Monday, January 11, 2016

Northern MN Birding: Part 3

After success with finding a Northern Hawk Owl on January 3rd and Gyrfalcon on January 4th we decided to spend the 5th heading north in Lake County looking for Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadees, and Black-backed Woodpeckers then heading to Sax-Zim Bog on the 6th for Great Gray Owls and whatever else we could find.

Day 3: January 5th  

We left early in the morning amidst a stiff breeze and colder weather than the previous two days. We were at the desired location on Lake County 2 at first light as Spruce Grouse seem to be most easily found picking grit along the road early in the day before logging trucks become common. Unfortunately we did not have any luck in the first hour and half and decided to head toward Isabella Lake in search of them. Along Trappers Lake Rd we had a Snowshoe Hare hop over the crest in the road, past the car, and continue south on the road behind us. It happened so fast than none of us got a photo, but was fun to see. 

Boreal Chickadee bum
Shortly after the hare observation Clinton stopped the car and started to pish, hoping to find Boreal Chickadees in a section of Bog. The call of a Boreal Chickadee is similar to Black-capped Chickadees but scratchy and nasal in comparison. These Boreal Chickadees' calls gave away their location as soon as we stopped.

As the sun poked through the clouds it back-lit the three curious yet careful birds. Unfortunately the conditions offered terrible views but it was a lifer for both Jack and Terry none the less!

After heading north for the first four hours of the day we found the road to Isabella Lake closed for the season; our search for Spruce Grouse was unsuccessful and with no access to Isabella Lake we would have to search for Black-backed Woodpeckers in the Sax-Zim Bog tomorrow.

Being a couple hours north of Duluth we decided to head to Hwy 61 and follow the North Shore toward Grand Marais in search of reported Bohemian Waxwings. Along our trek north we found Pine Grosbeaks and Long-tailed Ducks.

Checking out a section of bog for boreal chickadees and scoping Good Harbor looking at long-tailed ducks.

Arriving in Grand Marais we saw a thrush shaped bird near the Harbor, but we were unsuccessful in finding it after it flew. A lone White-winged Scoter was between the docks and break wall. It was diving often and allowed me to approach closer to take photos with the larger camera rather than digiscoping.  It offered close views and was a lifer for Jack.

White-winged Scoter

The strong breeze persisted throughout the day and crashed waves high into the sky along the rock shore. I stood in water taking this video and as soon as I stopped shooting it a large wave sent mist over my head. Luckily a warm car allowed my phone and binoculars to dry. Click on HD in the bottom right of the video to see icy details of the North Shore.

We spent the next couple of hours searching town for Bohemian Waxwings, but as was the case earlier in the day we were unable to locate any in the wind. For the first time in three days we stopped to sit down for lunch and warmed up. The Blue Water Cafe's food was good but the ambiance humbled me; the booth next to us had four cold-blooded surfers and the sign to the restrooms made me think.

Map of the day's drive and sign by the Blue Water Cafe restrooms.

Our continued search for a Black-backed Woodpecker and for a Great Gray Owl would occur the next day in Sax-Zim Bog and is the final blog post from this trip.  

Day 3 Recap of Wish List
Boreal Chickadee (Jack and Terry)
Gray Jay (Seen again but added the first day)
Pine Grosbeak (Seen again but added the first day)
White-winged Scoter (Not on the initial Wish List but added to Jack's life list)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Northern MN Birding: Part 2

After our successful search for the Northern Hawk Owl on January 3rd we were in great moods having added a few lifers and freeing up an extra day to spend in the Duluth area.

Day 2: January 4th  

Taking photos is not the time to figure out a new lens. As
requested no photo of Shawn Z is online, magically removed. 
We had returned to Staples and my parents for a bed on the 3rd and departed on the 4th for Duluth/Superior in search of the Ivory Gull and Gyrfalcon. Our first stop at Conner's Point in Superior was unsuccessful, but the immature Ivory Gull was hanging out at Canal Park when we arrived. It sat on the break wall for most of our visit as we studied Black Ducks, searched other gulls for something interesting, and talked with a others. After a short while the Ivory Gull flew closer to the observers and ate the salmon offerings. Many grabbed their camera and started taking photos, myself included.

