Winter Reprise: Snow Buntings and Spruce Grouse

When God gives you lemons, make lemonade! It was with this thought, and an overnight low of -9F (-23C) fifty miles north of Two Harbors that made me decide that since Spring will not come to northeastern Minnesota, it was time to enjoy some Winter birding! Thus, at 6 am I drove north to the wilderness area between Ely and Isabella in the Superior National Forest. Once the sun rose above the horizon, the extreme cold meant I had beautiful deep blue skies. Thankfully the cold weather was not partnered with wind. In short it was a great day to be alive and enjoy the wilderness, but would the birds cooperate?

Shortly after sunrise and while the temperature was the aforementioned -9F, I stopped to take this photograph of the Cloquet River. The streams and rivers have open water where some current exists, but it will be weeks before the lakes experience ice out.


For over two hours I never saw another car. This winter wonderland (albeit in mid April) was mine to enjoy alone! Unfortunately, the birds decided that the cold weather meant delaying breakfast was an excellent idea! Finally, two hours after sunrise, breakfast was in session. I particularly enjoyed watching flocks of snow buntings as they worked their way along the roadsides on their trip back to northern Canada. At one point I found a lone snow bunting and was able to spend some quality time with this individual bird (snow buntings in a flock spook so very easily). In addition, in the same stretch of road near Sand River, I found two Spruce Grouse, a rare treat!

I did try and drive into the Pagami Creek Wildfire Area. This burnt out region is know for neat birds and wildlife as its environment experiences a rebirth. However, five miles along the logging road I had to give up and turn around. The snow was starting to exceed one foot deep. Getting stuck deep in the wilderness would not have been a good idea.

Here are some of my photographs and a video from this morning. In addition, I’ve included a pic of a fox sparrow. These birds understand one should not migrate north of Duluth. My house is only 1/3 of a mile above Lake Superior which means “no snow” and food for foraging birds. Head another mile inland and snow takes over the world.

Sand Lake Snow Bunting and Spruce Grouse
Y3-M04-Sand-River-Snow-Bunting-2 Y3-M04-Sand-River-Spruce-Grouse-1


Snow Bunting Video


Amity Creek Fox Sparrow

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