Sax-Zim Bog Field Trip Report - Feb 2018

Sunset Sax-Zim Bog by Tyler Funk

Sunset Sax-Zim Bog by Tyler Funk

It has been several years since IOS hosted an out of state birding trip. The increasing reports of boreal species motivated us to select Sax-Zim Bog as a kick off to what we hope is an annual “Out of State” addition to the field trip schedule. Each year we will do our best to select a location which will help build your life list.

On Thursday, February 1st, Linda Cames, Lois Cross, Ted Wolff, Scott and Ethan Ellis, Ben and Oliver Burrus, Nancy Tikalsky, Michael Sweeney, Anna Szal and Tyler Funk assembled for what would be a rewarding couple of days at Sax-Zim Bog and the surrounding area. With just enough light for some afternoon birding, a handful of us met up on Thursday evening to make an early assault on the bog. Northern Shrike, Common Redpoll, Common Raven, Great Gray Owl, Black-billed Magpie, and Ruffed Grouse were a couple of highlights.

Thursday night/Friday morning, a cold front passed through the area, dipping the temperature down to -22 degrees. As we walked out to warm up our vehicles, it was so cold it felt as if everything was compressed, as though everything was at its shattering point. Fortunately, all the cars started, and despite the extreme cold, all field trip members were in their cars and ready for the day by 7am.

Birding the Bog by Tyler Funk

Birding the Bog by Tyler Funk

Our first target was Great Gray Owl, which have pockets of established territories around the bog. Before long we were on our first Great Gray. We tallied three within the first couple of hours, so we moved on to our next target, the Three-toed Woodpecker. This target required a modest march into a section of Boreal forest along Blue Spruce Road. The Three-toed Woodpecker is a regular but casual winter visitor, primarily restricted to extreme northern Minnesota forests. Here they are a specialist on bark beetles, gathering them while pecking and scaling the bark of trees. Like Emperor Penguins huddled against the cold, we waddled our way towards a location where these birds have previously been seen. We dipped on this woodpecker and would dip another two times before circling this species as a miss for the field trip. We retreated from the cold boreal forest, glad to be back in a warm vehicle. Our next stop was at a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek, which is also conveniently located near a home with bird feeders along Owl Avenue. We tallied 12 Sharp-tailed Grouse, either on the lek, or under the bird feeders. Here, we also quickly spotted our first Pine Grosbeak for the field trip. A Mourning Dove was also spotted at these feeders on Saturday. Mourning Dove is considered a good find for this area during the winter. We then proceeded to some domesticated birding at Mary Lou’s Feeders in the northwestern portion of the bog. At least this season, this is the most reliable spot for Pine and Evening Grosbeaks. Both were present and provided decent photo ops. We traveled back east along Zim Road and made our way to McDavitt Road.

Northern Hawk Owl by Scott Ellis

Northern Hawk Owl by Scott Ellis

A short hike from the road and we were quickly on a Northern Hawk Owl, another target bird. The Northern Hawk Owl gave us excellent views in perfect light, making for amazing photo opportunities. The barring and texture of this bird’s feathers make it one of the most handsome owls.

On or way to lunch, we made our way along Lake Nicholas Road to search for Black-backed Woodpeckers, another cryptic target. The Black-backed Woodpecker is a permanent resident, migrant, and winter visitor primarily in northern forested areas of the state. It is a specialist on wood-boring beetles, which it extracts by scaling and pecking the bark of trees, much like the Three-toed Woodpecker. The Black-backed Woodpecker is typically found feeding in areas affected by fire, wind, or other disturbances. The woodpeckers would, not surprisingly, prove to be difficult targets. We missed on this attempt but would later find one here on Saturday afternoon. During the morning birding, continual reports of Boreal Owl sightings along the north shores of Lake Superior were coming in. So, naturally, discussions of pursuing this target on Saturday started. We broke for lunch in Cotton, MN and made our plans for the afternoon. We decided to make a stop at the Visitor Center after lunch to look for Gray jays and a Hoary Redpoll. Both birds proved to be easily found here. On the way to the visitor center, a Northern Goshawk was seen for a moment, passing over the lead vehicle and quickly disappearing over some trees. The remainder of the afternoon was spent making fruitless woodpecker attempts and cruising the bog for Ruffed Grouse, Great Gray Owls and Black-billed Magpie.

