Sunday, January 15, 2017

Northern MN Birding: Thursday January 5th 2017

Map - Day 1
Click above photo or here for entire map.
After driving through the night, with small naps along the way, we arrived with an extra half an hour before first light! We grabbed a sandwich and filled the van with gas in Cloquet in preparation for all day in Sax-Zim bog on Thursday.

We drove back and forth a couple miles on either side of the Highway 133/ Highway 7 intersection looking for a Great Gray Owl at first light. This Owl was the main target bird for the day. As Jennifer described it, the owl was her biscuit and all other species were the gravy.  Without the Owl it would be tough to have an amazing day.  

The first birds of the day were Ruffed Grouse perched in the top of trees eating the buds. With almost no leaves on the trees these birds were really silhouetted. The Ruffed Grouse was the first lifer of the trip for both Jennifer and Micky, a term that birders use that refers to the first time they observe a particular species.

Micky - Ruffed Grouse 2 Micky - Ruffed Grouse 1
I poached photos from their Facebook pages to include in the blog posts.  These are Micky's photos of Ruffed Grouse.

A flock of birds flying over 133 caught our attention and we stopped to hear Red Crossbills, our third species for the trip after seeing a few flyover American Crows. We were unsuccessful with our morning search for the Great Gray Owl and shortly after sunrise I decided to focus on our search for our second target bird of the day, the Sharp-Tailed Grouse. We turned north along County Road 229 headed towards the visitor center checked out the lek, but were unable to find any. While the excitement of birding the first day still remained, internally I was a bit concerned that we were unable to see either of the two morning target species.

Before reaching the visitor center we had a few more birds fly over the road. They were the first of many Pine Grosbeaks that we would see on this trip. As we were looking at these birds White-Winged Crossbill flew over! The visitor center had our first Common Redpoll of the trip. A handful of other birds were on the feeders as well, include a Pine Siskin and Red-breasted Nuthatch. The Red Squirrels were a source of beauty and frustration, as I stopped many times hoping to find a bird but instead saw them sitting in the trees. 


We stopped at the Admiral Road feeder station to put out peanut butter with hopes of getting a boreal chickadee. Alas we heard no wheezy chickadee sounds but satisfied the swarm of Black-Capped Chickadees. At Mary Lou's feeders we had a flock of Evening Grosbeaks. This location is one of the most reliable locations in the Midwest, yet if you follow the Sax-Zim FB page you are aware of the stress that outsiders put on locals. It is an amazing testament to the work the Friends group and others have done to have such a wonderful relationship, that the homeowner allows visitors on the property to see these birds. We left a donation and went on our way. If you visit the area please be as respectful to everyone as possible, especially when on the roads as to not block access to any drive-ways nor the road itself.

Evening Grosbeak Evening Grosbeak
A male and female Evening Grosbeak.

We checked out McDavitt Road with an outside chance of finding a mid-day Great Gray Owl. Gray Jays and White-winged Crossbills crossed the road as we went back to the visitor center for lunch. The warmth of the heater allowed us an easier chance to get out of the car and walk around while watching the feeders. Checking the grouse lek in the afternoon yielded a hen Ring-necked Pheasant, but it was likely a released/escaped bird and was not the desired Galliformes species

Mid-afternoon we start our afternoon strategy of driving Admiral and McDavitt roads with hopes of finally finding a Great Gray Owl. On our second time around a local UPS driver give us a suggestion to try Kelsey Whiteface Road. After sunset and with last light quickly approaching we were unsuccessful there as well. I had conceded that we were going to miss Great Gray Owl and Sharp-tailed Grouse, my two target birds for the day.

After 5 o'clock we turned back onto 133 off of 7 to head back to Duluth. This was the same area we had searched at first light for almost an hour. As a major shock to all of us we saw a large bird perched on the top of a dead snag offering just a shape against the dark sky. We were very fortunate to see our main target bird! As we turned around the owl hopped down into the ditch to grab a meal. The bird looked at us in the headlights and offered us the only detailed view we would have. The Owl flew back to the closest perch and ate. We took a couple of pictures but quickly decided to keep going as total darkness had come over the land.

Great Gray Owl
Yes, yes it was that dark when we saw the bird.
I loved reading Jennifer's post about the day. "The one bird that was the icing on the cake alluded us all day., Great Grey Owl. We continued to have large flocks of White Winged Crossbills and Common Redpolls. We had Red Crossbills and still no Great Grey Owls. We were unable to find the Sharp Tailed Grouse and hope to try for them again. Friday takes us up north to search for Spruce Grouse, Three Toed Woodpecker, Black Backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee and Bohemian Waxwings. We have hopes of finding all of these, but they are extremely difficult to find. Oh and they Great Gray? We left the bog without seeing one until just as the last bit of light was fading, a silouhette in a tree as we were leaving.....Great Grey Owl! Lifer! We watched him fly down and catch his dinner in the snow and then fly to a nearby tree. As the darkness took over, we watched him fly away. My cake for the day was complete. This was the bird I had wanted to see for many years. As I sit in the hotel room in Duluth and revel in the day of six lifers, I once again I had a fabulous day with some of my favorite people to spend the day with and it doesn't matter that I have now been up for 36 hours. I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings. Oh by the way when we got to the Bog it was -20 and that did not include the wind chill. It warmed to a balmy -2 in the afternoon."

Here are the "lifers" from our first day! 


1 comment:

Jennifer Hammett said...

A great day it was. Thank you for all of your hard work planning the trip. It was an amazing time.