Thursday, January 22, 2015

Gray Days

The trip was not what I expected. There was a lot of time spent in the van driving all over Minnesota looking for birds along the road rather than getting out into the environment. Days spent glued to a hard bench seat  waiting for people to load and unload, peering through fogged up windows, passing time.

The weather was better than expected in some ways - the temperature was above zero - but a bummer in other respects - gloomy, overcast, snowy - the entire trip. Here is a typical view from the van.

North Woods - Minnesota
The gray conditions made photography very difficult. Its a good thing that our main objective looks good in gray. The group was getting very anxious about seeing the Great Gray Owl. We finally got to see this majestic owl on our last afternoon out. There he was posing for the photographers along the road. He sat there for a long time. We pulled up and got to spend about 5 minutes gawking and snapping photos when a guy pulled his SUV in front of the photographers which made the owl fly away. AARRRRGGGGHHHHH! Exuberance quickly turned to exasperation. I almost had a stroke trying to keep my temper under control. Most of the group thinks that I didn't but trust me, the guy wasn't physically harmed, so believe me it was under control.

Anyway, I did manage to get a few photos. Not my dream shots due to the low light conditions and my ineptitude with camera settings but at least you can see a big owl in the tree.

Great Gray Owl
Here is a cropped version. You can see the huge facial disks and the yellow eyes and the white bow tie that make this owl special.

Great Gray Owl
When the owl flew away, our leader ushered us into that damned van again to go see if we could find another owl on yet another country road. We did indeed. This one was back a ways in the woods behind a cabin. The cabin owners were not present but there were a few people in the driveway (far beyond the "No Trespassing" sign). They had a bucket which until very recently has mice inside. It became apparent that the reason that the owls were out and about is because people were throwing mice at them. Oh brother. The experience was becoming even more tarnished. Nobody said anything to the people with the mouse bucket but everyone was disappointed. Here is a photo of the owl waiting for another mouse to appear out of the magic bucket.
Owl in the woods
Once again, we loaded up into the van and went back to see if the original owl returned. It had. It was even darker by the time we returned. I tried a few more photos but it was futile. I gave up and just watched hi. When he looks at you, it is like he is looking directly into your sole. The brief moments that we got to spend with him were special despite the humans that tried to ruin it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Seeing Red

I wonder why so many birds have red in them. Most of the small birds that we have seen on the trip have some red in them like this Common Redpoll. ("poll" is an Olde English word for "cap")

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Another red, well purple bird that is common up north is Purple Finch. We visited a few other bird feeders in the area which attracted these birds too.

Purple Finch
Even the squirrels are red. How cute is this little guy.

Red Squirrel
OK, there were yellow birds too like this Pine Siskin which has a hint of yellow. This one was picking seeds from the snow.

Pine Siskin
Of course, the Siskin doesn't hold a candle to the yellow of the Evening Grosbeak. This guy hung out on the bird bath to get a drink. Talk about eyebrows.

Evening Grosbeak
Sunrise was colorful too.

Sunrise over the north woods
Getting anxious now about seeing a Great Gray Owl. So far, we have struck out 3 times. . .

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bad Ass Bird

Northern Hawk Owl gets my vote for baddest bird in the land. We have seen 3 of these little monsters on our trip to Minnesota. Check it out.  Look at the way it perches.

Northern Hawk Owl
Look at that "V" brow that it has. And the intense stare. 
Northern Hawk Owl

Look at the way it can disappear into the surroundings. Look at the tiny stature and yet it is still menacing. 

Northern Hawk Owl
Look at the way it ignores other birds like this Common Redpoll. And the way it has no fear of perching at the top of trees. 

Northern Hawk Owl/Common Redpoll
Bad Ass Owl!  Another really bad ass bird that we saw on the trip is this Northern Goshawk. This is an adult male. It is a giant accipiter - about the size of a Red-tailed Hawk. This dude will hunt and eat other hawks. That is bad ass. Check out the big body and relatively short (but powerful) wings on this bird. It is made to seek and destroy prey in the woods. Check out that evil red eye. Yikes! I was in the van, shooting this photo through the dirty window and was still a little scared of this bird. 

