A Travellerspoint blog

December 2014

Day 4: A Break From the Cold

semi-overcast 16 °F

Today I spent most of my day enjoying the warmth of being inside and spending time with my aunt and uncle at their house near La Crosse in western Wisconsin. I only ventured outside to take a quick walk with my aunt, but it was so windy and frigid outside that there were no birds seen. The wind and the cold was so bad outside that we decided to not go and try to find the resident Barred Owls at a local preserve.

I did, however, spot a few common birds at the bird feeders stationed near the windows of the house, see below:


Male DARK-EYED JUNCO of the eastern "Slate-colored" race:

Also worth noting was that my aunt spotted a BALD EAGLE and, strangely enough, a TURKEY VULTURE, a species that is usually much farther south than Wisconsin during the winter, soaring far over the house before I had woken up this morning.

Bird-of-the-day to the two species which let me take photos of them, TUFTED TITMOUSE and DARK-EYED JUNCO. Tomorrow will be a full day of birding and my last full day of this trip. Some highlights I may find tomorrow include seeing a place where Bald Eagles congregate to fish as well as visiting the Buena Vista Grasslands, which are home to rarities such as Greater Prairie-Chickens and Snowy Owls. Stay tuned!

Good birding,

World Life List: 708 Species (no life birds today)

Only 8 avian species today:

Bald Eagle
Downy Woodpecker
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Dark-eyed Junco
House Sparrow

Posted by skwclar 20:20 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Day 3: Nemesis or Not?

sunny 4 °F

Today was a day devoted to birding the world-famous Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota to experience boreal avian species and to gain many possible life birds, including my nemesis bird, the Great Gray Owl.

After a breakfast at our little motel near Duluth, my uncle, Bruce, and I departed for the bog just shy of 8am, violently shivering under the -9 degree temperature and wind chills around -30. It was a frigid day, with temperatures ranging from -9 to 4 degrees and wind chills from -30 to -5. Today was so cold that I wore seven layers of clothing and was still shivering throughout the day!

We arrived at the bog approximately an hour after our departure from the motel and headed straight for the two roads on which we were most likely to find Great Gray Owls; Admiral and McDavitt Roads. After a couple of thorough searches down each of the roads, no owls were seen, but I did gain one life bird that was seen perched alongside McDavitt Road; it was this beautiful NORTHERN SHRIKE:

Then, we drove for the opposite corner of the bog to visit the famous Mary Lou Feeders for rare grosbeaks. The Sax-Zim Bog is laid out in a very large square-like shape, so large that it takes at least twenty minutes to get from point to point on the bog. After a twenty-five minute ride, we arrived at the feeders, which were hopping with passerines (songbirds):



Male COMMON REDPOLL, FOY (first of the year):

The highlight of this stop was definitely about thirty beautiful EVENING GROSBEAKS (life bird!), a declining species, one of which posed for a great photo:

After nearly freezing our fingers off (it had "warmed" up from -9 to a balmy -7 degrees at this point), we retired to the car and drove back towards Admiral Road.

Next, we arrived at Admiral Road where we saw a car stopped, so we investigated the situation just in time to see two PINE GROSBEAKS, a life bird for me, fly up from the road to a bare tree next to the car. Here is one of the individuals:

Then, we continued to the feeders along Admiral Road to see if there were any rare Boreal Chickadees present. Alas, none were found, but this inquisitive GRAY JAY nearly made up for the loss:

There was also a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH in attendance; I haven't seen this species since last summer in Idaho:

Next, we drove down a road where more Pine Grosbeaks had been reported, but they had all left by the time we arrived. By this point, we were all getting hungry, so we continued to the only restaurant near the bog, Wilbert's Cafe. The food was pretty good and the service was acceptable, and we immediately headed back towards the bog after eating.

Along the drive, we found at least six BLACK-BILLED MAGPIES, an uncommon bird for Minnesota. These birds are much more common in the Rocky Mountains (I see them when I go out to Idaho every year), and the Sax-Zim Bog is the easternmost point of their range. Sadly, they weren't overly cooperative for photography, so I only managed this distant photo of one individual:

Our next stop was at the Warming Center and bird feeding station, where we saw some nice avian species and our suspicions about Admiral and McDavitt Roads being best for Great Gray Owls were confirmed by other birders.

