A Travellerspoint blog

Sax-Zim Bog: Day 3

St. Louis County, MN

all seasons in one day 40 °F

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 31 — finally caught up on 2022 posts and will be posting a “year in birds” wrap-up tomorrow!

Our last day in the Bog! Up early again, we made a bee-line for Overton Rd as that was where the Great Grays were showing up yesterday in good numbers. The morning started with a sighting of a RUFFED GROUSE way up in a tree on the way:

Then, a second grouse joined it!

And sure enough, once we rounded the bend, a group of photographers was lined up for — our third GREAT GRAY OWL day in a row! Awesome!!!

Unfortunately, it flew away after about a minute of observation so that was the only decent shot I got this morning. But hey — at least we saw it! What an absolutely majestic bird, and it proves that timing and luck are everything up here in the Bog as it’s super easy to miss these if you don’t know their preferred time of day for hunting, their regular areas, or aren’t in the groupchat.

So, after a bit more waiting around for the Owl to reappear, we headed back to the Visitor Center for a bit more songbird photography. A bunch of AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES were on the thistle feeders:

And of course the EVENING GROSBEAKS were prolific again:


On our way out of the Bog, we picked up a nice group of PINE GROSBEAKS along the road which we were super relieved to see since we hadn’t obtained decent photos of this species on this trip until now!

And another cool sighting, right on the literal edge of the Bog’s unofficial boundary was this RUFFED GROUSE eating buds up in a tree! Super great way to end our official time in the Bog with a better look at this beautiful species.

We made an unsuccessful stop in Duluth for one last try for Bohemian Waxwing followed by a stop at the Duluth garbage dump to search for Iceland, Glaucous, and Great Black-backed Gulls. We immediately saw a Coyote walking across the ice:

And thankfully, another birder who was there pointed us in the right direction to view all of the roosting gulls on top of a waste treatment building and also pointed out an ICELAND GULL — note the white (folded) wingtips compared to the surrounding HERRING GULLS:

And I spied a behemoth immature GLAUCOUS GULL among the Herrings — note the uniformly white color overall as well as the bicolored pink-and-black bill.

This, as well as the Iceland, were both lifers for Kim and Susie so it was absolutely awesome to have this be a final stop before we wrapped up the birding for this trip and drove the long way home.

Bird-of-the-day, of course, goes to the Great Gray Owl with runners-up to the Iceland & Glaucous Gulls, all three of those birds being lifers for Kim and Susie this trip! It was an awesome trip and many, many thanks to Susie, Kim, and Bruce. Susie and Kim are fantastic cooks and kept us fed with delicious meals the entire time!!

As I missed both the Waxwing and the Sharp-tailed Grouse which would’ve been personal lifers, I lived vicariously through Susie’s and Kim’s experiences, with their lifers being: Evening & Pine Grosbeaks, Great Gray Owl, Northern Shrike (Susie only), Boreal Chickadee (Susie only), Canada Jay, and Iceland & Glaucous Gulls.

Bird-of-the-trip goes to the Great Gray Owl: it has been an awesome trip to see the Great Gray three days in a row, and those three days being the last three days of 2022! What a way to wrap up the year with such a majestic bird.

Stay tuned: more birding tomorrow with Simon to kick off 2023 with some solid year birds!

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1143 Species

Posted by skwclar 05:53 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Sax-Zim Bog: Day 2

St. Louis County, MN

overcast 18 °F


Today was our one full day for Bog birding. So, we were out bright and early again and headed straight to McDavitt Rd as that was where we photographed the Great Gray yesterday. We couldn’t find any Great Grays there, but did happen upon Kim and Susie’s lifer EVENING GROSBEAKS littering the trees above some random bird feeders!

We also tried Admiral Rd fruitlessly for Great Grays, but then decided to head down to Overton Rd as another had just been reported there. On the way, we found Susie and Kim’s lifer PINE GROSBEAKS on the road. Cool!!

And sure enough, along Overton there was another GREAT GRAY OWL — though very distant hence the mediocre photos.

Then, it took off when some AMERICAN CROWS began harassing it.

We had an extremely cooperative NORTHERN SHRIKE there:

Balancing in the wind, it appeared to wave at us!

And along the way to the Warren Nelson Bog, we found a BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE that flushed from picking at a deer carcass alongside the road:

Warren Nelson was quiet, so we headed back up to the Visitor’s Center where we had a ball photographing an impressive group of about 100 EVENING GROSBEAKS — the most I have ever seen at once!

The visitor center always has some sort of carcass up for the songbirds to feast on through the winter:


We walked down Gray Jay Way to the feeders a half-mile down the path and found our target BOREAL CHICKADEE, an uncommon species that can be quiet hard-to-come-by. Absolutely awesome! This was a lifer for Susie.

The Grosbeaks entertained back at the Visitor’s Center again, enjoying the platform feeders.

Another lifer for Susie and Kim was this CANADA JAY at the Arkola Rd feeders:

PINE GROSBEAK at the Winterberry Bog:

Our one waterbird in the Bog was this TRUMPETER SWAN enjoying a single patch of open water by Stone Lake, though I was quickly scared off by an obnoxious neighbor who got out his megaphone and shouted from across the lake, “You can’t park there! Don’t you see the no parking signs? Can’t you ****s read?”

When I say the people who live here come to get away from other people, I mean it!

Regardless, we continued our afternoon and despite missing a Great Gray by five minutes, we enjoyed a beautiful boreal sunset:

Bird-of-the-day to the Boreal Chickadee with runner-up to the Great Gray Owl. Has to be a fantastic day in order to give the Great Gray runner-up status!