Ivory Gull

After the short photo op we tried again unsuccessfully for the Gyrfalcon at Conner's Point and continued on to the Superior Landfill. Although the sun was out and the temperature was near 30 degrees Jack was a bit chilled and I convinced him to put on additional cold-weather northern clothing. He loved the Ice King boots and threatened to keep them on forever. Personally I am glad to see they are once again available for purchase.

With warmer clothes we were able to scan the Landfill for gulls and picked out Glaucous Gulls, Thayer's Gulls, and an adult Iceland Gull. The Iceland Gull is one I have been searching for over the past five winters and tickled me silly with joy as this lifer (#427) gave us good views in binoculars soaring over our heads in great light. Leaving the Landfill we also came across one of our few mammals on the trip, a porcupine that was a bit camera shy for Terry.

Jan 4th was spent driving around the twin ports area.
With gulls in hand we searched berry trees for Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings. While we did get better views of Pine Grosbeaks we were unsuccessful in our search for Bohemian Waxwings and decided to check for the overwintering Golden-Crowned Sparrow. As was the case with the Waxwings this bird avoided us.

Clinton finished work mid afternoon and we planned to meet him at Conner's Point in search for the Gyrfalcon again. While on the phone he calmly stated, "It just flew in" and we jubilantly arrived in time to see it in the scope. For the second day in a row the target bird was seen late afternoon, a lifer for the three of us and my second of the day (#428)!

With the remaining light we searched Superior for Snowy Owls, finding one and a couple of Ruffed Grouse for Terry. While we dipped on Waxwings and the golden-crowned Sparrow we did see both target birds for the day and picked up most of Jack's gull wishlist. I survived my two days as the guide and was looking forward to having Clinton take over. I made many wrong turns but lucky we found birds. We ended the day at Applebee's with shortened wish lists and planned the next two days together.

The search for Boreal Chickadees and Spruce Grouse will wait for the next blog post.  

Day 2 Recap of Wish List
Pine Grosbeak (Seen again but added the first day)
Ruffed Grouse (Terry)
Gyrfalcon (Jack and Terry)
Thayer's Gull (Jack)
Iceland Gull (Jack)
Glaucous-winged Gull (Jack)
Ivory Gull (Not on the initial Wish List but added for Jack's life list)

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Northern MN Birding: Part 1

Last year Jack Landes visited Duluth with me in search of northern MN birds. We visited Sax-Zim Bog last year but left many species on his target list. As 2015 neared an end I was particularly excited for winter break, as he planned to return with Terry Swope on January 2nd for a few days of birding. They sent me a wish list of birds, many of them species that they hoped to see for the very first time. 

Wish Lists
Boreal Chickadee (Jack and Terry)
Gray Jay (Jack and Terry)
Northern Hawk Owl (Jack and Terry)
Great Gray Owl (Terry)
Black-backed Woodpecker (Jack and Terry)
American Three-toed Woodpecker (Jack)
Spruce Grouse (Jack and Terry)
Ruffed Grouse (Terry)
Sharp-tailed Grouse (Terry)
Rough-legged Hawk (Jack)
Thayer's Gull (Jack)
Iceland Gull (Jack)
Glaucous-winged Gull (Jack)
Bohemian Waxwing (Terry)
Pine Grosbeak (Terry)
Red Crossbill (Jack)
White-winged Crossbill (Jack)
Boreal Owl (Jack and Terry)
Gyrfalcon (Jack and Terry)

Looking at this list I initially eliminated the last two species as none had been seen in the area this year. I used previous knowledge, eBird, MouNet, FB, and reached out to acquaintances and friends to create the map above with possible locations for each species on the list. I was particularly stoked to get out birding again with Clinton Nienhaus and reached out to him to schedule dates and a plan to get as many species as possible. Preliminary planning was completed shortly after Christmas and I was excited to get out.

