accommodations. We had hoped to camp at Baker Lake, a rustic campground with five sites. When we arrived it was full, so we continued down The Grade to Crescent Lake Campground where we found a handful of open sites. It was a beautiful night and the Perseid Meteor shower was taking place, so we headed down to the lake to sit under the stars. The moon had set, plunging the sky into deep darkness, and the Milky Way had risen over the lake right in front of us. We watched the most brilliant shooting stars we had ever seen streak across the sky. It was one of those magical nights under the stars in Superior National Forest.

The following morning we rolled out of our tent before sunrise. We had to drive back down Sawbill Trail to pick up our canoe at Sawtooth Outfitters so we decided to make it a morning of searching for moose. Soft light filtered through the trees as we drove back road after back road, hoping to get a glimpse of a dark silhouette passing among the trees. As has been the theme of this summer, we saw nothing and continued to Sawtooth. Once the canoe was loaded on the car, we made the drive back up Sawbill Trail to embark on our first adventure. The goal was to begin at Baker Lake and work our way as far into the BWCA as we could manage in a day. We pulled up to the lake and began unloading our gear. A strong wind had picked up and clouds were rolling in. Soon it began to rain. My dream of paddling on glassy lakes started to fade as it became clear that today was going to be more of a challenge than we had hoped.

We waited for a break in the weather before pushing out into Baker Lake. We were met with a strong headwind that would not let up for the entire day. I had hoped to make it as far as Jack Lake, but constant wind, periodic rain, and low water levels caused us to turn back after a brief foray into the southern part of Kelly Lake. We were disheartened and a little crabby.

The following day was another early one. My philosophy when searching for elusive wildlife is that that more I do it, eventually I am going to get lucky. That philosophy has not held up well this year and we came up empty handed again. It was a beautiful morning, nonetheless. Steam was rising from the lakes along the backroads. Loons called to one another in the fog. If this is the consolation prize for getting up early, it was very worthwhile. 

DSC02139-PanoDSC02139-PanoFog and sunrise on Crescent Lake, Minnesota

After breakfast and coffee we discussed what to do for the day. The previous day had been just discouraging enough that we weren’t sure if we wanted to repeat it, but no other options stood out to us. So we decided we would make the trek out to Baskatong Lake. We had nothing to lose and if the wind proved to be as miserable as the previous day, we could always turn back. Our spirits lifted as we drove to the Kawishiwi Lake entry point. The sun was out in full force, the wind seemed to be subsiding, and by the time we reached the lake it was clear that we were in for a beautiful day of paddling. The parking lot at Kawishiwi was full, but once we pushed out onto the lake we felt as though we had the place to ourselves. Paddling across Kawishiwi was uneventful - a nice change from the day before. We paddled past islands, a pair of trumpeter swans, and before we knew it we had entered the channel that connects to Square Lake. We glided silently through Lilly pads, past tall reeds, imagining moose at every turn. Near the end of the channel, a beaver dam separated the two lakes, but required nothing more than lifting the canoe to the other side. As we paddled into Square Lake, we were met with a very different landscape than what we were used to. The entire north end of the lake sported young growth intermixed with tall, dead trees - the results of a forest fire. In August of 2011, a lightning strike started what is known as the Pagami Creek Fire. What seemed like a small, inconsequential forest fire, turned into one of the largest, and most unprecedented fires to cut through northern Minnesota, burning over 80,000 acres in one day and over 90,000 acres total.  DSC02214DSC02214Loon, Baskatong Lake, BWCA

What’s unique about Square Lake is it sat on the very edge of the burn area. While the north side has small growth and tall, dead trees, the southern edge of the lake was untouched. 

Square Lake is a relatively small lake. Aside from a loon and a couple people camped on the southern shore, we were the only ones on the water. We paddled across Square to the portage leading to Baskatong. The 69 rod portage was very manageable. Relatively flat, it leads to a clearing along the shores of Baskatong, which is where we paused for lunch. While we ate, I wandered around the shoreline searching for tracks in the mud. Seeing none, and being the middle of the day, I accepted that we too would not likely encounter the bull moose of Baskatong Lake. 

I looked out at the lake ahead of us, taking in the scenery while I ate my PB and J sandwich. Baskatong Lake was well within the burn area of the Pagami Fire. Tall dead trees lined the surrounding area, ghosts of the previous forest. On the east side of the lake, large boulders jutted out from the shoreline into the water. We paddled along these into a small bay where a single loon was preening itself. As we paddled through the bay we were startled by a loud splash. Unknown to us, we had intruded on a beaver’s territory. It slapped its tail as it dove under the water, alerting us that we were not particularly welcome guests.

