Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Northern MN Birding: Saturday January 7th 2017

After a successful Thursday at Sax-Zim Bog and Friday in Lake County we had a few misses from our target list.  We had missed Sharp-tailed Grouse Thursday, Black-backed Woodpecker both days, and dipped on the Golden-Crowned Sparrow in Duluth on Friday. With reports from Friday of Northern Hawk Owl we decided on three targets for Saturday: Golden-crowned Sparrow, Sharp-tailed Grouse, and Northern Hawk Owl. We knew the plan would require quite a lot of driving for the odd mix of species, but it was the best chance to get as much as possible with the last remaining day in case this trip was not one that would be repeated in the near future for either Jennifer or Micky.

We checked out of the hotel bright and early and started the morning before first light at the Golden-crowned Sparrow stakeout. Shortly after 7:20 am the bird appeared with two Dark-eyed Juncos! It was quite dark and we could barely see any field-marks, but the golden crown between the top of the head and the bill of the adult bird was visible!  It was not great views and too dark for photos, but it was enough to be identified. 

Micky's Sharp-Tailed Grouse
Three grouse species in three days: Ruffed, Spruce, and Sharp-Tailed!
From there we headed northwest to Sax-Zim Bog with hopes of finding Sharp-tailed Grouse. We drove directly to the lek and as luck would have it, we saw three of them out in the field! Two target birds with almost no time spent searching for them, it would be one of those days! 

More Ruffed Grouse and Pine Grosbeaks were seen along our drive, but with the amazing speed at which we found our first two target birds we quickly headed further northwest with hopes of finding a Northern Hawk Owl. 

Hoary Redpoll

Not the Hoary Redpoll we saw, 
but it is similar in appearance.


The Northern Haw is an
awesome looking species!
We passed Grand Rapids on the way and stopped for a Curve-Billed Thrasher. This species is regular in Kansas but quite tough in Minnesota. We had no intention of spending much time for this species, and left before it was refound. Fortunately the Minnesota birders found it a half an hour after our departure. I said hi to the ones I recognized and met a few new faces, but we had another species in mind. 

We drove to Washkish Minnesota and grabbed lunch from the convenience store. It was full of people going to Red Lake for icefishing, which was evidenced by the small town that we could see out on the ice as we drove by.

In the middle of the road were large flocks of Pine Siskins with a few Redpolls mixed in.  As we stopped along the busy road we watched the flock, which was too slow to fly away with each passing car. A Siskin was hit by each car we watched. In the carnage we also noticed a white fluff-ball mixed in the flock. It was a male Hoary Redpoll with. It really stood out from the other hundred birds! While this species may be lumped together with Common Redpoll in the near future, it was an unexpected lifer for the trip. With fewer Redpolls seen this winter, I figured we would miss it.

Shortly after we found a Northern Hawk Owl along Highway 72. I was actually talking on the phone with Christine when we spotted the bird. I could hear here say, "You must have spotted your bird", but only faintly as my phone was somewhere on the floor. It was the second time I reacted to a bird and dropped/put-down the phone with her on the other end. Thankfully she is amazingly understanding and was not mad when I called back. We had been searching at a slower pace for only 15 minutes when the bird was spotted. With amazing luck, we had seen all three target species by early afternoon!  

Northern Hawk Owl
This is my only action shot that was in focus, taken shortly after the bird flew from one perch to another.

With plans of staying in central Minnesota at my parents we made a quick decision to head further west in search of Gray Partridge. We had been prepared to drive north to Roseau if needed for the Hawk Owl, but fortunately that time could now be spent on a species that was not on our target list a week earlier.  Our basic strategy was to get in the correct region of the state and drive back roads at slower speeds searching windbreaks and fields following up on a sighting almost a week old!

Day 3 Route
Approximately 500 miles!
After an hour of nothing and light starting to fade we found a flock of snow buntings in the road near a conservation area southwest of Terrebonne, Minnesota. They had flown into a harvested corn field and I jumped outside hoping to relocate them for Jennifer and Micky. As luck would have it, a handful of Gray Partridge decided to fly from that field of corn stubble over to the conservation area and crossed the road right in front of us! For the second time in three days we added a lifer at last light.

It was an AMAZING day! 

We made it to my parents by 8 pm, saw the three target birds for the day and did not have to drive to the Canadian border to do so, and added two lifers more than we had dreamed at the beginning of the day. I'm very fortunate to have parents that not only open their house up to us and friends but they even listened to our stories and were curious of our adventures.

Sunday was a travel day back to KC and the last day of this trip, but we had one more target bird to try for. The next blog post will detail the last search and an overall summary of the trip.  Here is a list of lifers from Saturday.

Day 3 Lifers

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