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Minnesota February 2019

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Old Friday 26th July 2019, 13:04   #1
Hamhed
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Minnesota February 2019

Liz and I talked each other into making a winter journey to a place we’d known about for years. I scored some low priced airfare to Minneapolis, Minnesota and that pushed into making the commitment. We signed up for the Sax-Zim Bog Festival in mid-February, arriving at the airport on the 13th to an appropriate starting temperature of 12F (-11C). A quick pass on the airport roads for potential Snowy Owls or Snow Buntings was not successful but lunch stop in town yielded a flyover, mature Bald Eagle. From there, we chose a night’s stay two hours north in the adjacent state of Wisconsin, just across the bay from Duluth, Minnesota.

Liz and I talked each other into making a winter journey to a place we’d known about for years. I scored some low priced airfare to Minneapolis, Minnesota and that pushed into making the commitment. We signed up for the Sax-Zim Bog Festival in mid-February, arriving at the airport on the 13th to an appropriate starting temperature of 12F (-11C). A quick pass on the airport roads for potential Snowy Owls or Snow Buntings was not successful but lunch stop in town yielded a flyover, mature Bald Eagle. From there, we chose a night’s stay two hours north in the adjacent state of Wisconsin, just across the bay from Duluth, Minnesota.

Another fruitless stab for any Snowy Owls at the nearby Superior airport the following morning preceded a drive up the western coast of Lake Superior, now frozen several feet deep in winter’s grip. We stopped for our obligatory “standing on the lake” (aka “walking on water”) photo and were soon in the town of Two Harbors, Minnesota. Word was out on eBird that Bohemian Waxwings were being seen here and they were on our hit list. Good directions led us to a neighborhood behind the Dairy Queen where our most colorful target bird was easily found in good numbers. We passed on cold ice cream though temperatures were up to 22F now.
A trip back to and through Duluth was necessary to stop for groceries, topping off the gas tank and picking up some preordered, extra large “choppers”, a leather mitten sized to go over any other insulating layers I could fit over my easily chilled digits. Thanks to Bird Forum member Richard Hoeg for suggesting this. A bag of chemical hand warmers was in our luggage for backup. Driving out the backside, north west actually, of Duluth, we headed in falling snow to the west side of the Bog, about an hour away to our reserved stay at the Alesches Inn
(http://www.alesches.com). This was one of the most convenient lodging locations to the bog and, in hindsight, worked well for our needs.
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Old Friday 26th July 2019, 13:15   #2
Hamhed
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Our second full day in Minnesota was an open one, free to visit any parts of the bog we cared to drive to. The Friends of the Bog has a great website (https://saxzim.org), very helpful to visiting birders. We used information on that site to locate feeders since that was where many birds would be found, any earth and most roads were snow covered from a packed inch or two to several feet deep. Mary’s Lou’s feeders yielded both Evening and Pine Grosbeaks, the latter being very common at all feeders during our stay. Larry’s feeders had much of the same along with Common Redpolls. A fair bit of time that morning was spent on a well compacted trail leading to an area where a Northern Hawk-Owl was being seen regularly. We dipped on this run despite staying nearly an hour and reaching our limits in the cold.
Near midday, we “discovered” the Wilbert Cafe on Highway 7 in Cotton. They served us a friendly and excellent lunch on placemats advertising the bog and its owls. With no great effort, we took an extended break in the restaurant warmth before a short drive through nearby Cloquet Forest, seeing several Northern Shrikes before returning Hwy 7 on a hot tip for a Great Gray Owl. Missed the bird but found a high-climbing porcupine then it was back west to register for the festival. The Visitor Center feeders had a few Gray, now Canada, Jays and a couple of dozen Redpolls. The official start to the Festival began that evening with a dinner and talk. I was fortunate to sit next to several of the birding guides who agreed that the scheduled trip the next morning to now frozen Lake Superior was going to need some last minute changes. Food for thought as we were signed up for that trip.
After a birding day that only reached 17F, sitting by the fireplace that evening at the Inn was intoxicating.
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Old Friday 26th July 2019, 13:22   #3
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We woke to numbing temperatures; a reading of -18F (-27C) was seen on the drive to the Center. During our breakfast at the Center, we decided to forgo the birding trip that included a 90 minute drive to a birdless lake, started our own day with a very chilly, shaded walk at the Warren Nelson Memorial Bog looking in vain for Black-backed Woodpeckers.
The plan for the rest of the day was simple - visit all the feeders, more than once if possible, and wait to hear news of rarities. Except for another snowy walk for the Hawk Owl, we followed that plan and it worked. We found the Great Gray and the Hawk Owl where we had searched the day before, the Snowy Owl south of the bog where new friends, Denise and Tim, told us it would be and a pair of Sharp-tailed Grouse at a feeder on on Racek Road. Various other feeders yielded Boreal Chickadees and White-winged Crossbills as well as the more common Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks and Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, etc. We were very lucky to see a Pine Marten at the Admiral Road feeders unfortunately all to briefly. Along with peanut butter, suet and sunflower seed, a common sight at a few of these feeding stations was a hanging deer carcass, so attracting mammals from time to time is not unexpected.
At the festival supper that evening, we made it through the somewhat bland vegetarian meal, likely reheated from the previous night, and the equally bland speaker before returned to our accommodations and nodding off by the fire while trying to appear alert and involved in the conversation.
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Old Friday 26th July 2019, 19:09   #4
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My notes here include some descriptive sentences. “The whole bog area completely covered in snow. Roads mostly covered in a snow/ice mix. Except for a slight grade at railroad crossings, the roads are nearly dead flat. Black spruce forests, birch and spruce mixed and bog habitat with red osier dogwood and alder shrubs were the three types of habitat most often seen. Plenty of cattle pasture sprinkled throughout.” Some landscape and road photos below.
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Old Friday 26th July 2019, 19:19   #5
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My notes here include some descriptive sentences. “The whole bog area completely covered in snow. Roads mostly covered in a snow/ice mix. Except for a slight grade at railroad crossings, the roads are nearly dead flat. Black spruce forests, aspen and spruce mixed and pure aspen and bog habitat with red osier dogwood and alder shrubs were the three types of habitat most often seen. Plenty of cattle pasture sprinkled throughout.”