We paddled out of the bay and into to the northern part of the lake. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. High 70’s, no wind, blue skies, and we were the only people on the lake. My wife wanted to take a dip in the lake, so we pulled the canoe onto a rock ledge. I cracked open a beer, she swam in the lake. Despite having not seen a moose, I was content. Barely three lakes into the Boundary Waters, we felt as though we were on the most remote corner of the planet. There were no people, no sound from man-made machines. It was just us and the wilderness. 

Then, from out of the stillness, we heard a noise from across the lake. It sounded like a snorting sound. For a second I thought it was my imagination - my wishful thinking getting the better of me. My wife and I looked at each, clearly thinking the same thing. I grabbed the binoculars and started scanning the distant shoreline where the noise had come from. I saw nothing. We waited, looking and listening. Several minutes passed and still nothing. We were about to resign ourselves to the fact that whatever we heard, it was not what we had thought it was. Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, a large dark shape emerged from the trees on the opposite shore and stepped into the water. 

DSC02220-2DSC02220-2Bull moose, Baskatong Lake, BWCA My wife and I looked at one another, stunned. As what usually happens when I encounter moose, my heart raced. I could not believe what was happening. The moose was on the far side of the lake, over two hundred yards out. As quietly as we could we slid the canoe into the water and paddled to the middle of the lake. The bright sunlight had created some harsh shadows along the opposite shore, making it impossible to see the moose. I looked through the binoculars, but saw nothing. Had the moose disappeared as mysteriously as it had shown up? There was a fallen tree in the lake with branches sticking up out of the water and I turned the canoe toward that. A few more silent strokes of our paddles in the water inched us a little closer. Still unable to see the moose, we just sat, bewildered. Where had that moose gone? As we sat in the canoe I looked toward the downed tree again as the branches of the fallen tree slowly turn in my direction. What I had thought was a downed tree was actually the antlers of our moose, barely sticking above the surface of the water. He had submerged his entire body into the lake with just his head above the surface. As he turned, we got a full look at the antlers and I realized that  this was not just any moose - this was a massive bull, the king of his domain. The bull moose of Baskatong Lake. 

Now, a bit of a side note on my own narrative. Of course, the odds of this being the same moose are practically zero. Moose live to be anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five years old. Bull moose may reach their peak size around age five and begin to decline in their teens. If we assume the moose that Babcock was after was a bull in its prime, five to ten years old, that would mean it would be well over twenty years of age today, unlikely to be sporting such a healthy rack of antlers. Now, if you would be willing to indulge me for just a moment, whose to say that this moose submerged in the lake in front of us wasn’t genetically related to the king that once roamed this particular stretch of wilderness? It is likely that Babcock’s moose sired dozens of calves over the course of its lifetime. Strong genetics like that could produce a lineage of large bulls.

At the very least, I am choosing to believe that this is one of those descendants.

With that semi-believable narrative in the back of my mind, I sat in my canoe, in awe of the moose in front of me. For several minutes he just stared back. I think he was as surprised to see us as we were to see him. Baskatong is a dead end lake for BWCA travelers, so unless it is one’s specific destination, paddlers would not come through this lake on a regular basis. And while we were thrilled to see him, the feeling was not mutual.

We were careful to keep our canoe at a respectful distance, wanting to savor this moment as long as possible. However, one thing I’ve learned over the past decade of wildlife photography is that every animal has its own bubble of comfort. Some animals have a small bubble and are far more tolerant of the presence of people. The moose in Minnesota seem to have a very large bubble and do not usually stick around when people are present.

After a few more minutes of soaking in the lake, Our moose-friend had decided that solitude was preferable to our company. He turned and started swimming back toward shore. Once at the shore, he hoisted his massive frame out of the water, displaying his full size and stature, and started to trudge back up the hillside. About halfway up he reached a clearing with several downed trees. He stepped into the clearing and turned to look at us for what felt like an eternity. We sat in our canoe and stared back. He did not seem anxious around us, nor did he seem as though he was in a huge hurry to leave. Instead, it was almost as if he was curious about the small bipeds sitting in a floating structure in the lake below him. Curious, but unamused. DSC02286DSC02286Bull moose, Baskatong Lake, BWCA

Then, with a final glance, he turned up the hillside and disappeared into the trees. Even once he was out of sight, we could hear branches breaking as he made his way through the thick brush. Almost as suddenly as he joined us, my wife and I again found ourselves alone on the lake. We sat in our canoe, stunned at what we had witnessed.

