Minnesota in February    p 1 of 1

 

7 Feb 2015

Here in the North Country, February nights with lows of 0F are not considered cold - that's normal.  Cold weather is 20 or 30 below zero at night.
  Which makes it rather surprising that a diverse and colorful suite of birds, of their own free will, choose to spend the winter here.
  Many are seldom seen south of here, so Chad Smith and I have come with cameras in hand.  Our first two days are spent with superb bird guide and photographer Mike Lentz.
   Mike knew of a handsome Northern Hawk Owl that was hanging out in a wooded suburb of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  So over we went, and after a bit of coaxing, there it was.


 

 

 

 

 

Northern Hawk Owl

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At Sax-Zim Bog, about 50 miles northwest of Duluth, Mike brings in a Great Gray Owl.  Not the killer shot I would have liked, but it was a dark dreary morning with little light to work with. 

Sax-Zim, a mosaic of meadows and spruce/tamarack forest, is great for bird photography, as some residents have put up bird feeders.  There are as well several more maintained along the roadside by the avid birders here.  At the Welcome Center, whose most welcome feature is a warm stove, their sunflower feeders attract a swarm of Common Redpolls, the most abundant bird around. Common Redpoll
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At the Admiral Road feeders, one can stand in the road and photograph a surprising variety of birds.  One of the most eagerly sought is Boreal Chickadee.  Northern Minnesota is near the southern end of the range for this hardy little bird. 

 

An unexpected treat here was American Pine Marten.  This member of the weasel family normally preys on red squirrels, meadow voles, etc., in winter.  But this one could not resist the peanut butter that was put out at the Admiral Road feeders. 

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Hairy Woodpecker  

I've often photographed Hairy Woodpecker at our New Mexico cabin where it is one of the commonest birds.  But II couldn't pass up this colorful male as he messed around lichen-covered tree trunks and came to the seed feeders.

9 Feb 2015

And of course a common bird of conifer forests in the north, Gray Jay.  These would swoop down to the feeders in loose groups of three or four.   

 

Gray Jay

 

Evening Grosbeak male  

 

10 Feb 2015

This morning we're at Mary Lou's feeders in the northwest corner of Sax-Zim.  Either Mary Lou is not at home, or she doesn't mind strange men with big cameras wandering around her yard photographing the birds coming to half a dozen feeders she maintains. 
   One bird that never fails to please is Evening Grosbeak.  I photographed this male just as snow began to fall.

At least once the hundred or so birds at Mary Lou's feeders suddenly disappeared in mad flight.  The only bird left was one Northern Shrike, the arch-enemy of songbirds who are the mainstay of its diet. Northern Shrike
Pine Siskin Only when the shrike  flew away without a meal did the other birds return, beginning with the dozens of little Pine Siskins that were in attendance.
Between the 21F temp and a brisk wind, I had to retreat to the car every half hour to warm up again.  The last bird photographed at Mary Lou's was the duller but still handsome female Evening Grosbeak.   Evening Grosbeak female
Purple Finch Later we wandered back to the Welcome Center.  I missed a female Pine Grosbeak, the only one of that species seen on the trip.  But another bird that seemed at home in Minnesota in winter, Purple Finch, was common and did pose for a photo.
The last good photo taken was another bird who seems to take Minnesota winters in stride, Black-capped Chickadee.  Little did I know when I pressed the shutter release button to take this photo that less than a week later, I'd be going under the knife for open heart surgery.  Good or bad, you never know what the future may bring. Black-capped Chickadee