February 24, 2009

It's a Tundra!

With the excitement of the Sax-Zim Bog Birding Festival behind me, it's hard to make my blog posts nearly as exciting as they were, since there just aren't as many neat birds to talk about. Even though I don't have as many birds to talk about there are still some things that may be of interest to you, like the fact that I got my lifer Tundra Swan today.

There was a secondhand report that a group of twenty swans had been seen at Blue Lake, about forty minutes from where I live. The report was verified by a well known birdwatcher. The flock found by the birdwatcher was much less than twenty, with only nine individuals at the lake. Among these nine was a lone Tundra Swan and the rest were Trumpeters. I had never seen a Tundra Swan before and they are hard to find anywhere in our area, so I decided to try to see the bird at Blue Lake.

When I went there today all nine swans were still present, and in with them was the Tundra Swan. I managed to get a distant photo of it as it swan around with the other swans. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get the small yellow spot on the lores to show. Of course this didn't come as any surprise to me because of the fact that the bird was on the other side of the lake. Although the yellow lores are not evident, the overall smaller size than the nearby Trumpeter Swans and the bill shape gives away the identity. I sat there and watched as they swam around the lake together. They took off for a while, probably to get food, but came back soon after. The Tundra Swan, besides being a beautiful bird was my 304th life bird.
The weather has been fair the past couple days which has made it possible for some ducks and geese to inch their way north a bit. A number of other birds were on the lake along with the swans. I found ten other species of waterfowl there with Wood Duck and Redhead being my personal favorites. A lone American Coot was also on the lake, which kind of surprised me. With all these birds migrating it looks like this colder than average winter is finally making its way out of here!

February 20, 2009

Sax-Zim Bog Birding Festival: Day 4

We have finally made it to the end of my four day trip in the northern tier of Minnesota. So far I have seen eight lifers including Great Black-backed Gull, Boreal Owl (300!), Northern Hawk Owl, Ruffed Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak, and Hoary Redpoll. But will I get more to add to that list? Let's find out.....
Monday morning marked the end of our trip. I decided to try to get a couple more lifers before I left. My dad and I headed 1 hr 30 min up to Sand Lake along Lake County Road 2 to look Spruce Grouse.Snow and clouds gave the silent north woods an eerie appearance as we entered the Superior National Forest. When we got to Sand Lake it seemed that not a creature was stirring, not even a grouse :) We met several other birders that were out looking for them also but they had no luck. We followed birder Mike Hendrickson
( since he knew where he was going. We searched many locations where they are regularly seen without any success.
Since it appeared that the grouse were not going to come, my dad and I birded Two Harbors, a town along Lake Superior. All we found were Herring Gulls, but one did have a deformed bill.

Not much else was seen that morning so we decided that it would be best to be on our way home. Split Rock Lighthouse was only a few miles up the north shore so we stopped there for a few minutes before we headed back.The trip came to an end and we were headed home. I would like to thank my dad for the great trip, I could not have done it without him!