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1142 Species

Posted by skwclar 16:01 Archived in USA Comments (4)

Sax-Zim Bog: Day 1

St. Louis County, MN

overcast 30 °F


Kim and Susie picked me up bright and early at 5am for my most-awaited Christmas present: a three-day trip up to the Sax-Zim Bog northwest of Duluth, MN! We of course were hoping to photograph Great Gray Owls, the most famous Bog bird, and two lifers I wanted were Bohemian Waxwing & Sharp-tailed Grouse.

On our way, we picked up my friend Bruce B and we continued our journey up to the Bog! After about eight hours on the car, we arrived at our first Bog location: Nichols Lake Road to search for Boreal Chickadees and Bohemian Waxwings. Though we came up empty, we did find the Boreal’s more-common cousin, the BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE which must be the most common bird in the Bog. Apologies for the bad focus — I didn’t exactly put in a lot of effort for this one, hah!

We were also relieved to be birding in the relatively-balmy temperature of 30F, possibly the warmest I have experienced up here in northern Minnesota during the winter!

Our most interesting sighting on the road was of this WILD TURKEY hen which flushed into a tree:

Then, I got a message on the Telegram app that a Great Gray Owl was being seen on McDavitt Rd so we immediately raced the twenty-five minutes over to the road to try to find this majestic species, my second favorite species of bird, period. And it seemed like everyone else had the same idea!

Could it be?!!!

YES!!!! GREAT GRAY OWL!! It’s the first one I have seen after the pandemic, and super exciting as I have only seen it a small handful of times before: once as my lifer in Idaho, and twice or thrice also at the Bog. Plus, this was a lifer for Kim and Susie!

Most of the time it was turned away from the crowd…

…meaning that the few times it glared directly at us, it was faced with a chorus of camera shutters.

Then, after admiring the owl for a while, we headed down to Kolu Rd where an American Porcupine was reported, and sure enough there it was near the top of the tree — looking like a bird’s nest! A mammalian lifer for me.

This immature NORTHERN SHRIKE was the only interesting bird at the Admiral Rd feeders — another lifer for Susie and Kim.

And before we knew it, it was dark so we wrapped things up for the night and headed to our VRBO in Hibbing. A wonderful, and productive day! Bird-of-the-day to the Great Gray Owl with runner-up to the Northern Shrike.

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1142 Species

Posted by skwclar 03:15 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Late Christmas Gifts

Cook County, IL

semi-overcast 22 °F

Merry Christmas! First off, I would like to share with you my rendition of O Holy Night from this year’s Christmas Mass, with pianist Michele vonEber. It was an absolutely wonderful and totally enjoyable Christmas in many expected, an unexpected, ways.

One of the unexpected ways was an exceptionally good day of birding today following the intense cold snap we have endured over the last week. My targets today: Long-eared, Great Horned, and Eastern Screech Owls with Parker.

My day began at Wolf Road Prairie where it was quiet apart from an AMERICAN TREE SPARROW:

After picking up Parker, we made a bee-line to the lakefront to look for the Long-eared Owls! On the way to the appointed location, we had COMMON GOLDENEYE:


And another COMMON GOLDENEYE once we met up with my friend Oliver:

Then, we spotted our friends Simon, Peter, and a gaggle of other birders training their cameras into the bushes and it could only be that we had found our first, and rarest, target of the day, the LONG-EARED OWL! Absolutely amazing! And you can see here that it is a well-deserved name.

And there was a second one hiding behind the first from the original angle! There weren’t any clear shot opportunities for both so this was the best I could manage. Absolutely awesome though. By far the best looks I’ve ever had at this secretive species.

The cameras were clicking away when the front bird peered straight at us.

And once again when the sun emerged from the clouds and cast its golden glow on this fabulous bird.

Wow. Incredible. Our next stop, unfortunately, was less productive with a miss on the Great Horned Owl of Northwestern University. HERRING GULL:

But we headed up to Wilmette and almost immediately found our target there, the EASTERN SCREECH-OWL, also partially obscured from all angles, but at absolutely point-blank range! Though actually in a fairly obvious perch, we could see how because the owl holds perfectly still it is so easy to miss. This owl is TINY.

Bird-of-the-day to the Long-eared Owls with runner-up to the Eastern Screech-Owl. Fabulous to have a TWO OWL day, and I will try to top that with the next trip right around the corner: Sax Zim Bog this thursday - saturday!!!! Will we find a Great Gray? Or a Hawk Owl? Or even a Bobcat? Stay tuned and find out next.

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1142 Species

Posted by skwclar 08:11 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Twitch: Rufous Hummingbird

Oak Park, IL

sunny 45 °F


Upon arriving back in Chicago, I had my mom take a slight (as in literal two-block!) detour on our way back home from O’Hare Airport. There had been a Rufous Hummingbird, a would-be Illinois lifer, hanging around a private Oak Park residence’s hummingbird feeders for the past week. Thankfully, it had been reported to have stuck to at least earlier this morning so I had hopes for the last lifer.

We started with a number of a more common birds including MOURNING DOVE:


And then, after about a ten-minute wait, the beautifully RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD made a stunning appearance at the hummingbird feeder! An awesome Illinois lifer just five minutes away from my house, and the rarest bird I have ever seen in Oak Park by far. Of course, this species takes the cake as the bird-of-the-day.

It was gorging on the sugar water to make sure it has enough sustenance to continue its southeasterly journey to the Gulf Coast.

Stay tuned — probably won’t be doing much till Christmas break (which, as of this posting, has just started!) but am hoping to make it up to the Sax-Zim Bog for some Hawk & Great Gray Owls, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Bohemian Waxwings, and others over break!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1142 Species

Posted by skwclar 00:06 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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