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Posts Tagged ‘Naturally Avian’

It was wonderful to go birding in Minnesota again, a state that has now given me 17 life birds and some great adventures.  I shared the trip with Diane Hoese, who I met birding in South Dakota with Doug Buri and Bob Janssen in 2010.  Diane provided the inspiration for this blog; my first post was about attending Bob and Doug’s Shorebird Workshop with her.  We both love learning from Bob, so we planned this trip around his Boreal Birding Workshop at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais.

High Falls on the Pigeon River.  Grand Portage State Park.

High Falls on the Pigeon River.  Grand Portage State Park.

Bob’s workshop took us to Judge CR Magney and Grand Portage state parks, Oberg Mountain, and nearby areas where we had great close-up views of 14 species of warblers.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher.  Cook County, MN.

We drove up the nearby Gunflint Trail by ourselves and found a few more birds, including this Olive-sided Flycatcher.  This bird had huge white tufts on its lower back.  Back home, I searched extensively and could not find any reference to a connection between the size of the tufts and gender, breeding status, or time of year.

Diane, Bob Janssen, Shelley

Diane, Bob Janssen, Shelley.  Grand Marais, MN.

After birding with Bob for two days, Diane and I set off to Ely to bird on our own for a day.  The highlight there was breeding Cape May Warblers on territory.  We found at least three pairs on our own, without playing recorded songs to draw the birds in, and enjoyed the peace of the boreal forest.  The birds behaved as if we weren’t even there – males singing from the treetops, a lovely female working a spruce tree at nearly eye level.  For me, birding does not get any better.

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk. Echo Trail, Ely, MN.

We also watched this Broad-winged Hawk attempt to catch an afternoon snack, but he missed his prey. Earlier in the day, we had watched a different Broad-winged being harassed by Blue Jays.

Juvenile Gray Jay

Juvenile Gray Jay. Lake County Road 2, MN.

On our way south to Duluth the next day, we found a family of Gray Jays along Lake County Road 2, one adult and at least two adorable juveniles.

Next was birding with Erik Bruhnke in Sax Zim Bog.  I had hoped to see a Connecticut Warbler, but it wasn’t meant to be.  We did find a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, though, which was one of my two life birds of the trip (the other was Alder Flycatcher).  It was a lovely day that started with great views of a LeConte’s Sparrow and this goofy looking Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Sharp-tailed Grouse. Sax Zim Bog, MN.

Sharp-tailed Grouse. Sax Zim Bog, MN.

American Kestrel.  Sax Zim Bog, MN.

American Kestrel (male). Sax Zim Bog, MN.

Erik showed me his beautiful photo of a male American Kestrel we had just watched together.  He pointed out the white outer tail feathers with black bars.  When I got home, I realized that I had also captured a clear shot of the bird’s tail showing this common trait that I’d never noticed before.

After a great dinner at Fitger’s in Duluth, we sadly sad goodbye to Erik and headed towards Diane’s home the next morning.

Shelley, Erik Bruhnke, Diane

Shelley, Erik Bruhnke, Diane. Duluth, MN.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker. Carver County, MN.

It was late afternoon and lightly raining when we arrived, but the birds were still coming to the feeders on Diane’s deck.  I was happy to capture a shot of this male Hairy Woodpecker showing a characteristic that is usually not mentioned in field guides – the vertical black line through the red patch on the back of the head.  Downy Woodpeckers do not have a line through the red patch.

My last birds of the trip were Diane’s lovely Baltimore Orioles.

Baltimore Oriole (male).  Carver County, MN.

Baltimore Oriole (male). Carver County, MN.

Baltimore Oriole (female).  Carver County, MN.

Baltimore Oriole (female). Carver County, MN.

Once again I had unintentionally taken the advice of my late husband, Burt.  I’d saved something for next time.  Now I’ve got both Connecticut Warbler and Boreal Owl to search for again.  After a wonderful trip like this, the idea of going birding again in Minnesota sounds pretty good.

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Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl hunting in the Superior National Forest. Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

The Great Gray Owl was actively hunting in a bog in the Superior National Forest as we watched it from the side of Minnesota Highway 2 north of Two Harbors.  It sat in the tops of trees surveying the ground below in the early morning light.  Every couple of minutes the owl  flew to a different tree, always alert, but not seeming to care that we were watching.  The fifteen minutes that we stood there in the serene beauty of the north woods was a wonderful start to the five-day trip.  This owl was not in a known location, but Erik had found it simply by knowing the habitat and carefully watching.  The Great Gray Owl is the tallest North American owl with a height of 24 to 33 inches.  It has the largest wingspan of five feet, but it is just a big ball of fluff.  It preys mostly on rodents with its small feet and talons.  Both Great Horned and Snowy owls weigh half again as much and have larger feet and talons allowing them to capture lager prey.