February 19, 2009

Sax-Zim Bog Birding Festival: Day 3

The field trip on day four of the Sax-Zim Bog Birding Festival took us through the bog for which the festival was named. At 6:30am my dad and I met the group in Meadowlands and boarded the bus that was full of birders anxious to see the many special birds of the area. On the way to Meadowlands I got a lifer mammal, a Snowshoe Hare that ran across the road. My hopes were to find Boreal Chickadee and Black-backed Woodpecker for my life list during the trip.
When we first started we didn't see much but as the day progressed more and more birds began to come out and show themselves. One of the first birds that we found was a Northern Hawk Owl perched on top of a tree looking for breakfast.
A couple Black-billed Magpies were viewed from a distance during the early morning hours. Also seen was another Northern Hawk Owl, one of the three that we would see that day. Several feeding stations were visited during the day. The first one we stopped at was the Admiral Road Station. Many of the feeders were baited with deer carcasses. This is an excellent food source for birds because gives them lots of energy to do everyday things. A number of Gray Jays came down to the meat feeder while we were there.
A classic Hoary Redpoll was perched in a bush nearby allowing me to take a quick picture of it. They are easy to distinguish from the Common Redpolls as long as you know what field marks to look for.The Hoary Redpoll eventually came down to the feeders for some seed, allowing me to get a nicer photo of it.
I left the Admiral Feeders with no life birds, but I did get some great looks at some birds that I don't get to see back at home. We moved on to another feeding station with the hopes of finding Evening Grosbeaks. The grosbeaks did show up and we gt some nice looks at them. Unfortunately though I couldn't get a decent picture of them because they were so far away. Here is the best one I could get of them while we were there.
Another bird of note at the feeders was a female Red Crossbill feeding on some pine cones in a tree nearby.
No lifers showed up at any of the feeders so far, but there was still hope of finding some new birds before the day was over. We drove around for a while and I saw a Ruffed Grouse, this time in the open. After lunch we hit a couple more feeders and found a few nice birds. One species that was very conspicuous were the Pine Grosbeaks. I got a picture of one of the stunning male grosbeaks.
The feeders we were visiting had deer carcasses at them which is a favorite food of the tiny Boreal Chickadee. Our Pine Grosbeak watching was interrupted by a call that sounded like a Black-capped Chickadee with a wheeze. If you haven't guessed it by now, we were hearing a Boreal Chickadee! The bird was back in some thick conifers, hidden from sight, that is until he came to the feeders. I went back to watching the grosbeaks and in the corner of my eye I saw a tiny brown and white bird fly in to the feeders. I looked over and saw that it was a Boreal Chickadee! The bird fearlessly flew out into the open and began feeding on the deer carcass. He sat there as we took photograph after photograph of it. He eventually was done with his lunch and flitted back into the woods.
The Boreal Chickadee was life bird 302 and was the first one of the day. It's cousin, the Black-capped Chickadee was also present.
The next place we were going to visit was a Black-backed Woodpecker location. This would be yet another lifer for me. We got back onto the bus and as the driver went to start it we heard that something was wrong. The bus wasn't starting! I began to wonder if we were going to be able to make it to the woodpecker spot before it was too late. Within fifteen minutes a truck came out and jump-started the bus. All turned out okay and the bus was up and running in no time.
When we got to the woodpecker spot I didn't know what to expect. For the past few days not one Black-backed was seen, even though the area was searched extensively. I began to doubt that we would see one but it turned out that we did find one, and easily at that.
As we walked into the woods on a hardened foot path signs of Black-backed Woodpecker foraging was everywhere. Bark was littered on the ground, a sure sign that they were there. I was the first one to find one of these unusually tame woodpeckers.They allowed close approach and sometimes came to us. One woodpecker was so bold that it landed on a tree that someone was leaning on. The photographer who was under the tree had to back away to get a picture of it! It's not often that wildlife photographers have the problem of the animals coming to close to get a picture. The woodpecker wad another new bird, number 303, and the last one of the weekend. We drove back past the Admiral Feeders and on the way there I saw a mammal lifer, the Porcupine, which was in bad lighting.At the feeder we found a few birds including another Boreal Chickadee. I also got an excellent picture of a Downy Woodpecker that was perched outside of our bus.
The trip was over so we headed back to Meadowlands. Another Northern Hawk Owl was seen from the bus on the way back and a group of four Ruffed Grouse were feeding in a bush along the road.
This marked the end of the festival but not the complete end of the weekend of birding. Tommorrow I will tell about our search for the illusive Spruce Grouse on the back roads of lake county.

February 18, 2009

Sax-Zim Bog Birding Festival: Day 2

On Saturday morning my dad and I woke up bright and early and headed out to a Perkins where we met trip leaders Lars Benson and Judd Brink and the rest of the group to bird the Duluth area. We took off first in search of Snowy Owls at the international airport, but were unsuccessful in finding any. No Snowy Owls were seen during the day despite our continued efforts to spot one at various locations. A light snow began to pick up as we drove around looking for birds but it didn't stop us.

