Monday, January 16, 2017

Northern MN Birding: Friday January 6th 2017

After a wonderful day at Sax-Zim Bog on Thursday where we only missed one target species we decided to head north along Lake Superior to Lake County with hopes of finding Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Three-toed Woodpeckers. The other target for the day was a Bohemian Waxwing.  

We left early in the morning from Duluth and made our way north along Lake County 2. We were in the appropriate area at first light but did not have any luck finding a Spruce Grouse. Our basic strategy was to drive slow along the road and hope to find one along the road gritting. We tried Lake County 1 for a few miles but turned around to give County Road 2 a second attempt. Within 4 miles of the intersection, and almost exactly where the Sand River eBird hotspot is, we found a single male Spruce Grouse in the middle of the road. A lifer for all of us!

Spruce Grouse
The bird seemed to have no worries toward us.

Map - Day 2
Click here for entire map.
We took pictures as it casually walked in front of us. Two other cars came from the other direction that were birders as well, elated to see this species also. From there we headed north to Tomahawk Road. I did not know the condition of the road but had hoped it would be open to attempt to find Black-Backed Woodpecker, Three-Toed Woodpecker, and Boreal Chickadee (the north east points on my map).

The road was only plowed for a couple of miles and we had to turn around before reaching our desired locations. We stopped at a small black spruce Pete area where someone had walked with snow shoes. I suspect it was one of the northern birding guides or birders in the area, as a Boreal Chickadee was right next to the road and gave us all decent looks of a fairly skittish species.

We tried a couple of spots for woodpeckers but were unable to find any. It was quite cold outside and if you do not have adequate winter clothing it gets downright uncomfortable. Luckily for us the van stayed out of the ditch and started the entire trip. There were a couple of locations along Lake County 2 that had Black-backed Woodpecker reports, but instead we went down Lake County 1 and tried for them instead. In hindsight we could have tried the other, as we only found more Gray Jays, Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, and Common Ravens as we made our way back to Highway 61 along Lake Superior. This species is the closest thing we had for a miss during the entire trip, but it is hard to call it a miss considering the little time we actually put forward on it.

Micky and Jennifer_2 Malcolm 2017-01-06 #01
We didn't find any Moose, just a Moose sign! The trees were covered!

We did not find anything scoping the lake at a couple of stops and made our way back to Two Harbors in search of Bohemian Waxwings. Pine Grosbeaks were throughout the town and a flock of house sparrows that contained a Eurasian Tree Sparrow. We were able to relocate the Bohemian Waxwings fairly quickly stopped to take pictures.

Bohemian Waxwing Bohemian Waxwings
A single bird landed close while the flock was often perched up high.

Mixed in with the Bohemian Waxwings were Pine Grosbeaks. This is the first instance that I can remember taking pictures of this species with any sun. Often winter is dominated by overcast skies.

Micky Grosbeaks Pine Grosbeak
Male and female Pine Grosbeaks (left) and male on the right.

Agate Bay did not contain any waterfall but did have it Thayer's Gull mixed in with the Herring Gulls. Leaving Two Harbors we had the decision similar to the week before with Kathy and Diane. Should we go after the Townsend Solitaire, the Golden Crowned sparrow, or Canal Park and gulls. This time we decided to try for the Golden Crown Sparrow and Canal Park. Just like last week we missed the Sparrow. Moreover there were no gulls at Canal Park. Micky and Jennifer got wonderful close views of American Black Ducks for comparisons with similar looking Mallards.

We ended the day a bit early and went out to eat with Kristina and Clinton. We talked for hours and it was wonderful to catch up with an friend. As much fun it is for me to watch birds and get others on life birds I value the memories shared and close friendship even more. During the conversations we were made aware of Northern Hawk Owl north of Red Lake. We had some planning to do that night. Little did we know that the next day would be perhaps the luckiest any of us have experienced with chasing birds.

Here are the "lifers" from our second day! 

Day 2

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