Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sax-Zimm Bog, Duluth, Minnesota

Wow what a trip!  I went with Mike Mandracchia of Mandrake Birding and Kim Risen, a professional guide from Naturescape Tours of Tamarack, Minnesota (near Duluth) and Cathy Risen, his wife, on a four day birding trip to the frozen North Country of Minnesota.  I can't begin to tell you what negative 15 feels like.  Did I say frozen!!? 

The birding was amazing.  A guide is so worth it if you are not familiar with the area and/or you are challenged by the local birds.  Kim was awesome not only for his knowledge of the local area, but his general knowledge about everything BIRD.  Great trip!  They even found me a Guinness on Day 3. 

Day 1
 I left Boston in the wee hours for Minneapolis and then to Duluth.  It was snowing pretty hard when we arrived, but a birding we will go.  The cold was staggering, but I dressed for the occasion.  God bless Northface!

We drove an hour north of Duluth to Sax-Zimm Bog.  Hmm Sax-Zimm sounds fancy. I figured it was some Viking burial ground or named after two French Explorers who were lost in the bog never to be seen again, but instead, to my chagrin its just located between Sax and Zimm roads.   I digress, its birding I'm here to talk about.

We were on the hunt for a Great Gray Owl. Unfortunately, I'm constantly reminded how little I know about birding when I meet people like Kim, but the birding community is unbelievable friendly I rarely feel uncomfortable.  One thing I'm exceptional at is spotting birds.  As soon as we got into the area we encountered Pine Grosbeaks.  But owls were what we were really looking for and we found a Northern Hawk Owl right away.

Northern Hawk Owl, Sax-Zimm Bog, Meadowlands, MN

The snow was really coming down on top of at least 24 to 28 inches.  It was dry and really powdery.  I'm not used to that kind of snow.  Its rare I can't make snow balls to ping unsuspecting soles at home, but Kim and Mike survived the trip without getting blasted. 

It took us awhile, but Kim put out an alert to other birders in the area for our benefit and to call him if a Great Gray shows up.  We got reports all over the bog, but couldn't seem to find one ourselves until we got the call around 430.  A friend had found one.  Wow!!!  Unfortunately it was really to late to take pictures, but I didn't care.  His friend was a bird bander so he offered to call the GGO in with a mouse for us to see.  As soon as he put the mouse down, the owl was on the move.  He came within 30 feet of us, but did a last minute 90 on a dime and off to hunt for another victim.  Apparently small vermin are plentiful this year so getting close to humans wasn't worth for Mr. Great Gray.  Doesn't matter though cause I saw my first Great Gray Owl on day 1.

Day 2
Unfortunately day 2 was so cold not alot was moving and the pictures I took were outdone on Day 3.  We went searching for Sage Grouse.  We made it all the way to the Boundary Waters and while standing outside the car, nostril hairs freezing, we heard the clear howling of a rather large wolf pack.  Sooooo COOL!  We saw gray jay, white winged crossbills, pine grosbeaks, ruffed grouse, but not the Sage Grouse.  Due to the cold and lack of any movement, we decided to search Lake Superior for gulls and any bird movement. 

Instead of birds we found amazing scenery and some insane surfers.  

Split Rock Light Station                
Little House on the Edge of the World

Surfin Fool! 

Common Golden-eye
 I'll report day 3 and 4 later in the week.  We ended up with 39 species and 13 lifers for me.  And a great photo of the GGO.  Ya'll come back now, ya hea!!  You won't be disappointed.  I promise. 


cindyzlogic said...

A wonderful Owl pic! Congrats on sighting the Gray Owl! Sounds and looks wayyyy too cold for me, but I wouldn't mind checking it out in the Spring :-)

Hilke Breder said...

Nice post! I admire your fortitude and dedication given the bone-freezing cold. It paid off though for you in seeing the Great Gray Owl so close up and getting a good picture of the Northern Hawk Owl.

Jen said...

WOW times ten! The owl is fantastic and hearing wolves would just blow my mind!!!

Andy said...

Looks like a good time despite the fridge temps.

Nature Goddess said...

What a trip! Wolves and owls. Just my kind of excitement. Yeah!!! The pix are fantastic! Makes me want to save my $$$ to join you on a trip. A knowledgable guide you arranged...he led you in right direction.

Surfer-dude...glad to know there's other man out there as crazy as my son and husband.