February 26, 2010

Northern Minnesota Adventure: Day 1

Getting only three hours of sleep probably isn't the best way to start an adventure but I just couldn't get my mind off of the trip that was about to ensue. I was laying in bed, waiting for 4am to come around but it was still an hour away. I tossed and turned and couldn't get back to sleep. I knew I shouldn't have stayed up to watch the Olympics! Anyhow, I finally decided I would get up and start getting ready to leave since I wasn't going to be falling asleep anytime soon. After getting breakfast and packing up the things we almost forgot, my dad and I headed out to put our stuff in the truck. There wasn't much going on at four in the morning and the only thing up besides us seemed to be a pair of Great Horned Owls which made their presence known by their constant hooting from down by the creek.
My dad and I said our last goodbyes to mom and we were on the road, constantly getting closer to Great Gray Owls and Spruce Grouse. We were heading to northern Minnesota! As we crossed into Minnesota, the sky began to brighten a little, revealing the landscape to us and waking up the birds. It wasn't long before we saw flocks of Snow Buntings flying up off the roadsides and a number of hawks, including Red-tailed and Cooper's.
We passed through Mankato, and the Twin Cities and finally made it to Duluth at 1:00pm. We watched the countryside transition from the windswept prairie, to the deciduous forest which soon transitioned into a mixed forest with spruces and pines mixed in with birches and aspens. We were in the north woods and it didn't take long before we saw Common Ravens, a bird more typical of these woodlands than Iowa. Coming over Spirit Ridge on I-35 we saw Lake Superior and Duluth unravel before us, 700ft below. After stopping for a picnic lunch at a nice rest stop overlooking the city, we headed down to Canal Park. We saw no gulls or waterfowl there since the lake was frozen solid. We headed up the north shore a little ways and found that the lake was unfrozen once you get past Duluth. Here is a photo of Lake Superior's north shore near the French River.
Our destination for the afternoon was Two Harbors, a nice little community right on the lake. We were pleasantly suprised to find a number of gulls there with several Glaucous and even a Thayer's mixed in with the more common Herring Gulls. The only Thayer's Gull that we saw there was nice enough to fly over so I could get a photo of it.
We drove through town a little bit and were glad we did. Although there were no waxwings like we were hoping, a cooperative group of White-winged Crossbills was foraging in a spruce tree. There was excellent lighting which made for a nice opportunity to get some photos. It was fun to watch them expertly extract the seeds right out of the cones. Here is a female bird.We happened to run across another birder in town who gave us directions to a staked out Northern Hawk Owl just a couple miles away. We saw the bird but didn't get any nice shots.

After that we headed back to Duluth to go to church and to get a good nights rest so we could bird more the next day.

The next post I do will be on our journey up to the Sax-Zim Bog and around Duluth. I should be posting it in a couple days.

February 16, 2010

Off to the Northwoods

My dad and I are going to leave for northern Minnesota this Wednesday morning and will be gone through Sunday night giving us three full days of birding along Lake Superior's north shore and in the boreal forest that harbors many unusual bird species. This area has long been a popular birding destination and has drawn birders from far and wide. The photo above was taken last year on our winter trip there. I am going to try to see lifers such as Iceland Gull, Great Gray Owl, Spruce Grouse, and American Three-toed Woodpeckers since I missed those in 2009. On the way home I will try to get my lifer Varied Thrush and American Black Duck in Iowa. Another birder from where I live is coming up too so we will be able to go birding together. Make sure to check in on Monday of Tuesday next week for the story of my Northern Minnesota adventure.