Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mini Vacation to Northern Minnesota

Since I didn't have to work this weekend, I convinced Mr. Johnson that he would love to spend hours in a car on a drive up to the Sax-Zim Bog for a winter birding adventure. Stoked up on coffee & some delicious Perkins muffins, we headed out early Saturday morning for the 255 mile trip. I knew it was going to be a good birding day when three Pileated Woodpeckers flew over us on our first pit stop north of the Twin Cities. Even with unexpected snow, slippery highways and plenty of overturned vehicles in the ditch, we continued northward on our quest to see awesome birds. And we weren't disappointed!

Here's a pictorial review of our incredible birding mini vacation. This review will start and end with what were birding highlights for me, and all the good things in between.

We were heading out Admiral Road and McDavitt Road to finish up our drive through the Sax-Zim Bog birding area. Up ahead on McDavitt Road, we spotted some parked cars and people out with cameras and tripods. Thinking this might have been the Black-Backed Woodpecker reported earlier in the week, we stopped so I could get a chance to see it too. I wasn't the least bit disappointed to see a Great Gray Owl instead of a Black-Backed Woodpecker!

After only a minute or so, this beautiful owl decided to fly over to another dead evergreen snag nearby, and I was there to capture the short flight!

Wow! (I'm sure I had the dopiest smile on my face while I was taking these pictures!)

The owl spent quite a bit of time looking at the ground. I'm sure it was trying to locate something tasty to eat.

Good-bye beautiful owl! Thanks for making my day so special!

I saw my FOY Red-Breasted Nuthatch (they haven't visited my birdfeeders in SE Minnesota this winter).

We also enjoyed seeing and hearing Common Ravens.

Along Admiral Road and McDavitt Road, some folks have set up a couple of bird feeding stations. These are good places to stop and see lots of birds taking advantage of the unexpected bounty. Black-Capped Chickadees were the most plentiful birdies at these feeding stations. It was not unusual to see at least 8 at a time! I also got a great look at a Boreal Chickadee, but it flew away before I even had the camera turned on.

Through the windshield I snapped this really awful photo of a pair of grouse. We ran into some Rochester birding friends (who were also having a mini vacation at Sax-Zim) and they said these looked like Sharp-Tailed Grouse.

Sophie got to ride along with us for the trip. There were a couple of places where we were able to let her out of the car to just run around.

Even though she's an elderly doggeh now, she still thoroughly enjoys trips in the car and finding new scents wherever she happens to be (no matter how deep the snow is!)

Do you like Northern Shrikes? We saw a total of three of them during our drive through the Sax-Zim Bog birding area.

We do have them in SE Minnesota, but again, not commonly seen at any time of year.

Here are a couple of Pine Grosbeaks and a Common Redpoll at the top of an evergreen.

Very pretty birds! Want to see them closer? Here's the Common Redpoll. This is a male. During an irruption year, I have seen them dining on thistle seed at my birdfeeders, but none so far this year.

Here's are 2 female Pine Grosbeaks at one of the feeding stations on Admiral Road.
(See her peeking out from behind the bucket on the left side of the photo? I didn't even notice her until I was editing this photo!)

Here's another beautiful female perched on a branch.

Here's a male Pine Grosbeak perched on a branch above me. They're actually a pretty large bird at 9" -- about the same size as a Northern Cardinal -- so they're really easy to spot.

While I was watching the Pine Grosbeaks, I also noticed a large bird sitting in the top of a tree just up the road. It definitely wasn't an eagle, crow, or raven, but I couldn't tell for sure what it was except that it was a raptor of some sort (judging by the head and beak size/shape).

After walking a little bit closer, this bird decided it had had enough of my scrutiny and decided to fly away. Fortunately, I had my camera ready and was lucky enough to get this shot which confirmed its identity -- Rough-Legged Hawk.
(See the nice black wing tips and dark elbow spots? A beautiful raptor!)

