Monday, February 15, 2010

Saturday at the Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival

Day 2 of the Sax-Zim Winter Birding Festival started early on Saturday morning where we were to meet our carpool partners in the EconoLodge parking lot at 7:00 AM. It was pretty cold, but the skies were clear as a bell and we were looking forward to predicted highs in the mid-20's for later in the day. I thought it was a particularly good sign to see these 2 Common Ravens atop a billboard right in the EconoLodge parking lot! This was the first of many ravens we saw on our Saturday birding adventure.

After picking up the final member of our Duluth birding group, the first stop for our caravan was the frozen Port of Duluth where we were hoping to spot a Snowy Owl. Being a landlubber from southeastern Minnesota, I loved seeing all the huge ships frozen in this bay for the winter. We never did see a Snowy Owl, but were excited to spot our first Northern Shrike of the day in this area.

Our next stop was over to Canal Park to try and spot some waterfowl--hopefully Barrow's Goldeneye or Long-Tailed Ducks. Unfortunately for us, a recent shift in the wind had blown the ice close in to shore, so there was no open water here (meaning no ducks either!) However I couldn't leave without getting this nice shot of the Duluth Lift Bridge. (It was the consensus of several members of our group that the reason the right end of the bridge was all covered up was because the bridge was being sandblasted and repainted.)

Here's a look at all the ice that had blown into the harbor plus a good look at the City of Duluth.

Our next destination was Two Harbors, but we did make a stop along the way where some open water was evident and managed to spot a few Common Goldeneyes, but pretty far from shore. At that distance, there was no way to determine if there was a Barrow's Goldeneye in the group (as you can see by this picture).

On our way up to Two Harbors, I did get to see what for me was the highlight of my trip: A Bald Eagle and several Common Ravens feasting on a road-killed deer right along Highway 61! Yes, for non-birders, this sounds really disgusting, but it was just so neat to get a quick, close-up look at a Bald Eagle on the ground and be able to appreciate the sheer size and beauty of this raptor. It turned out to be a really good day for spotting Bald Eagles and we had numerous sightings--mostly along Highway 61 and the Lake Superior shore.

Even though we hit all hot spots in Two Harbors where Bohemian Waxwings had been seen previously, we weren't able to spot any. A stop along the Lake Superior shore in Two Harbors also left us "duck-less," but I did have the chance to snap this postcard perfect photo. We definitely got more than our recommended daily allowance of Vitamin D from the sun on this beautiful Saturday.

Here's another close-up look at the ice along the shore and coating rocks on the bay here at Two Harbors.

We stopped for a tailgate lunch at Lester Park in Duluth where we were really surprised with a flyover by a couple of American Robins. It's always nice to hear their cheerful chirp in the middle of winter!

After lunch, our caravan headed east to the northlands favorite gull hotspot: the landfill in Superior, Wisconsin! There were plenty of gulls here and it was mesmerizing to watch them fly up from the landfill and soar around with the gorgeous blue sky as a backdrop. The majority of these gulls were Ring-Billed Gulls (they're the ones with the black wing tips in the photo below). However, we all got some good looks at several large Glaucous Gulls and a couple of smaller Iceland Gulls (lifer!)

It was finally time for us to head back to Duluth and we made one more stop down at the waterfront still hoping to see that Snowy Owl (which we didn't). However, we did all get a lucky and unexpected look at a Rough-Legged Hawk that was perched on one of the light poles along Highway 2 from Superior (sorry, no picture of that bird either!)

Our day was far from over as we headed back to festival headquarters in Meadowlands where we were scheduled to board buses at 4 PM for an owl search into the Sax-Zim Bog.
Our bus headed down Owl Avenue. Unfortunately owls were conspicuously absent from the area and we saw only one Northern Hawk Owl perched at the top of a tree at the end of a distant fence row.
Even though we didn't get to see any owls, we were lucky enough to see several Ruffed Grouse perched in birch trees and feasting on catkins at the end of the branches. I've never had the chance to see this before and it was really fun to see these large birds try and balance out near the end of the branches and stretch to reach their favorite food.

We were treated to the sight of a beautiful northwoods sunset while riding the bus back to the Meadowlands Community Center. Saturday's excellent birding adventure ended with a delicious banquet, some knitting with friends, and an entertaining presentation from Al Batt, the evening's keynote speaker.


Anonymous said...

Sorry you didn't get to see a Snowy Owl or the ducks you wanted, but hey you have beautiful pics of other exciting things. That pic of the grouse was super. The sky is so blue and the scenery great, yes even in winter.
I hope you and Lynn had a wonderful time and you even got to see Hasty Brook.


LauraHinNJ said...

Gosh it looks super cold there!

dAwN said...

Sounds like you are having a busy, fun filled time! Great Birds too!

Kelly said...

.....sounds like a great time. It must be fun to be around all the birders. I've never seen a Ruffed Grouse, so that would have been a spectacular sight for me! Looking forward to more posts on the event.

Gaelyn said...

What a wonderful time, cold or no. Too bad no owls on owl st. But sounds like you saw quite a bit.

Jayne said...

That ice on the bay looks mighty chilly! Sounds like a fun day, even though the birdies were hiding.

danielle said...

You are so right about the picture-postcard! Gorgeous! And I love the ravens...I don't know why, but I have a huge fascination with those corvids. My husband and I drove through NE right around the crane migration, which was super-cool...but the most striking thing was the bald eagle right by the side of the road eating roadkill. Amazing.

Penelope said...

Thanks for the updates and great photos. I haven't seen a snow bunting yet...

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mom,
Saturday was definitely the nicest day of our weekend festival. A perfect day for birding!

Hi Laura,
Actually not that cold when you consider it's the middle of February in northern Minnesota. Anything above 20 degrees this time of year we consider mild--esp. if the sun is shining!

Hi Dawn,
It was another great festival....good friends, good food, and good birding.

Hi Kelly,
You should plan to attend this festival some year. We could show you a Minnesota good time! Seeing those grouse up in the trees like that was a first for me too.

Hi Gaelyn,
I really wanted to see a Great Gray Owl again, but that's the way it goes sometimes. At least I have a reason to head back up there birding someday......

Hi Jayne,
It was pretty amazing to see that much ice on Lake Superior. I'm sure the residents of Duluth are always happy to see spring arrive and the ice disappear.

Hi Danielle,
I love hearing the ravens calls....such interesting birds. And I'm glad to know I'm not the only person who likes seeing roadkill going to good use! ;-)

Hi Penny,
Those snow buntings are so beautiful. Lynne and I were so happy to have the chance to see them perched. Usually I just see them flying away when my car gets within 100 yds of them.