Birding on a Snowy Afternoon Birding the Kettle River Bridge Bohemian Waxwing Cold Morning in Minnesota Sax-Zim Bog Common Redpolls on Feeder Frozen Lake Superior Gray Jay Group at Acacia Park Mallard and Common Goldeneye Northern Hawk Owl Snowy Farm Scene Snowy Owl Snowy Owl on Scoreboard
  • Birding on a Snowy Afternoon
  • Birding the Kettle River Bridge
  • Bohemian Waxwing
  • Cold Morning in Minnesota Sax-Zim Bog
  • Common Redpolls on Feeder
  • Frozen Lake Superior
  • Gray Jay
  • Group at Acacia Park
  • Mallard and Common Goldeneye
  • Northern Hawk Owl
  • Snowy Farm Scene
  • Snowy Owl
  • Snowy Owl on Scoreboard

 

Trip Report


 

Trip Report for Winter Birding Venture
Northern Minnesota

February 16 - 20, 2015

Leader: Simon Thompson

 

 

Bohemian Waxwing

    We all arrived in a snowy and cold Minneapolis unaware that the cold conditions were going to get worse; a lot worse. After we collected our larger-than-life Chevy Suburbans (with their heated seats!) we made a brief stop at Acacia Park Cemetery in Mendota before the drive north to Duluth. The cemetery was quiet (a surprise?) but some adjacent feeders had our only Red-bellied Woodpecker and Dark-eyed Junco of the trip. The roadside birding on the way north to Duluth was sparse to say the least, with the highlights being a couple of Bald Eagles, and a flock of waxwings that buzzed over our heads along the iced-over Kettle River. While they were probably Bohemian Waxwings, we could not be sure. We met our local guide, Mike Hendrickson, at the hotel at lunchtime, when he regaled us with stories and updated us with all of the local sightings – we were pumped!

Northern Hawk Owl

 

    That afternoon we headed across to Superior, WI where we debated the identity of a distant falcon, before finally deciding that it was the gray-phase Gyr, although we were confused by the darker than normal face markings. Our next quarry was Snowy Owl with the first one being seen on a light-pole along the main highway. We all craned our necks to see the bird before Mike told us that we would see several more without endangering ourselves in traffic! He was right and over the next hour or so we had incredible views of 8 birds, including the amusing “Devil Eyes” individual with the oddest eye markings. All of the owls had been trapped by local owl banders and, as well as the wing-tags, had been anointed with a little shoe-polish to avoid recapture. The next morning found us heading north into the Sax-Zim Bog area of St Louis County. This is the heart of Northern Minnesota Birding with many of the specialties being regularly found in this area.

Common Redpolls on Feeder    

     The day was long and a slow leak in one of our tires made for an interesting repair. I was not sure I could change a tire in -25F weather, but thankfully all was easily resolved at a very friendly local garage. We did have great views of one of the few Northern Hawk-Owls around this winter, as well as a fly-by Northern Goshawk and feeders thronged with Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, Evening and Pine Grosbeaks. We did manage to find one Hoary Redpoll amidst the mass of Commons. However, the few local Great Gray Owls managed to stay invisible.

 

 

Gray Jay

    

 

     The following day we headed up to Superior National Forest looking for the ever-elusive Spruce Grouse. Snowy Roads and very cold conditions prevented us from seeing the grouse, but Red Crossbills feeding on grit in the roads gave us great views. After a delicious lunch at Vanilla Bean in Two Harbors, we found another Northern Hawk-Owl along the roadside. This one allowed for great photo opportunities, and some of us even watched it plunge into the snow and catch an unsuspecting vole.

 

Mallard and Common Goldeneye

    Another highlight today had to be the flock of Bohemian Waxwings that Mike had located in Knife River. After finding them in some distant trees, we were lucky when they all flew closer to feed in the Buckthorn hedges; more great photo ops! Sax-Zim Bog the next morning was cold, very cold with our car thermometer registering a toasty -35F at its lowest. It wasn’t that bad really as we stayed inside the vehicle for as long as possible, only hopping outside to look at a bird or take photos. Again, the Great Gray Owls stayed hidden, but another Northern Shrike was more cooperative. A flock of Snow Buntings along one of the roads was a very nice surprise and some nearby feeders gave us even better views of several Pine Grosbeaks.

 

 

    Talking of surprises…at lunch in Cotton we met a local reporter who informed us today we were in the coldest spotSnowy Owl in the nation where the temperature had dropped to -42F. Hmmm – that’s some accolade! No wonder we did not want to get out of the car! After birding in these conditions all day it was always nice to step inside to warm up. It was snowing on our last morning in Duluth, so we just went out to find a couple of local rarities. We dipped on the Golden-crowned Sparrow, but did find the female Common Eider sitting on the ice in Superior. We finished the tour with 45 species. Not a lot, but this is birding the North Woods in the winter. I know I am not a fan of winter, but same time next year?

 

    

Simon Thompson

Birds seen or heard on our

Winter Birding Venture
Northern Minnesota

February 16 - 20, 2015

 

Birds seen and heard

(H) = Heard only

 

 

American Black Duck
Mallard
Northern Pintail
Common Goldeneye (7)
Common Eider (1 female)
Ruffed Grouse
Bald Eagle
Northern Goshawk (1)
Red-tailed Hawk           
Gyrfalcon (1)
American Coot
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull (1 immature)
Rock Pigeon
Snowy Owl (8)

Northern Hawk-Owl (3)
Barred Owl (1)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (1)
Downy woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Black-backed Woodpecker (1)
Pileated Woodpecker
Northern Shrike (2)
Gray Jay
Blue Jay
Black-billed Magpie (4)
American Crow 
Common Raven
Black-capped Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch

European Starling

Bohemian Waxwing (500+)
Dark-eyed Junco (2)
Snow Bunting (30+)
Northern Cardinal (5)
Pine Grosbeak
Purple Finch
Red Crossbill
Common Redpoll
Hoary Redpoll

Pine Siskin
Evening Grosbeak

House Sparrow

Mammals:
Eastern Gray Squirrel
Red Squirrel
Porcupine
White-tailed Deer
Eastern Cottontail