MINNESOTA Feb 2019: Winter Boreal Birding – day 3

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Mar 1, 2019 | by Adrian Binns

Day 3 / Feb 23 –  Sax-Zim Bog

Fueled by Caribou Coffee, we headed back to Sax-Zim Bog in search of Great Gray Owl. Snow swirled early, but temps hovered at a balmy 30 degrees for most of the day. We tracked up and down highway 7, and snow-covered dirt roads, looking for any ‘large blobs’ on a tree branch at the edge of a clearing.

We lingered at the Sax-Zim Bog Visitors Center where multiple feeders attracted a dizzying array of hungry birds. Hundreds of Common Redpolls clustered in trees and around seed hoppers, vying with some Pine Siskins. Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches snatched seeds in constant motion. Dozens of Pine Grosbeaks perched on boughs, biding their time to glide down to trays. Blue Jays squawked while a pair of Canada Jays pecked frozen bits from a deer carcass. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers drummed on tree bark.



Travelling from one end of the Bog to the other, we reached Mary Lou’s house, where she welcomed birds and birders with a lively setup of feeders. About 50 stunning Evening Grosbeaks graced her property, along with Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Pine Grosbeaks, and redpolls. Debbie found a flock of Wild Turkeys foraging just inside the evergreens on the edge of the open field.



The Admiral Road feeders were just as active, with the now-familiar assortment of chickadees, redpolls, and woodpeckers eagerly snatching seeds or pecking suet bags. A Boreal Chickadee joined the flock briefly before disappearing for a long while. We held our breath as an American Marten emerged from the woods, unable to resist snatching a chunk of peanut butter in full view.  It paused a moment to look at us before vanishing under snow-covered trees.



Lunch was eagerly devoured at the Wilbert Cafe, a casual diner with homemade dishes, and old-fashioned signs on the walls (a flyer from 1966 advertised the “Poachers Ball” on November 10. Guess what day hunting season began?!). Full and satisfied, we set out to search for Black-backed Woodpecker in the Warren Nelson Memorial Bog.  We walked single-file down a snow-packed boardwalk trail, watching chickadees flit around, and listening for tapping. The two common woodpeckers, Downy and Hairy, were busy working the trees, and a Pileated Woodpecker was heard in the distance. A Northern Shrike alighted at the top of a spruce while calling White-winged Crossbills flew over. We checked the many Common Redpolls flocking at feeders near the trailhead entrance (no Hoary Redpolls among them), and spotted a Black-billed Magpie flying across the road. Our target Black-backed Woodpecker eluded the group, so we moved on.



On the southern end of the Bog, we sought a reported Snowy Owl hanging-out in a field. It was a special treat for Sandy and Bob, who missed out on the 6 Snowy Owls we saw on our first afternoon. We enjoyed excellent views of this immature sitting high atop an electric tower. Erin spotted two Bald Eagles perched together in a distant tree. Back on McDavitt Road, the Northern Hawk Owl was perched just two trees away from it’s location yesterday, providing additional photo ops. We spent the remainder of the afternoon scanning three roads where Great Gray Owls had been reported in the last 48 hours. Alas, our efforts were unsuccessful, except for a pair of Snow Buntings that Sandy spotted on railway tracks.

Our dinner tonight was Mexican food at Azteca, where we sampled fajitas, burritos, and margaritas. – Adrian Binns

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