Before Jack and Terry arrived however I received a text from Clinton that a Gyrfalcon had been seen in Superior Wisconsin!!! This species was back on the list!! I drove over on December 31st myself in search of this bird, but alas came home without seeing it. This species was one of the few on the wish list that would be a lifer for me, a species that I have not previously seen. I did find Ruffed Grouse and plenty of gulls at Canal Park and Superior Landfill however, raising my expectations of good birds for Jack and Terry's visit. On new years I received even better news, an Ivory Gull had been seen in Canal Park! Terry and I saw the Quincy Illinois bird last year, but I suspected this would be a lifer for Jack and one that was not on our radar.

Day 1: January 3rd  

Roads traveled this day.
Jack and Terry arrived on the 2nd and we made plans for the coming days. We left early on the 3rd for Roseau MN in search of a Northern Hawk Owl, as the only credible reports came from Norris Campground and from Roseau County via a birding acquaintance. We also had hopes of finding Spruce Grouse and Great Gray Owls north of Roseau in the Lost River State Forest. If needed we planned to spend the night in the area to have both the evening of the 3rd and morning of the 4th before heading east toward Duluth on the 5th.

We arrived at our first stop in the Bemidji area shortly after first light and had two flocks of calling Red-Crossbills. Eventually a flock flew over the road and we had our first lifer of the day for Jack!

The early morning clouds gave way to sun and the drive around Red Lake was quiet both in and out of the car. After leaving the Red Lake Nation we saw a large flock of Sharp-Tailed Grouse eating in a field.  We pulled the car over and spent nearly 15 minutes studying and observing these beautiful birds. These beauties were lifers for Jack and Terry and we were all happy to finally have seen a few birds.  In the next few miles we also saw a fly over Rough-legged Hawk, Snow Buntings, a Northern Shrike, and Black-billed Magpie.

Walking a road search unsuccessfully for Spruce Grouse and Norris Fire Tower.

We turned off on Dick's Parkway and headed toward Norris Campground. As is often the case with Northern Minnesota winter birding, the birds were few and far between and the roads were icy. Fortunately it had not snowed recently and the roads were relatively clear.

We arrived at Norris Campground to Gray Jays and Pine Grosbeaks on the feeders. The Jays had been trained to eat from the hand and soon they were approaching us for handouts. Terry was the only successful hand-feeder in our group in the couple minutes we tried. 

Driving north from the campground we searched for the reported Northern Hawk Owl, but were unsuccessful. Fortuitously we did find a second year Northern Goshawk, which perched long enough for all of us to see it through the scope.  

With a few hours left in the day we went to Roseau to search for Owls. We found very few birds but had nearly a dozen Black-billed Magpies along 110th Ave north of Roseau. The sun was nearly gone for the day and the sky was full of all colors of the rainbow. We had spent the entire day driving and my mind started to drift toward the next day. I was thinking how we would need to find a hotel, would return the next morning to search for northern owls, and was rambling aimlessly as I abruptly switched topics and stated "There it is!"

I pulled over to the side of the road immediately, we all got looks at it through binoculars and piled out of the car to get scope views of this visitor from the north. A fellow birder had shared information on this bird and we were all very grateful for Sandy for it.

My girls had asked for photos showing them were I was and what I was looking at, so I took the silly photo on the left with the bird on my phone. Yes that little speck is the bird and yes you do get better views taking photos with your phone through a scope. I have been terrible at taking photos through my scope so I tried to document the bird better with this short video.

The bird sat patiently for almost 10 minutes and at last light flew across the road. We got the bird we were looking for.  What an awesome way to end the day. Without the need to search for this one bird the next day we decided to drive back to Staples late into the night and spend the extra day in the Duluth area.  The story of that search will have to wait for the next blog post.  

Day 1 Recap of Wish List
Gray Jay (Jack and Terry)
Northern Hawk Owl (Jack and Terry)
Sharp-tailed Grouse (Terry)
Rough-legged Hawk (Jack)
Red Crossbill (Jack)
Snow Bunting (Officially in eBird now for Terry)