We had set out that morning with the fantastical narrative of Toni Babcock’s story in the back of our minds. There was no realistic expectation we would see a moose, but the moment this one appeared on the shores of Baskatong Lake, I couldn’t help but appreciate the parallels between Babcock’s story and our own adventure. Her article ended with the realization that, more than finding a moose, she had set out to find a good story. I’d like to think that twenty years later, I get to write the sequel to that story. In a sense, isn’t that what the Boundary Waters are all about? Each adventure into the wilderness is a story in and of itself, and sometimes these stories connect in beautifully ironic ways. 

 

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(David Brickner) adventure animals area boundary bull bwca camping canoe canoeing explore forest lakes Minnesota moose nature north Northern photography portage quetico waters wild wilderness wildlife https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2022/8/baskatong-bull Mon, 15 Aug 2022 13:00:00 GMT
Reflections on the Gunflint Trail https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2022/6/reflections-on-the-gunflint-trail Two years ago today, my wife and I turned onto the Gunflint Trail for the first time. It was pitch black as we made our way to Flour Lake Campground. Despite living in Minnesota my entire life, I had never made this trek. But as my wife and I had been exploring the North Shore region more and more, we felt that it was time to see what the Gunflint was all about. We had plans of hiking, canoeing, and searching for moose. As I’ve written about before, I had never seen a moose in Minnesota and for some reason, in the back of my mind, I had this growing desire to photograph the iconic animal of our northern forests. I had no idea how realistic this was, but like most of my adventures, it started out with a little planning and a lot of imagination. And while I had little idea as to what I was actually doing on that trip, we must have had beginner’s luck on our side, as we saw three moose over the course of the weekend as well as two bears and a fox. DSC02339DSC02339A bull moose at a small pond near West Bearskin Lake along the Gunflint Trail I found myself reflecting a lot on that first trip as we found ourselves again, almost two years to the day, exploring some of the same backroads we did on that first trip. This time it was less imagination, more planning, and a more realistic understanding of the challenges and rewards that go into these ventures. We walked away from this trip seeing six moose, two bears, and a fox, very reminiscent of our first trip. Two of the moose were even in the same spot as they were on that first trip. 

While the two trips were similar, there were also incredibly different. On this trip I knew exactly where I wanted to explore. I’ve become relatively familiar with the area and had a good idea of spots to check. Sure enough, my hunches weren’t terrible, as seeing six moose is a rare experience. But my reasons for being there in the first place were different. I had been asked to teach a photography course at North House Folk School in Grand Marais so it was during my spare time that I found myself traversing the Gunflint. It was an honor to have the opportunity to teach about something I am so passionate about, and I hope it’s something I get to do again in the future. But what struck me most was how I have grown as a photographer and how significant that first trip up the Gunflint was to that growth. If I hadn’t made that trip, or randomly encountered that first moose in an unexpected spot in the middle of the day, I don’t know if I would have been so inspired to return time and again to the area. If I hadn’t found success on those early trips, I don’t think I would have devoted the time, energy, gas, and miles on the car searching far and wide. And frankly, I don’t know who I would be as a photographer right now without those experiences. Because of those early experiences, I have ventured further than I would have without them, leading to experiences  and stories that have been published in the Boundary Waters Journal as well as the opportunity to teach a photography course with North House. These are small accomplishments, but they mean a lot to me and I know they would not have taken place without that first venture into unknown territory. It’s kinda crazy to reflect on the trickle-down effect that first trip has had in my life over the past two years. DSC02305DSC02305Moose, Gunflint Trail

And with all that being said, I am grateful for the past two years and I am excited for what’s to come. Towards the end of the first day of the photography course with North House, I talked about passion and why we bother taking photos in the first place. One thing that came to mind is that this is a hobby that gives back. Photography has given me new experiences, goals, excuses to travel and explore, opportunities to be published and have my voice heard, and a chance to teach others how to engage with a creative outlet. For those that have taken even a remote interest in my work, whether that’s purchasing a print, buying a calendar, browsing my website, or reading these blogs, thank you. I am grateful for the support and the kind words you have sent my way during this journey and I hope to keep bringing you images from our great state. 

 

 

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(David Brickner) adventure animals forest gunflint Gunflint Trail Minnesota moose nature Northern Minnesota photography up north wild wilderness wildlife wildlife photography https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2022/6/reflections-on-the-gunflint-trail Sat, 11 Jun 2022 18:00:00 GMT
The less glamorous side of wildlife photography https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2022/5/the-less-glamorous-side-of-wildlife-photography I love wildlife photography. I love the exploring the vast forests of Northern Minnesota, the rush of finding wildlife, hearing the click of my camera’s shutter as I capture images I have been dreaming about. I love the gratified feeling at the end of the day as I scroll through photos on the back of my camera, reliving each moment. Finding wildlife and capturing images is so rewarding. It more than makes up for early mornings, thousands of miles in the car, crappy coffee and car snacks, the lack of sleep. 