Northern Goshawk
From bad ass to cuddly. This Gray Jay was one of many that we saw on our trip. These birds always look happy with a permanent smile and light fluffy attitude. There are feeders set up in the Sac-Zim bog to attract some of the specialty birds. The Gray Jays take full advantage of the peanut butter. 

 Here he is after having his fill.

Gray Jay
The trip will not be complete unless we get to see our target bird - the Great Gray Owl. . . 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Lake Superior

We finally made it to Duluth yesterday and got to see Lake Superior. We met up with the group leader at the hotel (Days Inn - don't ask) and headed out to the harbor on the lake to see some gulls and ducks.  Thayer's Gull is a cute gull that some birders think is just a form of Iceland Gull but it counts as another species. Thayer's Gull is one of the "white winged" gulls. You can see that that the wings don't have any black on them.

Thayer's Gull

Thayer's Gull
Here is another white winged gull - Glaucous Gull. This one reminds you of a Ring-billed Gull, only whiter.

Glaucous Gull
OK. I admit that these are not the most interesting birds but they are interesting to birders. Here is another bird that isn't very sexy to look at - Common Eider.  I love these birds. They winter off of the New Jersey coast so we get to see them floating around in the surf for a few months each year. They nest up in Maine and we got to see that a few years ago when we went to Hog Island. Why do we care about this one ( a drab female)?  Because you are looking at the first Common Eider to show up in Minnesota since 1959!  All of the birders who saw the last one are dead now. This is pretty rare.

Common Eider
These 2 lighthouses mark the channel.


We also saw 6 Snowy Owls. This one was perched behind a nursing home near the airport. We had to maneuver past the smoking nurses aids to get this photo. Cough, cough.

Snowy Owl
More to come. We went out for more birds today which will be posted tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Its Like Vermont All Over Again

You may remember a story about a trip that I took to find a Northern Hawk Owl in Vermont last year. Here is a link to that post - Vermont Hawk Owl .  If you don't have time to re-read it or forget the story, here is the Reader's Digest edition:

A Hawk Owl (the baddest looking owl of all) spent the winter in Vermont. A few of us got together and drove up to see it. The owl flew into a farmer's field. We asked the farmer if we could trudge through the snowy icy field. The farmer invited us into the house for tea and cupcakes. We had a great time.

Fast forward to today. A few of the same people drove to Wisconsin on our way to Minnesota. We stopped to try to see a bird. We serendipitously met a couple who invited us to their farm house to look at their bird feeders.  Bob and Marge (pronounced Margie) were wonderful hosts. We had a great time. A parallel situation except that we didn't get the bird. We did get to see an awesome jukebox that they had right in their living room. I played J9 (Love Potion Number 9). 

Here is the gang posing with Marge and the juke boxf.

The gang
We did get to see a really cool hawk - Rough-legged Hawk hunting in Bob and Marge's field.

Rough-legged Hawk
Tomorrow, we are headed out to find Greater Prairie Chicken and then driving to Duluth to meet up with a group for a weekend tour to find other owls. More later. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Good Day - Despite Adversity

We finally had some decent weather yesterday. I was at the shore and planned a whole day of winter birding with Harvey. The day started with a big decision - what to do with Roxy. The issue is that Roxy has been a bit lame this week and cannot go out for the full day. We decided to leave her at the house and go to Stone Harbor Point first. Dogs are not allowed and this would shorten her day.

We were almost alone at the point. Only 2 other cars were in the parking lot. We met the first person soon enough - Richard Crossley, the field guide author was out and about.  The second person was out in the dunes wearing full camouflage carrying a huge camera. Soon enough, we were being yelled at for being too close to him. I guess he thinks that he deserves the beach to himself because he has a big camera.  He literally marched over and yelled at us for being on the beach "invading his space".  He wasn't joking. You know me - I didn't take that shit off of him. I gave it right back. Jerk. He flipped me the finger and stomped off the beach. We shook it off and went about our day.

This Ipswich Savannah Sparrow sat up on an old beach fence munching on a seed.

Ipswich Sparrow
He put on such a show that he eventually took a bow before disappearing into the dunes.

