Sax-Zim Bog

The weather cooperated with me for my visit to the Sax-Zim Bog Birding Festival in northeastern Minnesota. Though the temperature never rose above freezing, the snow and wind held off until I had departed for home. Saturday’s field trip covered the bog in St. Louis County, while Sunday we ranged up and down the shore of Lake Superior.

Good weather means good birds, and I got good looks at many of them. A total species count of about 35, with 10 lifers, good enough for me to break the 400 mark. Some highlights:

industrial landscapeLifer Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) as well as Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) at Agate Bay, where immense ore loading facilities loomed. In this part of the country, the unit trains loaded with dark gray rock are carrying iron ore, not coal.

ducks, bridge, and lightfar endBetter looks at the goldeneyes in Duluth Harbor, and enough of them to sort through in hopes of finding a Barrow’s. A squatty lighthouse marks the channel into the harbor.

Multiple views of Pine Grosbeaks (Pinicola enucleator) and two species of redpolls at a couple of stops, including one at a feeder station run by the friends group. The porta-john at this stop was the cleanest, most well-appointed one I’ve ever seen. And purple!

yes, it's a borealI wasn’t even expecting a lot of success with owls, but I picked up four new birds in this family. The Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus), sitting calmly in a bare tree about 15 feet above Admiral Road, was a new bird for a lot of us, hence the pileup of birders and vehicles.

A scamper over to Superior, Wisconsin to see two Snowy Owls (Nyctea scandiaca) (yet another life tick) at Richard I. Bong Airport.

We did most of our birding from our transport, school buses driven masterfully by Dan and Amy, with quick sallies outside with the scopes. While this approach to birding involves a lot of window maintenance (wiping and scraping condensation), it’s nice not to have to carry the scope very far.

no woodpeckers todayWe did get a little walking in, in an unsuccessful attempt at some woodpecker specialties. The woody vegetation in the bog is made up of spruce, larch, aspen, and birch, with whips of willows in clumps. The peaty soils also support sundews and lady’s slippers (sleeping under this February snow).

first dayit's warm insideHome base for the festival is the community center at Meadowlands, the sort of place that would be a VFW hall if Meadowlands were a big enough town to support a VFW. The amenties were spartan, but clean and effective.

still in businessbio breakOn Saturday’s trip, a bio break at the fire station in the hamlet of McDavitt was much appreciated by the group.

KUMD 103.3 kept me company on each of the 1-hour drives from Duluth to the bog and back again.

Hmm, the literature says that Connecticut Warbler is a specialty nester at the bog. Maybe a trip during the breeding season is in order.