But when those moments don’t happen, when wildlife can’t be found, when there are no opportunities to capture the image I am after, it can be deeply disheartening. All of a sudden the thousands of miles, early mornings and lack of sleep, and crappy coffee don’t feel quite as worth it. 

Often I feel that a bad day in nature is still better than a good day indoors. But an entire trip of failure starts to outweigh that motto. This last trip I set out with a new goal: to photograph black bears in northern Minnesota. I picked a new spot, did some research, and felt confident that, even if I didn’t get the photos I was after, I would at least find my subject and gain a better idea of how to go about getting images in the future.

It can be challenging to venture into something new with wildlife photography. Namely new subjects and new locations. A new subject in a familiar location is more comfortable than a familiar subjection in a new location. But the combination of new subject and new location can be daunting. Nonetheless, I had to try. I have had a burning desire to check out this particular area for bears for some time now and my portfolio is lacking images of bears from my home state. I’ve come across a handful of bears, but all I have to show for it are a few images of blurry bear butts as they run in the opposite direction.

So I set out to a new area, searching for a new subject. Four hours north of my home I found myself in Kabetogama State Forest. I found the backroads that I had picked from time spent browsing Google Maps and started searching. I had never visited this area before, but based on my research, I felt that I was in the right place. 

I searched and searched. Back road after back road. I searched until sunset and was up again before sunrise. It’s hard to not get discouraged and I quickly found my spirits sinking. A couple hours passed and soon it was time to return to the hotel and get ready for the rest of the day. Even though I had walked away empty handed so far, I was excited about where we had planned to search next - Voyageurs National Park and the surrounding area.

Having never visited Voyageurs, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that most of it was accessible only by boat, but I figured there’d be a handful of trails and backroads that would lend themselves to opportunities for wildlife viewing. We opted for the Ash Bay entrance as that seemed to have a handful of trails. By noon, we had hiked all three available “day hikes” and had really seen most of what could be seen without being on the water. The scenery was beautiful, but again, not what I had expected and with no sings of wildlife, the writing was on the wall that this trip was going to be a bust.

We just decided to enjoy the rest of the day by grabbing coffee and visiting some northern Minnesota towns we had never been to before. By late afternoon we had returned to our haunts around Kabetogama. We found some new backroads and explored them and revisited some old ones, hoping that frequency would yield results. Again, we were met with nothing other than a few piles of scat and a faint track.

We had planned on spending more time in this area, but by day three we were ready to move on. It had been awhile since a wildlife trip had felt like such a fruitless endeavor. It had also been awhile since I had explored an entirely new area. Because it was new, it was worth the experience of the visit and trying something new, but it left me missing some of my more familiar territory where I have had some luck over the past couple years. 

Our drive home took us through one such area, and we were treated to watching two great gray owls taking advantage of the overcast weather. But aside from that encounter, I returned home with relatively empty memory cards and full camera batteries. 

I value new experiences, therefore this trip was not a complete waste. Plus, any encounter with great gray owls is special and added some redeeming value to the trip. But all in all, it was a reminder that wildlife photography can be a grind and there are never any guarantees you’ll get a photo of the subject you’re pursuing, much less even get a glimpse of it in the thick forests of Northern Minnesota.

 

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(David Brickner) adventure animals bears explore forest Minnesota owls photography wilderness wildlife https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2022/5/the-less-glamorous-side-of-wildlife-photography Tue, 24 May 2022 17:05:00 GMT
Fall bull moose encounter https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2021/10/fall-bull-moose-encounter Just over a year ago I found myself face to face with a bull moose. I was wrapping up a fall color photo blitz. The colors were hitting peak and, although I had a myriad of responsibilities facing me, I hopped in my car on a Monday afternoon and headed north. I only had about 24 hours before I needed to be back, so I had to make it count. I hit Caribou Falls, then Section 13, finishing the day watching the sunset from Oberg Mountain. The day didn’t end with sunset, as I drove to Sugarloaf Cove to photograph the Milky Way. Sleep was low on my priorities list, but I managed to crash for a few hours in the back of my Subaru before heading out for sunrise at my favorite lake along the Superior Hiking Trail. Sunrise was spectacular and while I had a whole day ahead of me, I already felt content with what I had captured. Once the sun was high enough that the lighting was harsh, I began my hike out to my car. I passed a photographer on his way in, which I thought was unique considering the lighting had gotten so harsh. We paused to chat for a minute and he shared that he had been looking for moose not far from where we were. He graciously shared the location and I decided to check it out. There were several clearings that he suggested I check, so I made my way along a back road through Superior National Forest, hopping out at each clearing to see if anything was hanging out. First clearing was quiet and I didn’t see any signs of moose. The second clearing was quiet as well, but as I wandered around I noticed a couple of tracks that looked relatively fresh. My tracking skills are very poor, but these few tracks were enough to intrigue me to visit later in the day. 