A balmy 4F this Sunday morning. We decided to board the bus for our scheduled trip around the bog after our cookie and muffin breakfast. After 60 minutes of driving and seeing almost nothing, we departed when the bus unexpectedly and very fortunately for us had to briefly return to the visitor center. In explanation, the bus we left was a school bus, designed for children. My knees touched the seat in front of me while I operated the worn out ice scraper on the windows which stayed frosted over most of the ride. If there was a heater, it never got back to our row.
We forfeited our money spent on both trips then, a little stung by that loss but could not see spending an entire day in those conditions. I hope the other 30 people on the bus had better luck.
The few additional birds we hoped to see were Northern Goshawk and Boreal Owl. There were no reports of the Owl and very few of the Goshawk. To find them, we adopted the strategy of driving slowly on all the roads in and out of the bog we could fit into one day with a few feeder visits thrown in to break up the tedium of driving. Not finding any additional species during the course of the day, we stopped at the Visitor Center to try walking in snowshoes on Gray Jay Way, a very awkward method of travel for us southerners.

We hit the low temperature of -20F on our last morning at the bog, not seeing zeroF until 11:30 that morning. Looking for reported Black-billed Magpies at cattle farms did not pan out so we spent the morning at various feeders, more hoping for another view of a Marten than expecting any new birds. By early afternoon, we were on our way south to Minneapolis, 19F outside and the solar gain cooking us in the car.
An early flight the following day was uneventful, arriving in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 42F (5C) warmth.
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Old Tuesday 30th July 2019, 09:00   #6
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A very enjoyable report to read in the warm!
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Old Tuesday 30th July 2019, 19:31   #7
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Thanks, stuartvine. The whole experience was a bit surreal for us who think below zeroF is unnatural. Counting the entire day's birds and falling well short of 20 was another surreal experience!

Steve
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Old Tuesday 30th July 2019, 21:25   #8
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Nice report and an interesting contrast to Opisska's.
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Old Thursday 1st August 2019, 17:34   #9
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I knew it's cold, but this even colder than I thought :) I do not think we have any place like this in Europe where it would be worth going in such conditions. A very interesting observation for me is that a lot of birds you came to see are global ones, meaning they are the same as in Europe. I guess that's a result of the projection illusion from google maps and such - in reality of a spherical planet, the artic isn't nearly as big as it seems on a flat map, so it's not that surprising that the boreal species are so similar.
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Old Thursday 1st August 2019, 23:36   #10
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I knew it's cold, but this even colder than I thought :) I do not think we have any place like this in Europe where it would be worth going in such conditions. A very interesting observation for me is that a lot of birds you came to see are global ones, meaning they are the same as in Europe. I guess that's a result of the projection illusion from google maps and such - in reality of a spherical planet, the artic isn't nearly as big as it seems on a flat map, so it's not that surprising that the boreal species are so similar.
Interesting point. Another thought is that the whole arctic region was joined during the ice age. How many of the species were more easily able to transit between the continents during that period?
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Old Friday 2nd August 2019, 01:06   #11
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Lots of (ok, several) quality birds I’ve dipped in various places - and fewer mosquitoes - I’m tempted!

Cheers

Mike
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Old Friday 2nd August 2019, 21:51   #12
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I knew it's cold, but this even colder than I thought :) I do not think we have any place like this in Europe where it would be worth going in such conditions.
I can now say it was worth it. If you had asked me at 6am and -18, I may have hesitated.

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Old Friday 2nd August 2019, 21:54   #13
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Lots of (ok, several) quality birds I’ve dipped in various places - and fewer mosquitoes - I’m tempted!

Cheers

Mike
Last year was an irruption year when Snow Buntings and Boreal Owl were also seen. They are the ones that "got away". There was also a Tufted Duck at Duluth until the lake froze over a couple of weeks before we got there. Timing is everything!

Steve
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 20:56   #14
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Last year was an irruption year when Snow Buntings and Boreal Owl were also seen. They are the ones that "got away". There was also a Tufted Duck at Duluth until the lake froze over a couple of weeks before we got there. Timing is everything!

Steve
You need to go to Central NY for Snow Bunting. They're very common just north of Ithaca in the winter.
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Old Saturday 3rd August 2019, 22:09   #15
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We've also had chances on the Outer Banks in the NC winter and on our only Alaska trip but failed to connect either place. Everyone needs a nemesis bird!

Steve
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