Monday, January 15, 2007

Birding With the Duluth Audubon Society

It was an awesome day. It started out cold, 4 degrees above in Duluth but MINUS 4 in Floodwood, the town a few miles from where we started birding. The temps stayed low but my spirits were high. Mike our guide from Duluth was terrific. He knows his birds and he knows where the birds are in this area. Laura Erickson from Birderblog was there too. She was very generous with her vast knowlegde of birds and digiscoping. I thank them both. There were 27 of us in 6 or 7 cars- quite the caravan. We started out in an area called Hedbom Road, a looging road through a large tamarac and black spruce bog.
It didn't take long for Mike to find my first lifer of the day- a black-backed woodpecker!! Our first boreal species. The picture is pretty fuzzy, but if you click on it to enlarge it you can see the yellow cap telling us that this is a male. The rusty area on the trunk shows where the bird had scaled the bark looking for insects below it. We saw this bird from the road.

Life bird number two! An American three-toed woodpecker! It was a bit of a trudge into the pines to see this bird but it allowed us to get quite close and totally ignored us. You can see that this woodpecker has clearly a ladder back. What you can't see here is his smudgy yellow cap indicating that this also is a male. Both of these woodpeckers scale bark off of conifers instead of drilling. During our time at Hedblom a flock of pine siskins (life bird number 3!!) and a flock of common redpolls flew in and out again. I didn't get a good enough look at the repolls though so I'm not counting them. Rats! Time to move off to the Sax-Zim bog.
Not long after we got there Mike did a little pishing and out flew a pair of boreal chickadees! Life bird number 4!!! They were mixed in with a flock of black capped chickadees so I got to hear both songs. What a cool chance to compare the similar songs of the two chickadee species. While we were listening to the chickadees this beauty flew in- Life bird number 5!!! A female white-winged crossbill! She perched at the tip of this spruce and sang her heart out. Beautiful songster! Driving out of the Sax-Zim we stopped at a residence with a feeder and saw a lone evening grosbeak- life bird number 6!!
We headed back toward Duluth, stopping at an area with known sightings of a northern hawk owl. It didn't take Mike long to find it hunting a field behind a coffee shop on a busy highway! It seemed strange to find this rare sighting in such a location but it was actively and successfully hunting that field.
As we watched, it flew down and nabbed a vole. Everyone gasped as it was such a treat to see this magnificent owl catch and eat it's prey. The picture above is right before it launched itself after the vole. Mmm...nice tastey vole!
With a head-
and without a head!
Within seconds the whole vole was eaten.

After the thrill of the northern hawk owl we drove back into Duluth to Canal Park to check out the water birds. There were lots of herring gulls (yawn) but no unsusal gull species hanging with them.
We did see quite a few common goldeneyes though- life bird number 7!! Floating in among them was a pair of harlequin ducks- life bird number 8!! I never would have been able to pick them out of the bunch without the use of a spotting scope.
Can you see it? On top of the bundles of re-bar, stacked like Lincoln logs. Down in an industrial area of the harbor, with freeways on two sides. My life bird number 9!!

Seeing this bird is my most thrilling experience birding. Ever. Period.

I cried.

I'm not sure if the others in the group new what to do with me. We watched this owl for quite some time. I was told it was a young male. He flew from spot to spot. At one point he flew after a red tailed hawk, dive-bombing to chase it off the territory he wanted to hunt. It was a beautiful thing to watch this owl fly at dusk. The big Sibley book gives it a 52 inch wing span, the same as a great gray owl. Beautiful flight.

What a way to end a perfect day of birding.

So many life birds!!

And a snowy owl made 9.

Please look at Laura Erickson's Laura's Birding Blog and scroll down to her report of this field trip and check out her fild trip gallery too. Her digiscoped photos are terrific. And you can even play "Where's Waldo" and see if you can find me among her pictures!

hint: I look a bit like a weeble wearing a parka :)


NatureWoman said...

O-M-G - A snowy owl - he's so beautiful! What an awesome day you had - and thank you for sharing it with us! It must have been really cool watching the owl catch and eat the vole! I love the woodpeckers, too! Awesome! I'd bet you'd do it again in a heartbeat!

Ruth said...

What an amazing trip! To think that there are such a variety of winter birds in one area. I need to find a good guide to show me where to look. Thanks for sharing your excellent photos.

LauraHinNJ said...


Everyone's wearing a parka. How are we supposed to know who's you?

I'm so glad you got to see so many neat birds!

It looks awfully cold. I saw a lot of these in the Adirondacks during black fly season. What's worse - the flies or the cold?