Ipswich Sparrow
We were pleased to see this Black-bellied Plover looking for breakfast between the frozen waves.

Black-bellied Plover
Alas, our joy didn't last. We had just about forgotten about the rude photographer when we came across this sad seen. We noticed her laying in the street along with another dead companion. Both Ruddy Ducks had bloody wounds on their breasts which look like shot gun wounds. Who would shoot 2 ducks and let them just lay in the street?  Sickos.

Ruddy Duck
We put them in the van and took them home. They are now in my freezer waiting to take their place at the Academy of Natural Sciences ornithology department. We picked Roxy up and decided to go to Cox Hall Creek for a walk and possible winter warblers.  No peace there either. Harvey was attacked by a wild rose bush and then threw his back out trying to escape the bushes.

And not to be outdone, I was bitten by a Dachshund!  The little fucker tried to attack Roxy and got me on the shin instead - through the jeans.  You can see the little teeth marks. Jeez.

Dog Bite
Roxy started limping about half way through the walk anyway. We had to take her home. One last try - let's go to the State Park and see what we can find there. This very accommodating Killdeer was poking around the grass.

This young Red-Shouldered Hawk perched on the Hawk Watch Platform - taking the name literally.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Harvey's back finally gave out on him so we called it quits. Besides, we didn't want to find out what else was in store for us. We were lucky to survive the day.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Scooting Around Cozumel

Our second (and last) stop on the cruise was in Cozumel which is an island off the coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.  The island sits at the north end of a huge coral reef system which is the second longest in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia). Connie and I have been here many years ago and really loved it.

Di, Barbara and I decided to maximize our time on the island by renting scooters. It was the right choice. We had a ball riding around the island. I can make any activity look good as evidenced here. What a sight huh?

Scooter Momma
We stopped along the road to look at the Kingbirds that were discussed in the last post but also saw some other interesting birds. The first is Melodious Blackbird - not much to look at but as the name suggests, they have a wonderful song. This one is eating some type of fruit.

Melodious Blackbird
 Yellow warblers are here too. This one has a red head which indicates that it is a resident of the Caribbean and doesn't migrate north. The birds that we see in our area in spring and summer have yellow heads.

Yellow Warbler (Caribbean)
We took a side road up to a little town to see if we could get some lunch. We were met by locals who were trying to get us to go to the Tequila tasting event. Trust me, Tequila and scooters do not mix! When we said no, they sent us out of town to a beach restaurant for lunch. On our way out of town, we saw a few birds flitting around yards in the town. The first was this hummingbird called a Cozumel Emerald. It was bright green/blue and had this deeply forked tail. Here it is feeding on a flower in someone's yard.

Cozumel Emerald
The next bird that we saw was this Yellow-faced Grassquit jumping around an old chain link fence. He stopped for a moment and looked at the scooter mommas.

Yellow-faced Grassquit
We then noticed another bird jumping around someone's front porch. This bird is very familiar to us as it nests in our area and is one of the first warblers to return in spring.  This Yellow-throated Warbler was having a good time picking insects off of the brightly colored porch.

Yellow-throated Warbler
I call him the Mexican Jumping Warbler. Here he is in mid jump.

Mexican Jumping Warbler
We could barely tear ourselves away from this hotspot but we had limited time to see the island and still needed to have lunch so off we scooted.

This Great-tailed Grackle hung around our lunch table and was finally rewarded with a tortilla chip that accidentally landed on the sand.

Great-tailed Grackle
We made it all the way around the island and stopped at some Mayan ruins but just like the Botanical Gardens, we didn't go in due to time constraints. We did get to see this Oriole in the parking lot. I am having a tough time with identification but finally settled on "Orange Oriole" for the ID.

Orange Oriole
We ended our day by snorkeling off the pubic beach. It was just as I remember from my previous trip. We waded into the water and were immediately treated to colorful fish, stingrays, sea urchins and beautiful coral formations.  Here are me and Di waving to Barbara. Another pretty sight huh?

Snorkel Beauties
All in all it was a great day. I wish we had more time to really investigate the island and the bird life. Hopefully we will be able to return someday.