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
Mallard
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

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