MINNESOTA Feb 2019: Winter Boreal Birding – day 4
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Day 4 / Feb 24 – Sax-Zim Bog
Our last full day in northern Minnesota was quite memorable. We started early amid frigid temps and wind gusts of 30-40 mphs, yielding a wind chill factor well into minus degrees. Overnight snowfall was blowing hard, reducing visibility, and sinking hopes of seeing the elusive Great Gray Owl – or any birds – perched in the open. Still, we continued to Sax-Zim Bog to look for the big trip target.
We were delighted to see a Sharp-tailed Grouse on the edge of the Racek Road lek. A small woodland grove provided shelter from howling winds and driving snow, allowing the bird to forage cautiously under feeders. Wind-swept snow drifts accumulated on rural roads as the day wore on, challenging navigation and birding. We managed to see the expected species while checking North Yoki Road, Warren Nelson Bog, various feeders, and the Visitor Center – Common Redpoll, Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Bald Eagle, and Common Raven.
After lunch at the Wilbert Cafe – really the only choice within many miles – we ventured to the Winterberry Bog. The feeders at the entrance were full of Black-capped Chickadees and Common Redpolls along with appearances from a Pine Siskin and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Alex guided us on a winding trail through a dense conifer woods. Birds were quiet, which was just as well, as we concentrated on walking atop the tamped-down snow, not falling into 2-foot deep holes! Back at the cars, Alex and Chris provided afternoon entertainment with a spontaneous “regional snow-diving competition” jumping head-first into deep snow banks!
Still bubbling with laughter, we headed to another section of the bog to re-focus on target birds. Alas, snow drifts had piled high on a wind-swept open road, and I managed to turn my big all-wheel drive into an unseen roadside ditch. We shoveled, pushed, and stuffed branches under tires, but the icy surface gave no traction for the giant vehicle. Leaving Alex to wait for the tow truck, we spent the last 2 hours of the day looking for Great Gray Owl. We found Snow Buntings on railroad tracks and White-winged Crossbills, but no big owl.
This evening at the “Lucky 13” restaurant, we enjoyed good food, delicious beer, and plenty of laughs. From howling winds and frigid temps, to snow-diving and getting stuck in a snow ditch, we relished such a storied day in Sax-Zim Bog!