Then I was off again. It was Cascade State Park, White Sky Overlook, and some time spent along the shore of Lake Superior. Late afternoon was turning to evening and it was time to either set up for sunset or return to my moose search. I was pleased with the shots I had gotten, so the search for moose was on. I again stopped at all the cleanings. Listening. Waiting. All was quiet. At the second clearing I decided to hike up a ridge for a better vantage point.

DSC07058DSC07058A bull moose in the fall colors in Lutsen, Minnesota
At the top of the ridge I scanned the clearing below me. It was a large clearing over a quarter mile from end to end. The clearing looked like it had been forested several years ago and included some burn areas. I wandered a little further on, admiring the changing colors of the trees and the way the evening light made them glow. It was a beautiful fall evening and whether or not I saw a moose, the trip had felt like a success. I took in my surroundings one last time, then turned to head back to my car and start my trek back to Minneapolis. Just as I started to descend the ridge, I noticed a large dark shape emerge from the tree line at the southern end of the clearing. A bull moose came striding into view. My heart was pounding, my hands were shaking, and I could hardly get my tripod set up I was so excited. The moose immediately starting walking through the clearing in my direction. It got closer and closer, sniffing the air in anticipation of finding a mate or a rival. I did not fit the description of either, and soon my excitement was tempered as the moose strode within 50 yards. I had been crouched down initially hoping to remain unseen. However, it was soon clear that I was standing on a worn game trail and the likeliest path the moose would take. So I stood up, hoping that if the moose saw me it would change its course. It paused and looked right at me. For a moment we just stared at one another. Then, to me surprise, the moose continued right towards me. Moose have very poor eyesight, so perhaps there was a chance that the moose did not see me. And since they rely heavily on smell, I was likely upwind DSC07067DSC07067A bull moose in the fall colors in Lutsen, Minnesota  from him. None of that mattered in that moment and I knew that if I didn’t move, this exciting encounter could turn dangerous. I picked up my tripod and turned to start walking toward the nearest tree line. As I did so I stepped on a large stick. The stick snapped so loudly that it startled the moose, causing it to run back to the edge of the trees it had originally come from. My heart was pounding as I watched it race across the clearing. As it approached the forest it paused one last time and turned back to look in my direction. I fired off a few more photos, one of which has become one of my all time favorites. Then, as suddenly it had appeared, it was gone, back into the dense forests of Minnesota.

I drove by that spot again this year. If nothing else, to reminisce on the experience. The growth is significantly higher than it was last year, and I did not find any fresh moose tracks. Perhaps this clearing has reached a point where it no longer provides the nutrients moose seek out. Or maybe I came through at the wrong time. Either way, I will be forever grateful for that unexpected encounter.

2020_09_bullmoose_fallcolors_minnesota2020_09_bullmoose_fallcolors_minnesotaBull moose in the fall colors near Lutsen, Minnesota
 

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(David Brickner) animals explore forest mammal minnesota moose national nature north shore superior wild wilderness wildlife https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2021/10/fall-bull-moose-encounter Thu, 21 Oct 2021 16:00:00 GMT
Return to Yellowstone https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2021/8/return-to-yellowstone Is it considered excessive to visit the same place seven times, with the intention of returning again? If so, then I am guilty of excessively visiting the Yellowstone region. This summer I had the opportunity to return to the place that inspired a love of wilderness that has only grown over the past decade. The last time I visited the park for an extended period of time was in 2015. I spent a week by myself exploring Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. After that trip, life gained various layers of complexity, photography diminished, and my focus turned elsewhere. However, as mentioned in a previous blog post, I have had somewhat of a reawakening as it pertains to photography and it felt fitting to return to the region that started this passion nearly a decade ago.

