Day 1 / Feb 21 – Duluth and Superior
Our winter birding trip to Minnesota began in true seasonal style, with several cancelled and re-routed flights due to snowstorms in Philadelphia and Minnesota. Eventually, nearly all of our group, including leaders Alex Lamoreux and Chris Brown (minus his luggage), along with Erin, Debbie, Ginny, Gary, and Kathy and I, converged at our hotel in Duluth, and we set off for afternoon birding a little before 3:00 pm. (Participants Sandy and Bob would join us tomorrow morning, after a full day delay).
Caravaning in two vehicles, we crossed the bridge into Superior, Wisconsin, amazed at the vast, snow-covered frozen Lake Superior below. We soon reached the Superior Landfill, where gulls often congregate in great numbers. Today, just a few soared overhead, but one of them was a nice 1st cycle Glaucous Gull, standing out amidst the Herrings. Several Bald Eagles circled overhead, along with more than a dozen Common Ravens.
We moved on to check a small pond located along the entrance road of Enbridge, a natural gas facility containing huge white tanks, towers, and chain link fences. Oblivious to heavy trucks rumbling past, more than 500 Mallards clustered in the open water, flapping and quacking constantly. One male Wood Duck and 3 American Black Ducks huddled among them. While scanning the industrial landscape, Erin spotted our first Snowy Owl perched atop one of the tank towers inside the facility. We enjoyed fine scope views of the wing-tagged bird. A Northern Shrike was spotted atop a nearby tall conifer. Getting ready to leave, another Snowy Owl was spotted perched on a distant electric pole, then another just outside the entrance! It was fascinating to see that all 3 owls featured wing tags with numbers with 67 and 62, ones we could read.
A short distance away, around Richard Bong Airport and the Menard’s shopping center, we were delighted to see 3 more Snowy Owls perched on buildings and light poles, all tagged – number 60, 66 and 63. Our total of 6 was a new one day trip record!
In the last hour of daylight, we crossed the bridge back to Duluth, and stopped briefly at Port Terminal. In a narrow strip of open water along the north shore of Saint Louis Bay, we scoped 4 Common Goldeneye mixed with a large flock of Mallards and handful of American Black Duck. A Peregrine Falcon stood on sentry on the corner of a tall grain silo near the bridge.
Our day ended with beer, burgers, and good laughs at the “Lucky 13” restaurant across the street. Tomorrow would start early for more winter specialties in northern Minnesota. – Adrian Binns