MINNESOTA Feb 2019: Winter Boreal Birding – day 2

Day 2 / Feb 22 – Superior National Forest, Ely, and Sax-Zim Bog

We were up and out early, for the drive north into Superior National Forest on a cold, clear morning. We hoped to reach the remote roads before logging vehicles moved through and spooked any roadside Spruce Grouse deeper into the woods. Vehicles were few, but Spruce Grouse remained out of sight on quiet roads. Tall narrow conifers sparkled in the picturesque, snow-covered landscape. Common Ravens swooped overhead, and several Black-capped Chickadees moved through trees.



A male Red Crossbill and a flock of Common Redpolls foraged briefly in roadside trees. We were awed by the beauty of a furry Red Fox that crossed in front of us, then paused to look at us, looking at him! A Red Squirrel gathered pinecones on a nearby branch, showing well for photos.



In the town of Ely, population ~3,400, we stopped for a delicious lunch in the “Boathouse” brewpub and restaurant on the main drag. The walleye fish fry was a big hit with many in our group. No visit would be complete without a stop at the Crapola World Headquarters for coffee, tea, and souvenirs with a sense of humor! In high spirits with full bellies, we looped slowly around minor roads to discover several flocks of Bohemian Waxwings, Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, and Pine Siskins. Birds were actively feeding on crabapples and mountain ash berries, pausing for great looks.



Turning south, we reached Sax-Zim Bog by mid afternoon. Located about 50 miles north west of Duluth, this area encompasses 300 square miles of wetlands, aspen and conifer groves, meadows, rivers, farms, and even small towns. The mosaic of habitats host several wintering boreal specialties that are made accessible by feeders, trails, a visitors center, and hundreds of acres protected by the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog. Soon we were watching a very confiding Northern Hawk Owl, who perched atop a bare gnarled tree, unconcerned with nearby birders and photographers. We were amazed to see it coughing up two pellets! The Sisu feeding station attracted Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-breasted Nuthatch, multiple Black-capped Chickadees and a lone Pine Siskin. In the last hour of daylight we scanned several likely spots for Great Gray Owl. A snow squall reduced visibility and pushed us back to Duluth without seeing this major target. Tomorrow would bring more chances.



Alex, who had lived in Duluth while counting raptors from the Hawk Ridge, recommended one of his favorite places, “Pizza Luce,” for gourmet pizza and craft brews. It did not disappoint, especially with colorful watercolors of owls and ravens on the walls!  – Adrian Binns



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