Sax-Zim Bog, MN
Tuesday 29 December 2015 18 °F
This owl-tastic year just keeps getting better and better! My former nemesis and now second-favorite bird, the Great Gray Owl, put on a fabulous show today at the world-famous Sax-Zim Bog!
Today my uncle Mory, his friend Bruce, and I criss-crossed the Bog in northeast Minnesota in search of four main target birds: Sharp-tailed Grouse, Great Gray Owl, Pine Grosbeak, and Boreal Chickadee. You already know that we found at least one of my targets...read on for more...
It was a long day with 120+ miles of total driving mileage (the Bog is HUGE!) interspersed with occasional birding stops. It was overcast with bitingly chilly temperatures ranging from 11 to 18 degrees F.
Our first stop in the morning was Admiral Road where it is possible to see Great Gray Owls and Boreal Chickadees. We found this GRAY JAY near the feeder setup along the road; however, sadly no Boreals as they are quite uncommon:
As we approached a gathering of cars and photographers with huge lenses at one point along the road, Bruce spotted something large perched atop a nearby dead snag:
GREAT GRAY OWL - MY SECOND FAVORITE BIRD!!! I have only seen this species once before, in Idaho last August, and this was an even better look than the August sighting so you could imagine how thrilled I was to see this beauty!
Here is the view of the scene with snow-covered Admiral Road on the left:
The next stop was the feeders at the Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center, where we hoped to find Pine Grosbeak and, although very unlikely, a slight chance for Boreal Chickadee again. Along the way, we found a small gathering of COMMON REDPOLLS on Stickney Road. We would later find them to be abundant around the Welcome Center.
This male DOWNY WOODPECKER was working the trees with a few HAIRY WOODPECKERS (but sadly no Black-backeds) near the Welcome Center:
We checked off PINE GROSBEAK, one of our target species for the day, when we found a flock of eight of these beautiful, rare winter finches:
A scan of the feeders at the Racek Road - Hwy 29 intersection proved to be unsuccessful for finding the hoped-for Sharp-tailed Grouse; however, we will have a chance to visit that location in the morning again tomorrow because other birders' reports have told us that mornings have proved to be better for finding the grouse.
We then visited Nichols Lake where we tried very hard to coax Boreal Chickadees to come out of the bog using the playback method; however, none of these made any appearances. This is a very scarce species and the Sax-Zim Bog is the most reliable out of the handful of locations they can be found in the US outside of Alaska.
Then, we decided to drive back to Admiral Road where we hoped to see the Great Gray again and possibly, just possibly, find an elusive Boreal Chickadee at the feeders. We certainly succeeded in finding the marvelous GREAT GRAY OWL; it was in the same general area as it was in the morning and allowed for a truly gorgeous photo shoot:
Alas, we failed to find the Boreal Chickadee, but we agreed that the super-cooperative Great Gray Owl more than made up for that. After all, it is my second favorite bird in the world! The last birding stops of the day before dinner, the Welcome Center and Racek Road, turned out to be unproductive in the quickly-fading light of the 4 o'clock hour.
Although no life birds were found today, we had a great day with two out of our four target species being found, including my second favorite bird, the Great Gray Owl, which will of course be my bird-of-the-day for today! Runner-up to the beautiful pink Pine Grosbeaks which were another target bird we found. The full list for the day can be found below.
Tomorrow we will be birding the Sax-Zim Bog in the morning where we hope to find Sharp-tailed Grouse, and maybe if some miracle happens, Boreal Chickadee. Then, we will drive back to my uncle's house near La Crosse, Wisconsin - hopefully stopping at a Snowy Owl in Superior, WI en route.
Stay tuned, and good owling!
World Life List: 887 Species (no life birds today)
14 species today:
Bald Eagle 2
Great Gray Owl 1 1 mile south of feeders on Admiral Road, great long-lasting, soul-satisfying looks
Downy Woodpecker 1 Welcome center feeders
Hairy Woodpecker 2 Trees around welcome center
Northern Shrike 1 Perched on wire along open area on Stickney Road
Gray Jay 6 3 at Admiral Road feeders, 3 others throughout Bog
Blue Jay 2
American Crow 5
Common Raven 10
Black-capped Chickadee 25 Different flocks at Admiral Road feeders, welcome center feeders, and east side of Nichols Lake. Again, no Boreals.
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
European Starling 4
Pine Grosbeak 8 Welcome Center feeders
Common Redpoll 50 About 25 congregating on and around Stickney Road in an area of thick dogwoods, about 25 at feeders around Welcome Center.