In mid January, local birders in the Minnesota Arrowhead felt the winter of 2016/2017 would be remembered as one of few owls coming south from Canada, but that all changed two weeks ago. At first a few Great Gray Owls started appearing, and those folks who were willing to bird before dawn and after sunset had a good opportunity to see the gray ghost of the forest between Duluth and Grand Marais. One week ago the owl irruption kicked into higher gear. While birding still requires significant effort, and an understanding of habitat, it has not been unusual to go birding for a few hours and be rewarded with the sight of a few owls.
Yesterday was a good “owling day”. The wind was calm and the skies were quite cloudy. An occasional snow squall would roll in our Lake Superior, but the winds were reasonable most of the day. A buddy of mine drove up from Minneapolis, and in a few hours we saw both Great Grey Owls and even one Northern Saw-Whet Owl. In short it was a great day to be out in the northern Minnesota forest.
For those of you considering a birding trip to this area, I would guesstimate the owls will be around till at least March 1st. Given the lesser snow depths near Lake Superior, most owls are within one mile of the big lake. Birding further inland, at least for owls, will not be as effective. Find roadside meadows and power line cuts with good hunting snags, and you should find your owls.