Today was one of those days when I am thrilled to live on the Arctic Riviera! Instead of extremely cold sub zero weather, when I went owling before sunset the wind was calm, the skies were blue, and the temperature was just a few degrees below freezing. Better yet, my birding hit the jackpot 30 minutes before sunset. I found a Snowy Owl which was beginning its evening hunt. Not only did this owl not mind my presence, at one point while I was watching this bird from a distance of 40 yards, it actually flew over and landed on the pole in the picture directly above my head.
Uff Dah! I actually had to walk away from the Snowy Owl unless I wanted to take images straight up. Now from a distance of 20 yards I waited with my finger on the shutter for the Snowy to fly. Twice there were false alarms as this bird thought it had a vole in its sights, but the third time was a charm! The owl flew and I pressed down and did a burst of photographs. Here are my favorite two images. Now that I know where this bird hunts, I plan on making more late afternoon excursions.
The last few days have been cold in the Northland, with temperatures plunging to around -25F or worse. Does this mean one stops birding? No! I just make certain I have extra warm clothes and blankets in the car in case I get stuck somewhere. In addition to the cold weather, the past week has seen about one foot of new snow which came in multiple bursts. This extra snow seems to be making it a bit easier to find birds as they are concentrating on known food sources, as opposed to being deep in the forest and even foraging through the snow on the forest floor. Here are some images I took over the past three days …
Superior Rough-Legged Hawk on Connors Point (Duluth Harbor) … snowies also being seen at dusk on Connors Point, the Superior Middle School and the Richard Bong Airport
Riley Road Pine Grosbeaks … if you bird Riley Road, get out of the car. I found a large flock of pine grosbeaks, but they were 10 to 50 yards off the road.
Upon waking up this morning, I checked two items to see if my first bonafide birding excursion of 2017 was possible. First and foremost I had to determine whether the pinched nerve which has been causing me intense pain in my back and left leg was healed enough to allow for a birding trip (it was!). My second bit of research was to check the weather forecast. A second wallop of a winter storm which started at dinner time last night was supposed to hold off long enough to allow me a morning excursion to the Bog (50 miles from my home). The weather seemed perfect for owling … dark light due to light snow and light wind in the morning. The snows were do to resume midday.
Thus, I left an hour before sunrise and arrived in the bog at dawn’s first dismal light (heavy clouds and light snow). I found four other birders driving up and down Admiral Road, hoping like me to find a Great Gray Owl hunting after sunrise. Although I spent close to an hour on Admiral and McDavitt Roads, no owls were to be seen. Oh well, when success does not occur while birding … change your approach. I headed off onto some remote roads which I have never driven before. Jackpot! I found a Great Gray Owl hunting at 9:30 am. For the next 20 minutes I hiked the Bog and enjoyed watching the Gray Ghost of the Forest hunt for meadow voles, often from a distance of less than 20 yards! When my owl decided it was time to fly deep into the Bog, I realized my leg had limitations in the deep snow and I bade good-bye to my friend.
On my way out of the Bog I briefly stopped at the Welcome Center and a few other birding spots. The Winter birds now seem to be out in force. During the 9 miles of driving from my owl location to the Welcome Center, I saw 21 deer. The snow in the forest / Bog is now getting quite deep. It was obvious that the deer were using the same dirt road upon which I was driving to forage for breakfast because walking in the forest is now tough. Deep snow should finally mean more Canadian birds coming south, and more roadside hunting for owls!
The Duluth shipping season will end within the next seven days. The harbor is now ice covered, and freighters would be locked in their winter slumber if not for the ice breaking chores of tugboats! On the birding front, hundreds of ducks are hanging out in the Duluth Ship Canal at the entrance to Lake Superior. If you saw the CSL Assiniboine steaming down upon you the best decision would be to get the heck out of Dodge!
Canadian Steamship Lines Assiniboine Enters the Ship Canal
Goldeneyes Decide it’s Time to Fly!
Earlier, back in the harbor … the Tug North Carolina Breaks Ice for the Assiniboine