A bird feeder a few miles outside of town had redpolls and other various birds visiting so we headed there to try our luck on finding any interesting species. The first lifer of the day turned out to be a Hoary Redpoll. My life list was nearing 300, with only three to go. A couple female Pine Grosbeaks also popped in making my life list grow yet again, with 298 species. It has been a while since I've had so many life birds within such a short period of time. The Hoary Redpoll escaped getting photographed but I did get some photos of the Common Redpolls. They were all over the place there and were easy to photograph.This photo shows only a small portion of the hundreds of repolls that were there!
After we had our fill of looks at the redpolls we decided to move on. A Pileated Woodpecker gave us fleeting looks as it flew into the forest as we made our way back to the car. Lester Park was next on the itinerary. On the way over a Ruffed Grouse that was seen briefly in a woody draw along the road was my 299th life bird. That meant that I was only one away from 300! I kept wondering what my 300th bird would be. Would it be an Iceland Gull, Northern Hawk Owl, or even an unexpected bird? To find out what species it was keep reading.

A couple White-winged Crossbills were at Lester Park. The photo below clearly shows the white wings on a female bird. They weren't easy to photograph or even see for that matter as they foraged about in the treetops.A check for gulls down by the lake added an adult Glaucous Gull to the day list. We searched again for Snowy Owls but all that we found was a Coyote. A check of a local landfill revealed some interesting gulls such as Glaucous and Great Black-backed. An Iceland Gull was also seen flying above our heads. I frantically searched for it in the large group of gulls floating around the place. This would be a nice bird for three-hundred. But God had plans of His own. Before I had an opportunity to find the gull a call came in that a Boreal Owl was seen along a road about twenty minutes from the landfill. I decided that I better save the Iceland Gull for another day so I could have Boreal Owl as my 300th. The Boreal Owl is one of the top 10 most sought after birds in all of the ABA area. We wasted no time going over there to see the bird. I tried to avoid looking for any birds on the way over in case one of them would happen to be a new bird. I wanted Boreal Owl as my three-hundreth bird in the worst way. We pulled up to the location and searched along the roadside for it as we drove by. The birder who found it was there and said that we drove right past it! I looked right where it was and couldn't see it. No wonder they are so hard to find. I finally did see the bird and officially added him as my 300th bird on my life list. Boreal Owl-my 300th lifer, what a neat bird!

I called my birding friends that were back home in Iowa and told them about seeing my 300th lifer. After much congratulations and picture taking we headed off to find a few more birds before the day was over. We found a few more Pine Grosbeaks while we were looking for a solitaire. There was no solitaire to be found but the grosbeaks posed for a picture.

The successful birding trip for the day came to an end but we were not entirely done birding. A Great Gray Owl search was done at the Sax-Zim Bog to try to find this species which was rather scarce this year. Not one was found during that search, in fact none were seen during the weekend. Lifer 301 showed up however in the form of an owl. A Northern Hawk Owl was perched atop a tree in the fading daylight allowing close approach.

To wrap up a great day of birding we went to the Meadowlands Community Center to listen to Al Batt, a great comedian that made us all laugh. We went back to the hotel exhausted and ready for bed.

Tomorrow I will highlight all of the birds I saw while birding in the Sax-Zim Bog.

