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.

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