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Subject:Duluth/Sax-Zim/Lake Superior--long
From:Chad Heins <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Chad Heins <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 7 Feb 2011 09:21:34 -0800

Hey birders,

This weekend I had the opportunity to introduce my students to the amazing birds 
of the north woods.  We spent Friday night looking for Snowy Owls in the harbor, 
Saturday in The Bog, and Sunday morning along Lake Superior.

The students were completely spoiled from the onset when we pulled up to a Snowy 
Owl within 30 minutes of arriving in the harbor area on Friday night.  The bird 
was perched on a small berm about 40 yards from the road.  The bird turned and 
posed and eventually flew right past our van into a better hunting location atop 
a street light.  An additional bird was located out on the ice and we watched as 
it flew off and landed on the mast of a ship.  It is always nice to see a bird 
of true wilderness adapting so readily to the constructs of human development.

Saturday's early rise did not yield the Great Gray Owl we were hoping for and I 
once again failed to find any of the mythical Sharp-tailed Grouse of the bog.  
However, when we pulled up to the Arkola feeders, they were empty and the 
situation was perfect for hand-feeding (we had brought some sunflower along).  I 
was hoping to give my students and opportunity to feed chickadees and was quite 
surprised that the first bird onto my hand was a female Pine Grosbeak!  I had 
one student who had a similar close encounter with a grosbeak and the other with 
several Black-capped Chickadees.  Two other students with sniffles just couldn't 
convince the chickadees they wouldn't catch their cold.  We also had a Boreal 
Chickadee and several Gray Jays in this area.

Our other highlights from the bog were mostly along McDavitt, Admiral, and Sax 
Roads.  McDavitt yielded 3 Northern Shrikes, a female Black-backed Woodpecker 
(east side on the bulldozed road), a Hoary Redpoll mixed in a flock of 25 Common 
Redpolls, a Northern Hawk Owl begging for mice, and a Great Gray Owl tolerating 
a big crowd at dusk.  The Admiral Road feeders provided great looks at 4 Boreal 
Chickadees and after dark we had a Northern Saw-whet Owl calling from a mature 
stand on the north portion of this road (Josh, we did not get Boreal).  A large 
flock of Black-billed Magpies were along Sax Road and Cranberry, but they were 
moving east and views were distant.

Sunday we checked out Park Point at dawn and marveled at the amount of ice 
outside the harbor.  Try as we might, we failed to find any Snowy Owls that 
morning.  We watched some flocks of gulls circling over our heads as they headed 
inland.  Several 1st winter Glaucous Gulls were in the group with both the pale 
sandy forms and white forms present.  Going north, we found a small group of 
mergansers near the mouth of the Lester River but otherwise the lake was an 
avian desert.  Knife River though yielded a present surprise.  A female 
Harlequin Duck was diving with a female Bufflehead near the marina.  I'm 
assuming this is the same bird reported back in December; I just haven't heard 
any additional reports of her.

We returned to the Canal Park in Duluth to chum for gulls before heading south 
to Mankato again.  What a mess!  I don't get much of an opportunity to view 
different ages of Thayer's and Iceland Gulls in Mankato and I didn't realize how 
rusty I had gotten from my days in the Milwaukee harbor.  We had a 1st winter 
Black-backed Gull cruise in and circle a couple of times (that was easy).  We 
also had a pale 1st winter Iceland Gull and one 1st winter Thayer's Gull in the 
mix.  I took as many pictures of the others as I could.  I believe I had a 2nd 
winter Kumlein's Iceland and a 2nd winter Thayer's, but I will need to go over 
my pictures this week and really analyze these oddballs. 

Thanks to all the people we talked with in the bog.  My students enjoyed the 
social aspects of the trip as much as the birds themselves.  It was only after 
we returned to Mankato that we finally found a Pine Siskin!

Happy birding!

Chad Heins

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