Our group of birders

Our group of birders – Gary Ludi, Shelley Rutkin, Myrna Harris

Myrna Harris and I had flown to Minnesota the day before where we met our guide, Erik Bruhnke, and Gary Ludi from Atlanta, for the Partnership for International Birding trip.  On the first day, we birded a little in Minneapolis and then headed north where we saw the first owls of the trip, two Snowies at the Superior airport in Wisconsin.  We learned that it was definitely not an irruption year, but that owls were actually rather scarce.  Still, we could not stop ourselves from teasing Erik that we expected an owl every day.

After our Great Gray Owl flew deeper into the woods and out of sight, we continued north.  There were long stretches without any birds at all, but the ones that we did find were the northern specialties that had motivated us to travel to northern Minnesota in January when sane people were heading south.

Myrna - warming up in Isabella

Myrna – warming up in Isabella. The temp outside was -9 degrees F.

In Grand Marais, we found a flock of Red Crossbills and Common Redpolls with one Hoary Redpoll and one White-winged Crossbill.  Four finch species in one binocular view!  An even more exciting find was a flock of about 30 Bohemian Waxwings.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings. Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

They were close enough to see well with our naked eyes, but with bins and scopes we could see every feather. These are BIG birds! Bohemian Waxwings are only one inch longer than Cedar Waxwings, but they weigh almost twice as much (56 grams vs. 32 grams). Their breasts and bellies are gray rather than the gorgeous bronze of Cedar Waxwings, but their classic waxwing head and face, intricate markings on the wings, and Rufous undertail coverts make them just as beautiful.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings eating snow. Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

Day three of the trip was spent entirely in Sax Zim Bog.

Sax Zim Bog

Sax Zim Bog

I recorded only 21 species that day, but three of them were lifers.  Our owl for the day was an extremely cooperative Northern Hawk Owl who allowed us excellent looks.

Northern Hawk Owl.  Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

Northern Hawk Owl. Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

A common bird in the bog, but exciting for me was Ruffed Grouse – seven of them!  This grouse was close to becoming a nemesis bird, but I can now claim it as a lifer.  Most of them were adeptly clambering around in the tops of shrubs or trees, foraging on buds.  We also had a wonderful view of a Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Sharp-tailed Grouse.  Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

Sharp-tailed Grouse. Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

One of my favorite new birds is Pine Grosbeak – big, lovely, easy to identify, and very cooperative.

PineGrosbeak

Male PineGrosbeak. Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee – an adorable Minnesota specialty. Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

Next it was time to look for gulls.  But first we wanted one more look at a Snowy Owl, so we headed back to the Superior airport early on our fourth day.  This time we found a Snowy perched in the top of a tree.  This is not common behavior for a Snowy, but it allowed us to get the scope on it for a quality view.  Crows harassed the poor bird and we could see the Snowy hiss at them.

Snowy Owl.  Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

Snowy Owl being harassed by American Crows. Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

Satisfied, with our Owl encounter of the day, we headed to the Superior landfill and Wisconsin Point to look for gulls.  We found only Herring Gulls and fly-over Glaucous Gulls.  But back at Canal Park in Duluth, we walked to the water’s edge and discovered a beautiful Iceland Gull right in front of us.  This is the kind of gull that makes gull watching fun.  Erik also found a Thayer’s Gull, another lifer for Gary, Myrna, and me.

Iceland Gull.  Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

Iceland Gull. Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

We celebrated our life gulls with one last visit to Sax Zim Bog where we found Redpolls everywhere, including five Hoaries.  We also saw Pine Grosbeaks, two Northern Shrikes, and other bog birds including Bald Eagles, which we saw four of our five days in Minnesota.

Black-capped Chickadee and Hoary Redpoll

A Black-capped Chickadee checks out a Hoary Redpoll. Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

Common Redpolls

Common Redpolls were the most numerous feeder visitor. Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

Red Squirrel

Minnesota’s Red Squirrels were much cuter than our Gray Squirrels at home.

The last day of our trip came all too quickly, but we had seen most of the expected birds.  The Boreal Owl just wasn’t meant to be for this trip.  Ironically, they started showing up as soon as we returned home.  So, our main target for the drive back to Minneapolis was Rough-legged Hawk.  We finally found a distant dark morph Rough-legged Hawk at Crex Meadows in Wisconsin.  The distance was too great to see detailed field marks, but we could see the characteristic hovering behavior.  The Rough-legged Hawk is one of only two large raptors that hover regularly when hunting.  The other large raptor that hovers is the Osprey.  Although the bird was not close, it was exciting to see the special hunting behavior that makes it unique.  On that last day, our owl for the day was this beautiful Barred Owl.

Barred Owl.  Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

Barred Owl. Photo by Erik Bruhnke.

We boarded our plane for home with happy memories of winter in Minnesota and dreams of returning in the warmth of spring.  This trip was January 16-20, 2013.  Partnership for International Birding sponsored the trip and Erik Bruhnke of Naturally Avian was our guide.  Many thanks for Erik for a wonderful trip and for granting permission to use his beautiful photos in this post.

Erik and Shelley - trying to stay warm!

Erik and Shelley – trying to stay warm!

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