DSC00321DSC00321Undine Falls, Yellowstone National Park This trip would prove to be unlike any other I have had out west, or anywhere else for that matter. Plagued by the most unforeseen car issues, my 2012 Subaru Outback limped into the gates of East Yellowstone on a flat tire. This would be far from the end of our troubles as broken lug nuts on the trip home left us stranded in Rapid City, South Dakota for three days. Car issues aside, this trip was by far the best I have ever had in terms of photography. The primary goal of any visit out west is grizzly bears. I have been mesmerized by grizzly bears ever since I watched a mother and her cub forage along the shores of Lake Yellowstone in 2011. However, getting a quality photograph of a grizzly bear is a challenge for many reasons. In my first six trips to Yellowstone I had walked away with one photograph of a grizzly that I was remotely proud of. It was a photograph of Grizzly 610, famous sow of the Teton region, standing in the middle of a field. Aside from that, I felt as though my grizzly archives were lacking and therefore I wanted the focus of this trip to be on bears. DSC00205DSC00205Bison grazing, Yellowstone National Park

We scheduled this trip for late May. It’s a unique time to visit as winter is still lingering in parts of the park. It can be in the 70’s during the day and drop into the 20’s at night. One morning we were greeted with a fresh blanket of snow on our tent and treacherous road conditions. By midday it had melted and felt like fine spring weather again. This is also a season where grizzlies have recently emerged from their dens. Boars are busy searching for mates. Sows with cubs are doing their best to find food to keep their family strong. This is also a season where more bears can be found at lower elevations, thus providing more opportunities for sightings. Our expectations were high and the trip did not disappoint, beginning with a young male grizzly greeting us just outside of the east entrance to Yellowstone. He was far away on a hillside and I only managed a shot of his backside as he lumbered into the trees, but it was an encouraging start to the trip. 

DSC08037DSC08037Black bear near Norris Junction, Yellowstone National Park DSC00644DSC00644Mountain goat, Yellowstone National Park Many of the grizzlies in the Yellowstone region are known by numbers from research tags or nicknames given them by local photographers and wildlife enthusiasts. We were privileged to view a handful of these "celebrity bears," including Grizzly 791, arguably the largest bear in Yellowstone National Park. Last fall, a lucky photographer captured video of 791 drowning a bull elk in the Yellowstone River. It sat on the carcass for several days, drawing photographers from all over the country. We happened upon 791 while driving back to our campsite late one night. He was with another bear, a sow known as the Beryl Spring Sow, indicating the area of the park which she tends to frequent. The two had partnered up for mating season and were spending time along the roadside, drawing large crowds of viewers. The crowds that show up for these bears can be problematic for everyone involved. Rangers have the task of keeping both bears and people safe, yet bears are what draw many people to the park in the first place, so the excitement to see one often overrides common sense. There is a constant struggle in the Yellowstone/Teton region to provide people with opportunities to see and photograph these incredible animals while ensuring the safety of all involved. 


That struggle was on full display on our visit, not only in Yellowstone, but in Grand Teton National Park as well. Many of our grizzly viewing opportunities were accompanied by crowds, sometimes consisting of hundreds of people. For the most part, people acted with care and kindness both toward the bears, the rangers, and one another. For some, the crowds diminish their experience in seeing these bears, and while I'd love to have these opportunities all to myself, I do relish the opportunity to meet other photographers and connect with people who live all over the country. We share stories of past visits, show pictures from our websites of the moments we’ve had with these incredible animals. Not only did I walk away with the best photos of grizzly bears I have ever taken, I met some wonderful people whose paths intersected with mine at numerous points throughout the trip.

Returning to the bears we saw, we were treated to views not only of 791 and the Beryl sow, but thirteen other grizzlies, making for a grand total of fifteen grizzlies seen on this trip. For the most part, I walked away with photos of most of these bears that I am proud of. Each sighting was different. There was the breathtaking encounter of a sow and her two cubs just after sunset in front of the Tetons, the ambient light reflecting on her fur as she foraged for food. Then there was a young male grizzly who had partnered up with a slightly older sow. The two spent several days together, foraging and engaging in other related adult bear activities. These two in particular gave us our first really good looks and photographs of the trip, and it was a memorable morning watching them forage in a field in front of a throng of photographers with little to no care of our presence. Then there was the famous bear called “Snow” who we watched nap in a patch of snow for over an hour along Yellowstone Lake. What was particularly special was that I had photographed Snow's mother when she was just a cub back in 2011. Each encounter was unique and each bear seemed to have its own story. 

While the bears are what draw me westward, there are many other aspects to this region that only enhance the experience. The dramatic mountains, winding rivers, and hot springs create a majestic landscape at very turn.
 
DSC01127DSC01127Grizzly bears, Grand Teton National Park

Bison roam freely throughout the area, often within feet of cars that make their way through the vast valleys they call home. The mysterious presence of wolves, though not always visible, add to the anticipation of what one might see on their visit. There are also the little experiences that may not seem special when retold, but in the moment are meaningful and unique. Such as sitting in the midst of a marmot colony, while over ten different marmots wander around, checking me out and ducking in and out of their network of tunnels. Bluebirds along Yellowstone Lake, providing entertainment while I waited for any grizzlies to make an appearance. Wandering through hot springs, admiring their unique color and grasping the concept that I am basically standing in a volcano at that moment. In short, there is so much to appreciate about that region that it would take pages upon pages to share.