Male PURPLE FINCH, a life bird for Bruce and maybe my uncle as well:


A RED CROSSBILL, a bird I haven't encountered since I visited the Tetons in summer 2013, was heard in the vicinity of the feeders at this location, but sadly we couldn't locate it.

Then, from 2:15pm-5:00pm, we cruised up and down Admiral, and to a lesser extent, McDavitt Roads, in hopes of sighting the main target of my Minnesota/Wisconsin trip: the Great Gray Owl. Along McDavitt Road, we quickly spotted my life bird ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, a nice find even though it flew away too quickly for decent photos. We crawled along the roads, talked with other birders along the way, and combed every branch and twig in sight with our eyes tirelessly for hours, but alas, my nemesis bird remained enigmatic. What an annoyance; I have looked for this darn owl in 4 states including 3 national parks, 2 national forests, and countless other preserves! My next chance to find the Great Gray Owl will be a much less likely prospect of finding it next August in the mountains of central Idaho. Anyway, four other life birds for the day is still very good. To end the day, we drove the long, ~5 hour drive back to my aunt and uncle's house near La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Bird-of-the-day to my life bird EVENING GROSBEAK which was also the most beautiful bird seen today. Runners-up to my three other life birds: NORTHERN SHRIKE, PINE GROSBEAK, and ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK.

A special thanks to my uncle for driving the entire time; we spent a LOT of time in the car the last few days!

Tomorrow will be a day of birding in the vicinity of La Crosse, Wisconsin that might involve searching for resident Barred Owls, and then Thursday I will bird the Buena Vista Grasslands of Wisconsin in search of Greater Prairie-Chickens, Snowy Owls, and other rarities. Stay tuned!

Good birding,

World Life List: 708 Species (4 life birds today)

20 avian species today:

Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling
House Sparrow
Purple Finch
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin

Posted by skwclar 21:43 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Day 2: Life Bird, Northern Hawk Owl!

sunny 10 °F

After a hearty breakfast at my aunt and uncle's house, my uncle and I hopped into his car and started on our quest to find the first rare bird of this journey: a Northern Hawk Owl (a species that usually resides in Canada) that has been hunting for mice at a certain subdivision of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for over a week. We picked up our birding friend, Bruce, and were soon on our way to Eau Claire.

After an hour and a half of driving from La Crosse to Eau Claire through beautiful Wisconsin countryside, complete with a glistening two-inch coating of snow, we arrived at the subdivision where the owl was being seen. The sky provided absolutely brilliant light for photography, as it was a perfectly clear day today, but the temperatures were downright miserable. Throughout the day, the temperatures hovered between 5 and 10 degrees, with wind chills below zero.

We scanned the subdivision from our car, methodically cruising down every road and searching every tree in sight. After at least an hour of this nonsense, I suddenly exclaimed, "Stop! Look in that tall tree to our right! Is that it?"

A plump avian silhouette, a touch larger than your average Sharp-shinned Hawk, was perched at the top of a bare tree, and all three of us immediately got our binoculars/cameras on it and almost simultaneously confirmed that yes, we had finally found the bird we were after! Life bird #703, Northern Hawk Owl! Hooray!

For at least another hour, we followed this owl around the neighborhood because it hunts during the daytime and therefore moves frequently from perch to perch, scanning for mice to snatch from under the snow cover. We saw it catch multiple mice; it was an expert hunter. The three of us had a five-minute cycle of photograph the bird, warm up in car, drive to a more convenient photography position, photograph the bird, etc. It was challenging to enjoy the majesty of the creature whilst enduring the utterly frigid cold all the while, but we managed with the help of multiple layers of clothing and neat little hand/feet warmers that my uncle provided.

At one point while I was photographing this bird from a distance, it spread its wings and flew directly towards me. Just shy of reaching me, it stretched out its large talons and landed on a plant just a mere five feet in front of me. My jaw dropped and a giddy smile poured out over my face, but I dared not even breath as I snapped the below photos of this amazing bird:

Wow, what an encounter! Bruce, my uncle, and I all celebrated once we reached the car and happily drove away. First target bird of the trip, check.