We never saw the Evening Grosbeak, Northern Hawk Owl, or Gray Jays, but I was really happy with all the birds we had seen during our visit. However, the most exciting sight of the day for me took place just a short distance from our turning on to the main road and heading for home. Even though this is a really poor picture, can you tell that it's a Black-Billed Magpie?
This bird was perched in a tree near the road, but as soon as we stopped the car it flew away. I started snapping pictures hoping that at least one of them would turn out, and this picture turned out the best (of the other worse ones!) I've only seen Magpies once before in Minnesota and it's been at least 20 years. I loves me some Corvids!

As we were departing the Sax-Zim Bog birding area, the skies started to clear and we enjoyed what turned out to be a beautiful sunset heralding the end of a lovely birding day in Northern Minnesota.

For any of you who have thought about attending the Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival, I urge you to strongly consider this festival for next February. I'll see you there!

Oh yeah, one more thing......I made good progress on this new shawl I started and knitted on during the 500+ miles spent riding in the car yesterday!


Deb said...

Wow, what an incredible birding day! Glad the drive was worth it for you! I would love to see a Great Gray...maybe I should do that for my day off a week from Monday.

Anonymous said...

What great pics of the Great Gray, I have never seen one in person but they are beautiful. It sure was a great birding day for you and I'm enjoying all the pics of yet unseen birds for me. Glad you had an enjoyable day. (Perkins muffins are awesome, just love them too much)

Thanks for the trip, take us along again by pics.


Kelly said...

...fantastic series on the Great Gray Owl--what a beauty--I'm so jealous. Glad you convinced your hubby he really wanted to spend the weekend taking a birding adventure!

eileeninmd said...

Wow, awesome shots of the Great Gray Owl. I loved all your bird photos, the pine grosbeak, redpoll and owl would make my day. Great post on the birding trip.

Unknown said...

Lucky girl! Great gray and lots of other way cool stuff! Thanks for the trip report!

Ruth said...

Wonderful winter birding! Your had such a close look at the owl too.

LauraHinNJ said...

Ever hear of vacationing in Florida?

; )

Great birds... sounds like a fun visit.

(one of these days...)

Richard said...

Looks like a great trip you had. That would have been 6 lifers for me that day.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Deb,
You should definitely make the drive, esp. since you're so much closer already than I am. Start out with Admiral & McDavitt Roads and then work your way back down. Good luck!

Glad you enjoyed the trip Mom. It was so neat to see all those different birds.

Thanks Kelly. He's pretty easy to convince (and I bought part of the gas)

Thanks Eileen. They made my day too!

Thanks Marianne. Glad you enjoyed it.

It was a great day Ruth. Temps in the 20s made it pretty nice too!

Some day Laura..... I could check lots of life birds off my list in Florida.

Hope you get a chance to visit Sax-Zim Bog someday Richard.

Meggie said...

Wow, I almost feel as if I was along for the trip. You had to be so satisfied to be able to photograph so many beautiful and unusual birds. Thanks, Ruthie!

Meggie said...

PS: The sawl is gorgeous@

Jayne said...

Wow, what a day Ruthie! That last owl photo had me gasping! I love seeing the face full on like that. Glad it turned out to be such a great day!

Mollie said...

Wow! A vicarious birding trip with you and Mr. Johnson! Thanks for sharing your day. You are a dedicated birder--500 miles in one day!! And going NORTH in the Winter. You oughta win a medal!

Minnesota Resorts said...

Such inspiring and beautiful photography! Not only do they capture the dignity and grace of the various birds found in Minnesota, but it showcased the beautiful landscape! So proud to be a Minnesotan. :)

troutbirder said...

What a truely spectacular collection of sightings and photos. You did good Ruthie!

Dave @ Around Alaska said...

Wow, what a day. Love the GGO photos.

RuthieJ said...

Thanks Meggie. you're right, it was a great birding (and knitting!)day for me.

Thanks Jayne. I was practically hyperventilating after seeing that owl. They're just such beautiful birds.

Glad you enjoyed it Mollie. It actually was a pretty nice day -- even "up north!"

Thanks MR. Minnesota is a beautiful state -- even when it's cold!

Thanks Ray. Maybe this year I'll get a chance to visit Sax-Zim in warmer weather too.

Thanks Dave.