DSC08991DSC08991Grizzly bear at sunset, Grand Teton National Park

It is all of these reasons that have continued to draw me back time and again. And at the forefront of these reasons are the bears, some of which have stories that go back over twenty years. There is just something special about a wilderness that still has grizzly bears as its apex predator and as long as they continue to roam the wilds of the Yellowstone ecosystem, I will continue to visit at a rate that some may consider  excessive. 


 

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(David Brickner) adventure animals bears bison bluebirds explore grand Tetons grizzly marmots mountains nature road trip Tetons travel wilderness wildlife wildlife photography wolves Wyoming Yellowstone https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2021/8/return-to-yellowstone Wed, 18 Aug 2021 15:30:00 GMT
Rediscovering nature photography https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2021/1/rediscovering-nature-photography I got started on wildlife photography by visiting places such as Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier National Park. Sweeping valleys offered opportunity after opportunity for spotting bison, bears, and on the rare occasion, wolves. I was somewhat spoiled by the abundance of wildlife. While many of my photos from these places reflect my inexperience as a photographer, I developed a deep passion for wildlife photography, particularly photographing the large mammals of North America. I can’t fully describe what it was that clicked inside of me on these early trips, but I have found few things in life that bring the same rush of excitement and purpose as finding and photographing animals such as moose, bears, and wolves. There’s something deeply meaningful when a moose allows you approach and sit with it while it grazes at sunset. Or when a wolf looks up and makes eye contact with you, it’s yellow eyes meeting yours and staring right through you. These were a lot of my early experiences with wildlife photography and they shaped my photography more than anything else. DSC06610DSC06610Sunrise at Hollow Rock, Grand Portage, Minnesota

Living in Minnesota, finding and photographing wildlife looked very different. I would make occasional trips along the Mississippi River to photograph eagles. Every now and then I would trek up to a well known area to photograph owls. But much of the time my photography was limited to local state parks which primarily meant deer and birds. For the most part I felt somewhat lost in my own state when it came to photographing wildlife. I knew the opportunities were out there, but I didn’t know where to start. 

There came a season where I moved away from wildlife photography and focused on other pursuits. Along the way I had upgraded my camera gear and in the process hadn’t replaced the lens necessary to capture images of wild animals. I wasn’t sure if wildlife photography would have a place in my life going forward and in general I wasn’t sure how photography fit in.

Then Covid happened. Many activities that I enjoyed were no longer available and I felt overwhelmed at the idea of sitting in my apartment for the next several months. So I started browsing Ebay for used lenses suitable for photographing wildlife. Within about a day I had purchased one and over the next few weeks I spent countless evenings wandering off-trail through the forests along the Minnesota River Valley photographing owls, sunsets, and anything else that caught my eye. 

Over the course of these few weeks I experienced a reawakening for wildlife photography. This time I started to feel a call to turn my attention to northern Minnesota, whose forests are home to bears, moose and wolves. I’ve lived in Minnesota my whole life and had never encountered any of these animals in my home state. In Yellowstone you are almost guaranteed to see these animals. Its sweeping valleys provide incredible opportunities. But the dense forests of northern Minnesota provide a unique challenge. 

DSC08656DSC08656Great gray owl, Sax Zim Bog, MN
Northern Minnesota has always been a very intimidating place for me when it comes to wildlife photography and I didn’t really know where to begin. Inspired by other local photographers, I started doing research on where I might encounter bears, moose, or wolves. Then my wife and I made our first trip up the Gunflint Trail. Our plan was to camp, canoe, and spend time hiking and exploring the area with the hope of seeing wildlife along the way.  On our first morning we encountered a moose. It was late morning  and in an unlikely spot. But there it was. The next day a pair of black  bears ran in front of the car. Then we came across two more moose later that night. On top of that we saw several foxes, loons, and had a great time canoeing, hiking, and exploring. I was completely hooked and throughout the rest of 2020 we made countless trips up north exploring back roads, canoeing, and hiking. 

All that being said, and as difficult as 2020 was, the pandemic led me to step back into nature with a long lens and the goal of photographing Minnesota’s wildlife. The experience of spending  time with wildlife is powerful and I hope that the images I capture and share inspire others to value nature and step into it with the goal of experiencing it in whatever way is meaningful to them. 

