Northern Minnesota Winter Weekend Feb 01—05, 2018

Posted by Brian Gibbons


Brian Gibbons

Brian Gibbons grew up in suburban Dallas where he began exploring the wild world in local creeks and parks. Chasing butterflies and any animal that was unfortunate enough t...

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Meeting our first afternoon in Duluth, we had no idea it would be the warmest temperature of the trip, a toasty 11° F. The next morning we would be shivering at -18° with a Black-backed Woodpecker in our sights. The remote Superior National Forest in Lake County would chill us most deeply at -27°; who knows what the windchill was! But it was all well worth it. With a good owl year and a few others, we had an excellent trip through the North Woods with amazing scenery, great food, and some wonderful birds.

Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl— Photo: Brian Gibbons


On our first afternoon we worked our way up the scenic North Shore of Lake Superior as the evening progressed quickly, with the sun sinking behind the tallest spruce trees, before we found our first frozen gem: a beautiful Great Gray Owl, Tom’s lifer, on the post of a giant sign for Tom’s Logging Camp and Trading Post. Auspicious to say the least. With less than an hour and a half of birding, we scored again as the darkness gained on us: a quick sighting for some of us of a hunting Boreal Owl. We then basked in our quick successes and enjoyed an excellent dinner at the New Scenic Café. We weren’t done yet! We added A Snowy Owl after dinner, lit up by Sodium vapor lights just west of our hotel. 

Our first morning in Sax-Zim Bog started at the Wilbert Café, with a hearty breakfast (we would need it). As we exited to the frigid air, we were delighted to see a sun pillar emanating from the southeast sky. Our first stop had us scoping a female Black-backed Woodpecker at -18° with trees popping from the extreme temperature. Near Meadowlands we found the Sharp-tailed Grouse right under a bird feeder. After dining, they moved out into the field to half-heartedly initiate their lek displays. At the Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center the feeders were abuzz with Redpolls, including a couple of pale Hoarys. Black-capped Chickadees, Gray Jay, and Hairy Woodpeckers were also working over the buffet. Along McDavitt Road in the heart of the bog, Mike pulled off an amazing spot of the Northern Hawk Owl; three layers deep, the Hawk Owl was teed up but buried amongst the spruce trees. After we struggled to find a window through the trees to attain scope views for everyone, it obliged by flying to an open snag, and we enjoyed excellent scope views! The most ambitious feeder set-up was at MaryLou’s where the usuals were gorging. A little color was added by nearly 40 Evening Grosbeaks feasting on sunflower seeds and squabbling over the prime feeder locations. All this before lunch! The afternoon proved to be less eventful, but it couldn’t have been a better day.

Read Brian’s full report in his Field Report.