Pine Grosbeak Northwoods Explosion

There has been an explosion of pine grosbeaks entering our area. These beautiful birds are everywhere!

Find a berry or crab apple tree, find a grosbeak!

Drive a dirt road two hours after sunrise, find a grosbeak eating grit.

During my hikes I also found Wile E. Coyote loping along some railroad tracks. He wanted nothing to do with me, but did stop briefly to check me over!

Finally, a quick update on my book … But That Is Not Me! I just edited the Birding With Children Page. Each bird featured in the book now is listed with links to videos, songs, map ranges, etc!

Northern Lights, Bird Irruptions and Boats!

These topics might not seem related, and generally they are not, but over the past 48 hours I have had a phenomenal run as a outdoor / wildlife photographer up here in the Northland. I’ll discuss each outing in turn but first mention I am in desperate need of some sleep!

This morning I awoke at 5 am (normal). While eating my bowl of cereal I checked my marine app which gives me the location of every ship on Lake Superior. I noticed that the Saltie, the Eldeborg would be passing under the Duluth Aerial Bridge sometime before dawn. Thus, even though I had been out last night photographing the Northern Lights, and also out during the wee hours of the previous night for another Aurora display, I quickly got dressed and grabbed my camera.

Arriving on site at Canal Park I turned on my camera, ready to photograph the freighter passing through the Duluth Ship Canal. Suddenly I notice my camera’s LCD screen was flashing “No Card, No Card”. Arrrgh! I realized that when I had arrived back from photographing the Northern Lights last night, after transferring the images to my computer, in my tired state, I forgot to put my simm card back in my Sony A6000.

I looked down the Canal, and I hoped that if I ran fast … completing my fastest 800m dash since junior high, I grabbed another simm card out of my card and ran back to my planned POV. I made it with about five seconds to spare, just beating the ship to my spot. This image was the result.

Why did I photograph a ship at dawn this morning? There are two answers:

  1. I am a boy, and I love boats!
  2. The Northern Lights display that has been active over the past 48 hours, finally calmed down

Yes, over the past two nights I have spent a significant amount of time at Stewart Lake, which is a wilderness lake ten miles north of Two Harbors, Minnesota. Each trip to the lake has been different. In this first image, I photographed the Aurora Borealis under an almost full moon at 4:45 am. The moonlight was so intense it washed out most of the Northern Lights display, but provided great lighting for this composition.

Later the same day, yesterday night, I returned to the same location. I timed my arrival to get to Stewart Lake well after dark, but before the moon rose. Lady Aurora danced over the frozen lake ice! For over 20 minutes the lights shimmered and danced, easily viewable to the naked eye. The first photo was taken of the Auroral Arc just before the dance began.

Okay … the blog’s title talks about birds, and my outings have not neglected our fine feather friends. Over the past two weeks the number of Arctic birds which have appeared in NE Minnesota has been amazing. Quite a few Snowy Owls have already been seen, including by me.  Given it is only November 8th, the numbers of Snow Owls is very unusual. Normally, we might start to see Snowies sometime after the 1st of December. The numbers of Rough-Legged Hawks, Redpolls, and Pine Siskins have been huge. Hawk Ridge recorded the largest number of Roughies ever seen anywhere in North America during the Fall migration. Personally, I am beginning to wonder if the winter of 2017 / 2018 will be an irruption year.

Here are just a few photographs from the past several days:

Hoary Redpoll

Red Crossbill

Red-Throated Loon (winter plumage)

Long-Tailed Duck (female)

Common Redpolls Eating Tansy

Headwind Deflection Hunting

37F … clouds and occasional slushy snow … 15 mph winds out of the NE.

In short, yesterday afternoon’s weather did little to encourage me to take my daily bike ride up the shore of Lake Superior! However, being addicted to exercise and grumbling all the way, I walked down the outside stairs to the garage and mounted my bike.

Man alive, boy am I thrilled I took my ride! In an hour’s cycling I saw well over 30 Rough-Legged Hawks, including this individual which was doing what I have named “Headwind Deflection Hunting”. This kind of hunting goes like this:

  1. Migrate down from the Arctic
  2. Find the largest freshwater lake in the world
  3. Migrate with the wind down the shore
  4. Occasionally turn into the wind, and use the headwind pushed up off the 20 foot cliff to hover in place w/o expending any effort
  5. Dive and eat mouse
  6. Resume migration

It is amazing how many hawks I saw hunting in this manner. What a treat to get off my bike (of course I had my camera … need you ask), and watch this bird hunt for five minutes.

A few days earlier up in Two Harbors, Minnesota I observed ring-billed gulls hunting food in a similar manner. By flying into a stiff wind, and stalling out next to a berry covered bush, the gulls were able to eat the fruit. One enterprising individual even managed to crash land on purpose in the shrub. Gull’s webbed feet are not made for tree or shrub perching. I did not even know gulls ate berries off trees.

Both examples show why one should try to be truly observant while birding. During bad weather conditions I learned how birds adapt. In each case I suspect I was watching adult birds. Juveniles would need to be taught how to use a strong wind.

Finally, here is one more early winter photograph. Normally a few snow geese migrate through our area, pushed off their more westerly migration paths over to Lake Superior. This fall, one may easily find a few snow geese interspersed with almost every flock of Canada Geese.

Blue Morph and White Snow Geese

Gray Fox Watch! (video)

Every night for the past week, the best TV show in town has been our living room window which looks out over my six bird feeders at the edge of the forest. Why is this spot the top ticket? The answer is, starting one hour after sundown, one gets to watch the gray fox couple enjoy a snack of sunflower seeds. This canine pair generally hangs around for 15 to 30 minutes. Last night I increased the food offerings by adding cracked corn and some apple slices under the feeders.

In the last two months, in addition to birds at our feeders, we have had repeat visits from the following animals:

  • Bears
  • Chipmunks
  • Deer
  • Gray Squirrels
  • Flying Squirrels
  • Raccoon Family
  • Red Squirrels
  • Skunk

Finally, I know that a pair of Great Horned Owls are using our yard to hunt. One may hear their hooting most calm mornings before sunset, or after dark in the early evening. I think the skunks and bears are finally starting their hibernations, thus their visits have now stopped.

Sorry that the photographs are not as crisp per my norm. Photographing moving animals at night is a challenge.