Spruce Grouse by Scott Ellis

Spruce Grouse by Scott Ellis

On Saturday, having made the decision to relocate to the Duluth area the day prior, we got another cold and early start. Boreal Owl was on the menu and everyone was ready to order. We got into the proper area around 7:20am and with Mallards flying past, we made our plan of attack. Some would scan along Superior Street while others would cruise up Scenic Rt.61. We got about 40 minutes into our search when word came in about a Boreal Owl along Scenic 61. We made notifications and eventually got everyone on the bird. This can be a tough bird to find, so everyone was delighted to have this on our list of successes. We traveled back to Lake Nicholas Road, where we were also successful in locating a Black-backed Woodpecker, a surprise Great Gray Owl, and a large flock of Pine Grosbeaks. We dipped again on the Three-toed Woodpecker at this point and decided this one would remain a scratch for our target birds. The rest of the afternoon was filled with checking the Admiral Road bird feeders, taping for Boreal Chickadee, and lastly, another stop by the Visitor Center.

A portion of the group head to Hwy. 2 North of Two Harbors, MN on Sunday morning and picked up Red Crossbills and Spruce Grouse.

The group all added some valuable life birds to the list and everyone had a very good time.

Trip List:

Trumpeter Swan (Wisconsin)
Canada Goose
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Northern Harrier (Wisconsin)
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk (Wisconsin)
Northern Goshawk
Bald Eagle
Spruce Grouse
Ruffed Grouse
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Wild turkey
Herring Gull
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon
Great Gray Owl
Boreal Owl
Northern Hawk Owl
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Black-backed Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Northern Shrike
Blue jay
Gray Jay
Black-billed Magpie
Common Raven
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling
Bohemian Waxwing
Northern Cardinal
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting
Evening Grosbeak
Pine Grosbeak
Red Crossbill
Common Redpoll
Hoary Redpoll
House Sparrow

by Tyler Funk

What are These Things We Call Seasons?

Mike Baum

Mike Baum

What are these things we call seasons? Is it winter as I shelter in my car looking out over wind-scoured stubble, listening to the wind-chime soprano tinkling of a horned lark on a day that would kill me in a matter of hours? How can this feather-puff be in full song? Could fall begin with July 1st’s first lesser yellowlegs and solitary sandpipers back in Knox County from the tundra and tropics-bound? Is it spring when the first hopeful pools open on the great rivers and fill with common goldeneyes splashing, calling, mating, and flight-whistling through air too cold for me to breathe?

Ask robins. February’s first front says welcome back. Some say,”I never left.” Ask willow flycatchers. Late May, at the end of all the great passage, they deign to arrive. And in ten weeks will be gone again.

Peer closely at life’s equation. Its complexity is limited only by our lack of perception. Three hundred birds come now to my feeders. Each tells a different tale. I am a chickadee. I weigh one quarter of an ounce and I just spent the ten below zero night in your arbor vitae. Six feet away you slept under down with a net gain of eighty degrees. I am nuthatch, titmouse, woodpecker and I really don’t care what day it is. This is my home. I am starling, house sparrow, collared dove, pheasant, and I really don’t care what continent this is. It is now my home. I am mockingbird, Carolina wren, golden-crowned kinglet, yellow-rumped warbler and I can overwinter here. Until the winter comes that I can’t.

A chickadee forages frozen meat shards from the rib cage of a deer. A Carolina wren works sunflower seeds wishing for a finch bill. A brown creeper believes in bugs under the bark of a January tree trunk, then timidly creeps out onto the snow below woodpecker-hammered suet and gleans amber flakes of fuel with a most curious recipe.

Snow comes, warmth leaves, and the bird list grows. Thirty cowbirds materialize like fruit flies. Among them is a grackle whose other millions are two states south. Amid the juncos, who believe they are south, appear American tree sparrows who only come to me in time of need. My winter bluejays are here now. My summer bluejays are somewhere south of the grackle millions.

Minus ten. The lake is locked down and under four inches of snow. Even the spillway and outlet stream are frozen. But there huddled on a ground pipe staring motionless at an open trickle sits a kingfisher. A hungry optimist, table for one, at a very small sushi bar.

January fourth I spent a couple of hours revisiting my Christmas Bird Count route. On December fifteenth this area hosted thirty thousand geese of five kinds. Today there are six. Six geese. Total. Of one kind in an unkind world.

