Up North, part 2

If my first morning in Minnesota was the coldest, then my second was definitely the warmest. The high for the day was 20 F, 40 degrees above what I started birding in the day before.

A big highlight for me as a corvid lover was seeing all 5 species Sax-Zim Bog has to offer. They are the American Crow, Canada Jay, Common Raven, Blue Jay, and Black-billed Magpie. The magpie is not only my favorite bird ever, but is also the least common of the five at the bog. Living in Wisconsin, I had only seen them in Colorado and Utah on week-long trips. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to see this population, the farthest east of the species. The three I saw were at the northeast corner of the bog, chilling by the side of the road and flew up when I came around the corner. Even on a hazy, colorless day I think they’re beautiful, long tails behind them like the tail of a kite. It was a brief view, as they hung around in some trees for a minute before taking off for other locales, but it was a view of my favorite species nevertheless.

The Canada Jays remained cool, but they were no longer the coolest corvid of the trip.

I got my third and final lifer of the trip that day too with a male and female of a new species seen while driving. I made this a verbal sighting with “holy [expletive], those are White-winged Crossbills!” I like winter finches so much. That serendipitous sighting made up for the lack of Pine Grosbeaks and Common and Hoary Redpolls this winter. Pine Grosbeak and Hoary Redpoll would have been lifers for me, but I’ll have plenty of chances to get some more cool finches.

The highlight of my last day was my luck in seeing two flocks of Evening Grosbeaks: one of 6 birds, the other of 14 that flew overhead on the same road I saw the crossbills on the day before. Unlike my first morning at the bog, I got to see the female grosbeaks as well. They aren’t as colorful as the males, but they’re pretty in their own way.

females (close side of the feeder)

After going birding on snowshoes for the first time (a short checklist of a Black-capped Chickadee and a Northern Shrike) I headed back to Wisconsin, murder mystery on the ol’ stereo system and fun times had with the birds.

Up North, part 1

It’s now the second day of a four-day vacation, and my first full day in Minnesota. I drove up from Madison yesterday and did a lot of (car) birding along the way. Some fun birds on the drive were Rough-legged Hawks, Bald Eagles, Common Ravens, and a single Pileated Woodpecker. It took about six hours to get to northern Minnesota and I watched as the snow cover gradually went from patchy to deep. The temperature on my car thermometer dropped about 20 degrees between Madison and Hibbing.

I’m mostly here for Sax-Zim Bog, a large birding destination northwest of Duluth. It’s a different world with a slightly different set of species. One I still haven’t seen yet but am looking forward to is the Great Gray Owl. The only time I’ve seen this large, boreal bird is when an individual ended up in Middleton several years back. I’d like to see one that isn’t lost by a suburban brewery. Will one of the many conifers sport one on top like a Christmas tree angel tomorrow?

Was that cheesy language?

One of my life birds today was the deliciously yellow Evening Grosbeak (ironically easier to see during the morning). I arrived at one of the many local feeding stations and hung out for several minutes, hoping something more uniquely northern would show up. The wait paid off as two Evening Grosbeaks stopped by for a few minutes. I always thought the yellow would be their most noticeable color, but the white on their wings really popped out. I thought this was especially apparent when one fluttered over a platform feeder with his back to me. I have a video below of them on a feeder. The distortion is from the cold air- it was about zero degrees Fahrenheit when I shot this video!

He spin.

My second lifer was a Northern Hawk-owl several miles away. I wanted to see one of them so bad but didn’t have any luck until I saw another car pulled off on the side of the road. Bingo! My fellow birder told me to look at the top of a spruce. Talk about a northern species: its range barely dips into the US! I feel so lucky to have seen one.

S/he distant.
Northern Hawk-owl

My favorite bird so far isn’t a lifer though. I’d seen Canada Jays a handful of times before, back when they went by Gray Jay, but they’d never made much of an impression on me. That has changed, due in part to their abundance here. I’m getting to see all their quirky and cute behavior and they might actually be my new favorite bird.

Imagine you’re walking through a spruce forest as the shadows grow long. You hear a sound. Or do you? You pause for a moment. Yep, there’s definitely something there. It’s a tiny squeaking noise. What’s making it are two plump birds flying your way. They continue to make these quiet sounds even as they’re just yards away from you. It’s like they’re trying to have a hushed conversation but you can hear anyway. All this from a family of birds that normally caw or shriek (Steller’s Jays are some of the loudest birds I’ve met). But Canada Jays are typically quieter and they’re cuter than any bird their size has any business being. I almost feel like we don’t deserve them. For the past few days, I feel like I’ve been basking in jay cuteness. Just check out the one below:

Top contender for the cutest pic I’ve ever taken.

I also have to admit the squirrels are cute too. Here’s a video I shot during a period when the birding was slow:

Gah. Too cute.

Anyway, those were my favorite parts of these first few days. I’m only halfway done with this mini vacation, so I’m excited to see what the next few days bring.