No trips to the owling grounds this weekend. Instead it was Woodpecker Weekend! I knew the winds would be light allowing me to use my ears to locate some birds. At 8 am with the temperature at -17F (not windchill) I arrived at the Warren Nelson Bog. However, my Steger Mukluks were up to the chilly weather and I began my search. After almost two hours and only one black backed and hairy woodpecker, I decided to warm up in my car. Those two hours saw the air warm to almost zero degrees.
My next move was to drive over to McDavitt Road. The air continued calm and very soon I found a very cooperative Black Backed Woodpecker in the Boreal Bog. It was interesting to see how many folks who were slowly cruising McDavitt for owls I could entice out of their cars to hoof it into the woods to see a woodpecker. I think I had about a 50% success ratio. Major, major kudos to the guy who said “Absolutely!” and then got out of his vehicle and followed me into the woods using a cane (leg mishapen due to an accident a few years back I learned). His personal fortitude was amazing! I say well birded, sir!
After this fun morning in the Bog, I needed to drive down to the Twin Cities for some social engagements. I exited the Boreal Bog and birded an Oak Savannah this morning. It was amazing the number of red headed woodpeckers which were wintering in Minnesota. A side bonus was the air temperature at 8 am was already +1F … a heat wave for this northern Minnesota kid. Check out the Fish Lake Nature Trails! (not the Hennepin County Regional Park)
Oh yeah, even though I was not looking for owls in the Bog yesterday, I guess they were looking for me. I found this Northern Hawk Owl 800 yards in off McDavitt via the South Logging Road. Moral of the story, dress warmly and get out of your cars, folks!
The vole is definitely dead. It is hard to imagine what it must be like for the vole to suddenly have two huge talons punch through the crusted snow. Death! Mother nature is cruel. (Great Gray Owls can actually hear voles running beneath the snow. They hunt by listening for the sound of voles)
I watched this Great Gray Owl hunt late this morning in the Bog. After it successfully consumed a late breakfast, I walked back to the car and changed lenses such that I might photograph the owl impact point on the snow. Although words do not do it justice, there was two inches of fresh snow, an inch of crust, and 3 to 4 inches of snow beneath the crust. The other photographs were taken of the same exact hunt.
Great Gray Owl Snow Impact
Success! (the owl has a vole in its talons)
Plunge Now! (micro-seconds before the owl plunged its head into the snow to transfer the vole from its talons to its beak)
Yes, there are other birds in Sax-Zim Bog. I can always find these wild turkeys on cold days. They hang out 300 yards south of the intersection of Arkola and Overton. The depression keeps them warm in the sun and out of the wind. In a few weeks the males will start to strut their stuff for the females shortly after dawn.
I found this Northern Hawk Owl hunting out in the open in Nichols Lake Road, but given the wind and below zero temps, I did not stay long.
In bird speak, today’s bird was lifer. However, what is better than finding one new bird for the first time in your life? Two! Yes, after slogging through the deep snow in the Boreal Bog, stopping frequently to let my ears be my guide, I finally heard a the telltale tapping. Following the the route indicated by my ears I struck pay dirt. After watching one American Three-Toed Woodpecker for about ten minutes, I suddenly realized another bird was tapping away about 15 yards behind me. Number two!
I found these two birds about 400 yards in from Blue Spruce Road in a dead-fall area (Warren Nelson Bog) … directly in from the logged trees. I originally used the snowshoe trail but saw nada, Bushwhacking north eventually found me my goal. About 20 minutes later a local guide arrived with his group. He had followed the same snowshoe path and then a Black Backed Woodpecker into the dead-fall area. His group had 10+ people from California and Texas. I made polite conversation and commented about how warm it was outside (22F). They did not believe I was serious about its being warm outside. LOL!
My other stops yielded some nice birds. The Sharp-Tailed Grouse LEK on Racek Road was full of birds at 8:45 am. These grouse are already starting to think love in the dead of winter. Here is an image I took of a Sharpie I found feeding near-bye about an hour later.
The Sharp-Tailed Grouse was not my only “chicken like’ bird find. While exiting the bog I almost drove over this Ruffed Grouse. Dumb bird! Move off the road!
Finally, while I was not looking for Great Gray Owls, and was actually driving too fast to normally spot these owls (30 mph) as I moved between birding locations, my friendly neighborhood owls insisted I could not ignore them! Here is a photo of one of the two GGO’s found this morning.
Oh yes, yesterday afternoon I decided to go and look for Snowy Owls in Superior, Wisconsin. I only found one during nice light, but when 4 pm rolled around and the sun ducked behind some clouds, the Snowies came out. In total I saw five! I took this photo just before some crows chased this owl away.
Yesterday I took three friends up to the Bog. The weather was weird … over 40F, no wind, and bright skies … in short not a Minnesota winter. Only five days earlier we were in the midst of a two week long cold snap where temperatures in northern Minnesota were well below 0F every night.
If you are planning a trip to Sax-Zim Bog, make certain you visit the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog web site and review the “Plan Your Visit” page. Download a map. Believe it or not there are lots of birds, including owls which do not live on McDavitt and Admiral Roads. While we did make a brief visit to the South Logging Road off McDavitt to see a Northern Hawk Owl, most of our time was spent on roads where we were the only car / people in sight. This meant we had to find our own owls, but also insured my friends experienced a more true wilderness experience. Get off the main drags!
Here are a few photographs from yesterday …
I was thrilled to find a Barred Owl out hunting around 10:30 am. I consider this bird nocturnal.
Be One with the Tree, Luke SkyWalker!
When Great Gray Owls see their enemies (ravens, crows, and eagles), these birds stand up very straight to minimize their profile from above lessening the chance of an attack.
Canada’s new national bird enjoys eating off a deer carcass.