Then, we were off to...of all places...a cemetery to see if we could find some recently reported rare Bohemian Waxwings. After cruising around the premises in our car, we decided that the cemetery held exactly zero birds. This miss wasn't terribly tough on us because the Northern Hawk Owl is much rarer than Bohemian Waxwings any day, and the waxwings had only been reported by one person, which makes their presence even less likely.

After a quick stop at Subway, a three-and-a-half hour drive, nearly running out of gas, and refueling the car at a gas station, we arrived at our motel in Duluth, Minnesota, where the three of us will spend the night. We had a nice dinner at the Duluth Grill and then promptly returned to our motel in order to get enough rest in preparation for the big day of birding we have planned for tomorrow, speaking of which...

Tomorrow my uncle, Bruce, and I will bird the world-famous Sax-Zim Bog in northern Minnesota in hopes of finding winter specialties ranging from anything from Evening Grosbeaks to my nemesis bird, the Great Gray Owl. This bog has many accolades, including being featured on the successful movie "The Big Year" as well as attracting visitors from everywhere from Florida to Japan. Stay tuned!

Bird-of-the-day goes to, of course, my life bird NORTHERN HAWK OWL, which unbelievably perched five feet away from me! Runner-up to a PILEATED WOODPECKER which we saw flying over when we picked up Bruce at his house. The full avian species list for the day is attached below.

Good birding,

World Life List: 703 Species (1 life bird today: Northern Hawk Owl)

17 avian species identified today:

Canada Goose
Trumpeter Swan
Wild Turkey
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
American Crow
Common Raven
Black-capped Chickadee
American Robin
European Starling
Dark-eyed Junco
House Sparrow

Posted by skwclar 19:12 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Day 1: Minnesota & Wisconsin Trip

sunny 18 °F

Hi everyone, and welcome back!

It has once again been a pretty long time since I have posted, although I am finally onto my next out-of-state birding trip, yay! This time, I am visiting the famous (among birders) Sax-Zim Bog, which is located, of all places, in northern Minnesota! I will be birding this amazing preserve with my uncle and a birding friend named Bruce, and we will be looking for boreal bird specialties such as owls, grouse, finches, shrikes, and much more! Best of all, the Great Gray Owl, a bird I have been chasing with no luck for years, resides in numbers in the Sax-Zim Bog, so I will hopefully conquer my "nemesis bird." The Sax-Zim Bog is one of the best places in the entire continent for winter birding, and I am very excited for getting a chance to finally visit. After visiting the bog, we will drive back to Wisconsin again to bird various winter birding patches such as the Buena Vista Grasslands, which holds such rarities as Greater Prairie-Chickens and Snowy Owls. Then, I will return to Chicago on Friday.

Today I rode the Amtrak "Empire Builder" service up from Chicago to western Wisconsin, where I am staying overnight at my aunt and uncle's house. From the window of the train, there were few interesting birds with the exception of a few HORNED LARKS flying around in corn stubble fields alongside the track and a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK that flew over a building at one point. Tomorrow, my uncle, a birding friend name Bruce, and I will take the five-hour drive up to the bog, which is northwest of Duluth, Minnesota (hopefully with a few birding stops along the way to see one or maybe even two lifer Northern Hawk Owls and possibly a vagrant Varied Thrush!).

Stay tuned and good birding,

World Life List: 702 Species (no life birds today)

Posted by skwclar 19:07 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Check out the ABA Blog!

overcast 39 °F

Hello everybody and welcome back!

Again, due to school and music, it has been quite a while since I have posted, however, in just five days, I will be on my Christmas break, so I will have much more time for birding then (hopefully including a trip with my aunt an uncle up to northern Minnesota to look for rare finches and owls, including my nemesis bird, the Great Gray Owl!).

I found out that I, along with my birding group, the Illinois Young Birders' Club, was just featured on one of the most prestigious birding blogs in the world, the American Birding Association's blog! Click the link below to see the post about me, my birding club, and an amazing overnight birding trip we took over this past summer:


Finally, here is a photo of a nice male NORTHERN CARDINAL I took recently:

Good birding!

World Life List: 703 Species (no life birds recently)

Posted by skwclar 16:21 Archived in USA Comments (2)

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