Doesn't matter, all's worth it to experience these northern visitors. Congrats!

Susan Gets Native said...

What a day...and a SNOWY!
In the immortal words of Birdchick:

Jayne said...

Wow, wow, wow Lynne! How very exciting! I was yehawing for you each time I scrolled to the next photo!! What a wonderful experience. OK, now I am just plain green instead of a wee bit jealous!

Mary said...

Well, this post was certainly worth waiting for! Bravo! Lynne, your photos are great and to end the story with the picture of the Snowy Owl, it's just too much. A day you'll never forget.

Liza Lee Miller said...

Fantastic day of birding, Lynne!

Oh, and Laura -- she's the one in the parka who's crying!!! That's the best way to tell! :)

I'd have been crying too -- although, the picture of 4 degrees and tears isn't one that makes my thin California blood feel at all comfortable!

Deb said...

What a great birding trip! I'm going to have to make an excuse to go to Duluth to see the snowy owl- what a beautiful bird!

Lynne said...

Awesome it was! Watching the hawk owl hunt and eat was really special and yes, I'd go back- in fact I'm going to the same area again in February with a group led by Birdchick and Stan Tekiela.

I never would have found those birds without such a talented guide.

I guess drssing in so many layers isn't figure flattering for anyone! I'll take the cold over black flies any day!

I thought of you when I watched that snowy- I know it sounds dorky but I said hi for you!
Whooty whoot WHOOT!!!

Thanks for the yehaws! I was so thrilled.

I will never forget that day- especially that SNOWY!!

Liza Lee-
It was funny- While the tears were falling I held my bins up to my glasses which pushed them against my eye lashes where they froze! So I lost a clump of lashes stuck to my glasses, which made my eyes water even more...

You should try to get up there! I guess the snowy comes out most every dusk near the Goodwill building. To see it flying was just the best!

NatureWoman said...

Lynne, And I'm back looking at all of your photos again, too! I love them all!
Wow, birding with BirdChick - now that will be a riot!!!! WHOOT!!! I can't wait to read your blog after that trip.

Sandy said...

Great photos! But damn, that is cold! I found you in the crowd. I am surprised at some of the places you found birds.

mon@rch said...

Looks like you had a wonderful fieldtrip and love reading it all! Your picture of the shrike is much better than what I was able to capture! Also, would have loved to see that hawk owl! Great post my friend!

Lynne said...

Glad to see you back again! The trip in February with Stan Tekiela and Birdchick should be a blast! I'll have to do some serious winter weather clothes shopping before then though.

You win the prize for finding me! Thirty-seven layers of clothes aren't too flattering. I was amazed at the two owls' locations too- lots of traffic and lots of noise.

I had seen a hawk owl 2 years ago during the irruption winter, but we got to watch this owl for quite a while. To watch it hunt and eat it's prey and "be a bird" was really thrilling.

Deb said...

Lynne- I might like to come along on that February trip if there's room...keep me posted!

LauraO said...

What an incredible birding experience - and you couldn't have ended it better than a snowy. Well, not unless you saw a flamingo or something. The snow is gorgeous too - we STILL don't have any.

Lynne said...

I emailed a link to you with the details. Hope you can come along-I'd love to meet you!

It was an unforgetable day for me, and I know it sounds corny, but the Snowy was a dream for me. The snow is a nice relief from our earlier winter of gray.

Susan Gets Native said...

You are too sweet.

I'll get myself a snowy someday...

LostRoses said...

Lynne, what an exciting day! You've reminded me of one of my favorite bird trips long ago with lifer after lifer. Pretty memorable. And I've never seen a Snowy Owl. Lucky you!

Lynne said...

Come on up to Minnesota and we'll find one!

The lifers were great but the Snowy was such a prize for me!!

Julie Zickefoose said...

Whooooo! what a day! Both those peckerwoods woulda been lifers for me. Hawk owl too. You lucky, lucky girl. Awesome photos. I would say you are en fuego in this post. Congratulations on the life birds. A 9-lifer day in N. America would definitely make me cry like a baby.

Lynne said...

Thanks for your comment. We are fortunate to have these wonderful northern birds visit Minnesota and I was a really lucky gal to get to see them!

Mike said...

What a bumper crop of boreal birds! Let me join the chorus in offering congratulations. You've got some of my most coveted birds on that day list. But then again, you seem much more mature about enduring the cold than I am!

Snail said...

I love this post, Lynne. I was so swept along with your enthusiasm that I almost ticked snowy owl off my list as well!