Dear MN Birders:
Alex Cruz and I had a great day yesterday (Sunday, February 5) in Lake and
St. Louis counties. We got an early start to the day by driving up from the
Twin Cities to stay at the Whispering Pines
Motel<http://.whisperingpinesmotel.com>in Ilgen City (Hwys 61 and 1
just north of Silver Bay) the night before.
The owner is very birder/bird friendly and has a great feeder and
heated-water set-up in his back yard. I highly recommend this establishment
to birders looking for clean, inexpensive accommodations in the area. The
rooms are basic, but a room with a queen bed, twin bed, and hide-a-bed plus
private bath is only $60/night plus $5 for each person above one in the
A drive up Hwy 1 from Ilgen City a little before dawn quickly netted us a
beautifully cooperative male Spruce Grouse picking grit at the edge of the
road just east of Isabella. We also had Pileated Woodpecker, Hairy
Woodpecker, White-winged Crossbills (fly-over and tree-top views), Barred
Owl (heard), Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Common Raven, and
Red-breasted Nuthatch near the same spot.
We then took Hwy 172 just east of Isabella to Sawmill Landing Road (Hwy
369) and drove up .8 miles per Sparky Stensaas's instructions. We got out
and walked the road and also trudged among the rolling hills of burned,
park-like birch and conifers. We missed American Three-toed Woodpecker
(though we heard their diagnostic "dropping ball rhythm" drumming a few
times in the distance) but did manage terrific looks at a female
Black-backed Woodpecker, many Boreal Chickadees, a Hairy Woodpecker, and
some of the species listed in the paragraph above. We also heard a wolf
pack howling in the distance.
From here we traveled back to the Whispering Pines Motel to check out the
feeders. New birds there included Pine Siskin, Common Redpolls (both also
seen on the drive back along Hwy 1), Pine Grosbeak, White-breasted Nuthatch
and a beautiful Hoary Redpoll.
Driving south along Hwy 61 we had Bald Eagle and Herring Gull. We then
stopped at the Gooseberry Falls Visitor Center, where a very cooperative
Northern Hawk Owl was perched on a sawn-off, triple-trunk birch tree just
to the east of Hwy 61. Apparently, the bird was absent for a good part of
the morning and afternoon, but right around noon he was seen by many
observers. Feeders at the visitor center were great for Pine Grosbeaks
(among other species mentioned above).
Finally, we headed over to the Sax-Zim bog. The feeders at Blue Spruce Road
netted us another amazing look at a Hoary Redpoll—a cooperative bird that
Alex and I visually dissected from beak to rectrices. The tiny, punched-in
bill; "neaderthal," protruding brow, extreme fluffiness, white scapulars,
undertail coverts, and rump; and the bird's stand-offishness relative to
the many other Common Redpolls left no doubt in our mind as to its species
Near the Sharp-tailed Grouse lek at the SW corner of the intersection
between Arkola Rd and Poplar, we had a flock of Snow Buntings, with some
individuals in breeding plumage already. American Crow, terrific looks at
soaring and perching Rough-legged Hawks, a Black-Billed Magpie (heard),
European Starlings, and a lone Grey Jay added some new species to our list
as we patrolled Arkola, Stickney, McDavitt, Sax, and Stone Lake Roads.
The logging trail on the west side of McDavitt was a popular spot; we saw a
number of other birders along it as we walked to the third clearing and
back. Alas, our luck was not as good as Chris Wood's before us. Apart from
another female Black-backed Woodpecker and some White-winged Crossbills,
there was little avian activity to be seen.
Despite our best efforts to carefully scan (both visually and aurally) the
recently mentioned spots on the MOU list for Great Gray Owl, Sharp-tailed
Grouse, Ruffed Grouse, amd Northern Goshawk, we missed these birds. Almost
unbelievably, we saw not a single shrike on our trip. And some of the other
boreal possbilities of NE Minnesota—Evening Grosbeak, Bohemian Waxwing, and
Red Crossbill—are less often to be found in Sax-ZIm than in other areas, a
fact we lamented yesterday.
Nevertheless, 27 species in a single day of birding NE Minnesota excluding
Duluth and Lake Superior was a great total. Moreover, some of the looks we
had were spectacular. And, who can complain about a day of birding? Let
alone a day of birding that starts with 20 minutes of watching a male
Spruce Grouse from six feet away, peaks at noon with a Northern Hawk Owl so
close you can see the expression in its eyes, and ends with a Hoary Redpoll
and a Black-backed Woodpecker in the Sax-Zim Bog?
Next day trip up North: Duluth harbor and Aitkin County!
Associate Professor of Music Theory
University of Minnesota School of Music
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