I have a lot of photography goals for 2021. First is to capture more and better photos of moose. Minnesota’s moose population has seen a significant decline in the past 15 years and to see and photograph these animals is truly special. I also hope to capture some quality images of black bears. These animals are numerous throughout the state but often difficult to find. But I have hope that this year might be the year I get a decent photo. 

Thank you to those that follow along on this journey whether it’s on Instagram, Facebook, or through my website. I am excited for this year and whatever it may bring!


 

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(David Brickner) animals bears eagles explore forest minnesota moose owls trees wilderness https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2021/1/rediscovering-nature-photography Fri, 22 Jan 2021 14:00:00 GMT
The search for moose in Minnesota https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2020/12/searching-for-moose DSC02340DSC02340A bull moose at a small pond near West Bearskin Lake along the Gunflint Trail This summer I set out with the goal of exploring the forests of Northern Minnesota with the hope of photographing some of Minnesota’s most elusive and most impressive animals; namely bears, moose, and wolves. I have had the opportunity to see and photograph those animals in places like Wyoming and Montana, but I had never had the opportunity to do so in my home state. Northern Minnesota has always been a very intimidating place for me when it comes to wildlife photography. Its dense forests make it difficult to see wildlife from afar and I really didn’t know where to begin. I started doing research on where I would have the best chance of encountering these animals. All signs pointed north. Way north. Deeper into the forests of my home state than I had ever traveled before. It’s intimidating heading out to a new place hoping to find wildlife that rarely makes itself visible to people. Fortunately, my wife loves northern Minnesota almost as much as I do, so we planned a weekend of canoeing and hiking with the promise of searching for wildlife thrown into the mix. Even if we didn’t see anything at least we still had a weekend of adventure ahead of us. 

DSC02356DSC02356A bull moose at a small pond near West Bearskin Lake along the Gunflint Trail On our first morning, driving to a canoe outfitters, we came around a corner and there was a bull moose at the edge of a pond. I didn’t even have my camera ready as we hadn’t anticipated seeing anything at 9am. But there it was. My first moose sighting in Minnesota. The rest of the trip didn’t disappoint. The following day a pair of black bears ran across the road in front of our car. Then that evening we set out to explore some back roads deep in the forest where we came across two more moose, one of which was casually walking down the road toward us. When he saw our car he gave me the classic over-the-shoulder look before heading into the trees. I was able to snap a few photos of each of these encounters, and while none of the photos were particularly amazing, I was completely hooked. 


Six days later I made a second trip up the north shore and back along the Gunflint Trail. I combed Minnesota’s forests DSC03421DSC03421A cow moose and calf feeding in a pond along the Gunflint Trail for hours, driving hundreds of miles and search along any drivable back road I could find. Eventually it paid off when I came upon a cow moose and her calf feeding in a small pond just before sunset. The cow plunge her head into the pond to feed and every time she brought it up water would cascade from her head. Meanwhile, her calf swam back and forth across the pond, passing occasionally to interact with its mother. It was such a beautiful encounter and I couldn’t believe that I had found moose two weekends in a row. 

2020_bullmoose_sawbilltrail_bringtoLR2020_bullmoose_sawbilltrail_bringtoLRA bull moose pauses to look back as before is disappears into the forests of northern Minnesota. Several weeks later I was back on the North Shore for a climbing trip with my wife. I have a way of working in wildlife photography into many of our trips, and on our first morning I rolled out of bed around 5am to search a new section the Superior National Forest. After only about 15 minutes of searching, I noticed a large dark shape moving through the trees. Sure enough, it was a bull moose and by far the largest I had seen this summer. He gave me only a few minutes of his time. The rising sun caused the trees behind him to glow and I kept hoping he’d step into the light. The best he could do for me was give me a parting glance over the shoulder as he disappeared into the trees, morning sunlight hitting the edge of his giant antlers. 


All that being said, this summer has opened a new chapter for me for wildlife photography. While it’s possible I’ve just been really lucky this summer, I feel confident that I will continue to have opportunities to photograph the impressive animals of Minnesota’s northern forests. It’s incredible to live in a state that is home to wildlife such as moose. In the past I would have waited for trips out west to places like Glacier and Yellowstone to see wildlife like this. I no longer feel like I need to wait. The opportunities are before me and I look forward to future endeavors into the wilderness of Minnesota.

DSC03034DSC03034A moose walking along the backroads near the Gunflint Trail
 

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(David Brickner) animals explore forest minnesota moose trees wilderness wildlife woods https://www.davidbricknerphotography.com/blog/2020/12/searching-for-moose Tue, 29 Dec 2020 18:30:00 GMT