We have a real winter on our hands. It is coming for our fingers. I sit and write about my back yard birds and wonder about my hiatus from my hobby. Aside from four days in the field for the Knox CBC I have not been out since late May. I have the time right now. I need a spark. Snowy owls may do the trick. They are scattered in many places in the northern half of Illinois right now. Pine siskins and red-breasted nuthatches are out in force with a smattering of common redpolls. I need to stoke my inner fire. I need to go outside.

by Mike Baum

Rare Bird Alert - 27-Jan-2018

Slaty-backed Gull by Carl Giometti

Slaty-backed Gull by Carl Giometti

Barrow’s Goldeneye: Rock Island (North) – On 21-Jan-2018, Colin Dobson reported a male Barrow’s Goldeneye from Rock Island County along the Mississippi River.

Gyrflacon: Madison (South) – A ghost-like white morph Gyrfalcon was photographed by Frank Holmes at Horseshoe Lake State Park in Madison County on 17-Jan-2018.

Slaty-backed Gull: Cook (North) – On 4-Jan-2018, Walter Marcisz and Andrew Aldrich found an adult Slaty-backed Gull along the Calumet River in Cook County.

Prairie Falcon: Gallatin (South) – Ron Bradley found another Prairie Falcon. This one was in Gallatin County on 3-Jan-2018.

Ivory Gull: Lake (North) – While Amar Ayyash was birding Lake County Fairgrounds on 3-Jan-2018, he turned around to find an adult Ivory Gull staring at him. Sadly, no one else got to see this rare find.

Prairie Falcon: Bond/Clinton (South) – Keith McMullen had a Prairie Falcon on New Year’s Day fly across the Bond/Clinton County border.

Harlequin Duck: Clinton (South) – Dan Kassebaum found a Harlequin Duck on Carlyle Lake on 22-Dec-2017.

CBC Marathon Man

Twenty-three consecutive days of winter birding no matter how bitter the cold. Rising before dawn to listen for owls and staying up late to compile the day’s sightings. Thousands of miles of driving often traveling through the night without sleep to get to the next destination, sometimes navigating treacherous stretches of highway in blizzard like

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Winter Birds at Sax-Zim Bog Field Trip - Feb. 2 & 3 2018

IOS is coordinating a winter field trip to Sax-Zim Bog! For those of you that have not been following their Facebook page, many of the targeted species are being seen there this winter.

Sax-Zim Bog is about 300 square miles of not only bog, but aspen uplands, rivers, lakes, meadows, farms and even a couple

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IORC Evaluation of Barnacle Goose Records

Barnacle Goose by Davida Kalina

The question of origin of Barnacle Geese that are observed in Illinois is not straightforward, at least not for making an “official” decision as is the case for members of the Illinois Ornithological Records Committee (IORC). IORC does have plans to do a careful evaluation of a number of

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Rare Bird Alert – 19-Dec-2017

Hoary Redpoll by Emil August

Gyrfalcon: Lee (North) – Elizabeth Milne-Anschutz photographed a Gyrfalcon zipping by Sinnissippi Park in Sterling on December 19th.

Barnacle Goose: McLean (Central) – Todd Bugg reported a Barnacle Goose at the Towanda Borrow Pit on December 16th. Barnacle Goose is not officially on the state list.

Townsend’s Solitaire:

Continue reading Rare Bird Alert – 19-Dec-2017

Prepare Your Data for Listers Corner

Lister’s Corner

Since we’ve officially hit December, it’s time to start thinking about gathering your data for your submissions to the 2017 IOS Listers Corner! As always, you may submit in any manner you choose, be it email to Joe Lill, sending Word docs or Excel files, or by snail mail to:


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IORC Update - 26 November 2017

The Illinois Ornithological Records Committee (IORC) recently concluded evaluations of 15 records of occurrence of rare birds in Illinois, accepting 11 and not accepting four. For each record, we indicate below the species or form, with number of individuals in parentheses if greater than one, followed by date or date range, location, and county. At

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A Distant Eagle Primer

Golden Eagles (like this juvenile) have wings that pinch in to the body with bulging secondaries that taper to the hands

As November rolls in, many Illinois birders shift their focus to a shorter list of target species. The majority of migrants have left the state for the winter, but some are still moving

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