February 17, 2009

Sax-Zim Bog Birding Festival: Day 1

My dad and I got up early in the morning on Friday to make the trip to Duluth, MN for the Sax-Zim Bog Winter Bird Festival. We were ready and out the door at five in the morning and drove nine hours to the chilly north woods. We passed the twin cities on the way up and I managed to snap a picture of downtown Saint Paul as we drove through.Once we were past the twin cities, trees and lakes became more abundant all the time. About eighty miles north of Saint Paul we encountered our first Common Ravens flying over a rest stop along I-35. Not long after that we were in Duluth and enjoying the birds. The hills just before you get in Duluth are huge providing you with an exellent view of Lake Superior and the city below.
We drove into the city and checked out some areas near Lake Superior for gulls. It didn't take long to find some gulls and pick out a Great Black-backed Gull. This bird was my 296th lifer! I expected to see new birds on this trip but I didn't expect to find one so quickly.
It didn't take long to find some other interesting gulls including adult Glaucous (photo below) and Thayer's Gulls. I got some shots of the lighthouse and a lift bridge in Duluth as well while I was looking for the gulls. Duluth is an interesting city that sits along the shores of one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world and has the largest inland seaport anywhere.After an hour or so we headed forty-five minutes to the northwest to a town called Meadowlands for the festival. We got registered and enjoyed a talk by Larry Weber on animal tracks in the woods.

I will tell you all about the Duluth field trip and my 300th life bird tomorrow so check back in to hear about the rest of my northern Minnesota birding experience!

February 12, 2009

Heading North!

Tomorrow morning I am going to be heading north to Meadowlands, MN for the Sax-Zim Bog Birding Festival. I will post lots of pictures on Monday or Tuesday when I return. Wish me luck on getting my 300th lifer!

Cattle Farm Birds

Late this afternoon I got a call about a Prairie Falcon that was found at a cattle farm about five miles from my house. My mom and I went down and saw the bird in a field on top of a corn stalk. I got a truly horrible shot of it but it is id-able (I guess?). This is an occasional bird in our area and it is always fun to see one.

Another thing that was worth seeing were the thousands of starlings that were flying around the farm. Sure, birders couldn't care less if they saw starlings or not, most people just ignore them. But when there are as many of them as there was at the cattle farm it is hard to ignore the masses of them flying around.

Cattle Farms are interesting places to bird. Lots of birds use them during migration and we have even found some rarities around them. There is plenty of shelter, water, and food (starlings for falcons) around, so it is no surprise that so many birds use them.

February 7, 2009

New Species of Meadowlark in NA?

A certain population of meadowlark in the desert southwest is getting attention by birders all across North America. This is because of the possibility of it being a species of it's own! The birds being debated now are currently considered Eastern Meadowlarks but that may change soon. The new species would be called "Lilian's Meadowlark" if they do split the species. This is a very interesting discovery in North America that has birders wondering if they have found a new species.

More information can be found by clicking on the link below:

February 6, 2009

The Cardinals are Calling

You know that spring is coming before long when the cardinals begin singing. This morning I heard one of the first singing Northern Cardinals males this year.Even though it doesn't even look like spring is going to come anytime soon they can somehow tell that it isn't far off. I am guessing that the earlier rising sun is one indicator to birds that it is getting closer to breeding season.

A number of the birds around my place are more vocal and territorial than they were just a couple weeks ago. Many birds are beginning to pair up and are probably going to start nesting here before long. Migration has even begun and some non-wintering migrants are starting to make their way north in small numbers.

I made a video with my camera this morning. It doesn't show any birds visibly present but I mostly taped it to record the cardinal singing.

Spring is coming, just not as soon as I would like!

More on the Snowy Owls

As I previously posted on January 27th I saw two Snowy Owls on one day in my home county. Of the two birds the only one that is still present is the juvenile bird that was found at the Owego Wetlands about fifteen miles from my home. People have come from near and far to see and photograph the bird. To see photographs go to
and then click on owls-landbirds and you should see a numer of photos of the owl. Almost all of the Snowy Owl photo are dated and the ones of the owl mentioned is marked from late January-early February.

February 1, 2009

Rough-legged Hawk

Here is a picture of a Rough-legged Hawk that I saw while I was out birding yesterday. There are quite a few of these birds around at some areas in the county. Usually they aren't so approachable but this one sure was!