When Hairy Met Snowy (as in Owl)

I spent almost three hours well north of Duluth this morning, my first birding expedition in about one week. I was despairing of seeing anything after 2+ hours of nadda, zippo and zilch in terms of birds. My primary target were Spruce Grouse which definitely were a “no show”. However just before I was about to head home, jackpot!

Definitely an irruption … this is the 10th Snowy Owl I have seen since October! It was fantastic to find an owl in a rural location well north of Duluth which hunts during the day w/o fear of crows. My impression is the Duluth / Superior “industrial” birds tend to hunt at night due to the crows which mob any owl dumb enough to be out in the open. While most owls hunt at night, Snowy Owls breed in the land of the Midnight Sun up in the Arctic. Thus, these birds are used to hunting during daylight hours … assuming no crows. Oh yes, I also saw a Hairy Woodpecker shortly after finding Snowy.

Unfortunately I timed my close-up of the owl wrong. After waiting 15 minutes for the Snowy to pounce on some unsuspecting vole, or at least change perches, I zoomed in with my camera. Bad timing.

 

CP Holiday Train in Plummer, Minnesota (videos)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone. In this stressful holiday season we all need to take deep breathes, relax and remember what is special about this time of year. With that thought in mind Molly and I drove 200 miles yesterday to NW Minnesota. Our goal was to see the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, now in its 19th year. For many years I had been wanting to see this holiday spectacle, and we decided what better spot to view the train than in a small town out on the Minnesota prairie?!

The town and citizens (all 292 of them) of Plummer were fantastic in rolling out the hospitality. In addition to the great train, this small town was all decked out for Christmas. The town hall hosted a dinner with carolers; the museum was open with hot cider, and school buses were near the concert site for warming up in case the Minnesota winter was too extreme!

At 6 pm the train rolled into town, and at 6:15 Kelly Preston and others hosted a free 30 minutes concert … right from a box car decked out as a stage (make sure to watch the concert video). Canadian Pacific actually has two holiday trains. One travels the northern United States, while the other crosses southern Canada. Well done Canadian Pacific, we will visit your train again next year, perhaps up in Nipigon on the shores of Lake Superior.

CP Holiday Train Approaching Plummer, Minnesota

Concert Close-Up View

Concert Wide-Angle View

Concert Side View

CP Holiday Train Leaving Plummer, Minnesota

Concert Video

Full Train Video

Sunrise Arrival

I’ll admit it, I am a boat snob. Yes, when it comes to taking boating trips with my camera, as opposed to birding expeditions, only certain boats come up on my radar. For me the boat needs to be a classic ore boat, and then I like it the ship to be in the Duluth area around sunrise or sunset. Thankfully there are two resources which allow me to be efficient in terms of getting a hit for my boat addiction:

Here is a sunrise arrival photo I took a few days ago of the Philip R. Clarke. I used both the linked services to inform me a jaunt down to Canal Park would be worthwhile. After the boat photo, I have included a screenshot from my app. One may press on any ship icon and pull up additional information about that boat, in this case the Michipicoten.

Northern Hawk Owls are so Yesterday!

A friend wanted to go up to Sax-Zim Bog. He had heard about all the Northern Hawk Owls which normally is a rare bird. Looking at the advanced weather forecast I said Thursday! Although I knew today would be cold, it also was forecasted to have decent light and low winds. While sunny skies mean Great Gray Owls retreat into the heavy forest shortly after sunrise, Northern Hawk Owls do not care about light.

Thus, our plan was to arrive 20 minutes before sunup and look for owls, and ignore any hawk owls we saw. This plan worked perfectly and within a few minutes we have found two great grays, one of which was very cooperative in terms of hunting for us … catching two voles in the waning moments of the night. As expected, 20 minutes after sunrise the Great Gray said good-bye to us and retreated into the deep Bog.

We then shifted our efforts over to the hawk owls (we saw three unique individuals) and enjoyed their hunting efforts. However, one thing cool about Hawk Owls is they often perch on the highest tree in the vicinity. Without exception this always means the owl will get attacked by some local birds. Just set up shot and wait. Here are some of my efforts from today.

A Pileated Woodpecker … taking a break between attacking the owl

Pileated and Northern Hawk Owl

Great Gray before Sunrise

A few more Northern Hawk Owl Images