Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Final Days in Texas

My final days in Texas were very enjoyable. On 12/20, Mike and I met up with my good friends from Michigan, Mark and Joanie Hubinger. They volunteer in the Valley and I was excited to spend the day birding with them.

We started looking for the Tropical Parula on the University of Texas Pan-American campus. We spent over an hour and a half searching the area where it supposedly frequented. We were losing hope. It was then that I got a call from Mike from across the campus with those three words every birder likes to hear; "I GOT IT!".

It was very flighty, never sitting in one spot for very long and always staying high in the tree canopy. Thus, this was a tough bird to photograph. I wasn't about to leave without some documentation, and I eventually got it. This was a lifer for both Mike and I!

Tropical Parula
After our success, we ventured to Estero Llano Grande State park, one of my favorite locations in the Valley. Our success continued as we found two more birds we were hoping for; Cave Swallow and Common Pauraque.

Swallows were flying high overhead and were somewhat back-lit, making it hard to get an identification. I started shooting at swallows flying over, hoping they would turn out to be Caves. The first was a tree. Second was a Cave! The strategy paid off...

Cave Swallow
The Pauraque was found in the same spot it is always found. Along one of the trails is a small pile of brush. Just beyond that brush a Common Pauraque has been roosting every day for a few years. Even though we knew it was there, it took us at least 10 minutes to find it. They blend in so easily!

Common Pauraque
We continued birding the area, looking for Long-billed Thrashers. We went into the Tropcial Zone, heading straight for the feeders. Thrashers and feeders go together in the Valley. When we got to the feeders, they were devoid of birds. But, behind the feeders, a Long-billed Thrasher was busy scratching the ground.

Long-billed Thrasher
I had two more target birds. So far, we were off to a great start. We had yet to run into any cooperative Chachalacas, so we went to Quinta Mazatlan where Plain Chachalacas are abundant. It was the heat of the day and the feeders weren't very active, but it didn't take long to find a pod of them resting together just off one of the trails. Most were too close for my lens!

Plain Chachalaca
As it was approaching the evening hours, we made our way north to the Green Parakeet roost near Dove and 10th street in McAllen. A group of Parakeets was already there as we arrived. They were noisy and mobile and often flew close by.

Green Parakeet
We ended the day with the Hubingers and a wonderful local dinner (and a few celebratory beers).

The next day (12/21), Mike and I headed east toward South Padre Island. We first looked for Aplomado Falcons along Old Port Isabel Road without success. Today was extremely windy and made birding frustratingly difficult. We then stopped at Palo Alto Battlefield where the Hubingers said we may have luck with Cassin's Sparrow. They were right! At least one Cassin's popped up from the vegetation as we walked the path.

Cassin's Sparrow
We then visited South Padre Island. Among other birds, I was hoping for a Clapper Rail at the SPI Birding boardwalk. They are surprisingly cooperative here, often foraging out in plain sight during the day. It took a while of watching, but one finally came out and, evidently, wanted to cross directly under the boardwalk! Here it is, planning its next move!

Clapper Rail
We then returned to the mainland and tried again for Aplomado Falcons. This time, we tried Boca Chica Blvd where a pair was recently reported. After much searching, we found them. While these birds aren't technically "countable" by ABA standards, most people who do Big Years count them on their list. I did get some pictures, but have a hard time counting them on my Photographic Big Year when I don't count them on my lifelist.

This trip to South Texas puts me up to 585 for the year. This is likely the number I will end the year with. If I have forgotten any, I'll add them when I catch them.

I want to thank everyone who supported this endeavor in one way or another. I will make at least one more post thanking everyone for their support and include some of the highlights from the year. If you pledged for this effort, I will send you an email shortly after the new year with instructions and gratitude.

Happy New Year everyone! I look forward to a wonderful 2014!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Texas 12/19- Day 2

For our first full day in the Texas valley we decided to go to my favorite birding location; Salineno! This spot is known for being the only "reliable" place in the Valley (and ABA Area) to see wild Muscovy Ducks. It is also a great spot for hawks, Red-billed Pigeons, and Orioles. Teeming with excitement, we left Harlingen a little too early and arrived at Salineno about an hour before sunrise. Oops! At first light we were at the river and scoping for the Muscovys.

This was my 5th trip to Salineno and I had yet to see the Muscovy Ducks. This time, however, was a different story. Mike got on a Muscovy sitting on the Mexican shore at first light. As this bird clearly wasn't in the ABA area, we watched it as it was sure to take flight any minute. It would have to fly into ABA waters, right? Wrong. The bird took flight and flew directly into Mexico, over land and out of sight. We were not pleased, to say the least.

We decided to give it a few hours, hoping another duck would fly by on the American side. While we waited, this snazzy Zone-tailed Hawk flew very close by. I missed this bird in Arizona, so picking it up in Texas was a bonus.

Zone-tailed Hawk
A pair of Ringed Kingfishers were making a ruckus and flying back and forth along the river.

Ringed Kingfisher
We were starting to get impatient. It had been nearly two and a half hours and still no Muscovy. We said we would give it until 10am before leaving to do some feeder watching. At about 945am, I just happened to turn and look downriver to see a massive duck with big white wing patches heading straight for us! It flew directly in front of us at very close range. Muscovy Duck!

Muscovy Duck
Finally, a long awaited lifer! I've seen the domesticated ones in Florida, but I wanted to see the real deal.

We made our way to the feeders. We could hear the Kiskadees and Orioles singing from where we sat at the river. When we got to the feeders, they were empty. A Cooper's Hawk had recently swung through, so we had to wait for the birds to regroup.

Once the birds started feeding again, it wasn't long before this Audubon's Oriole made an appearance.

Audubon's Oriole
This Altamira Oriole joined the feeding frenzy as well.

Altamira Oriole
The last bright and colorful bird that I photographed at the feeders was the Great Kiskadee. These loud and proud birds always make their presence known in the Valley. I wasn't complaining!

Great Kiskadee
These colorful birds were a sight for sore eyes! Minneapolis has been devoid of such exotic looking creatures since the weather went south.

We continued on to Falcon State Park to look for Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and Scaled Quail, both of which we missed. We then checked San Ygnacio Bird Sanctuary for White-collared Seedeaters and missed those too. On the way we did see this juvenile Harris's Hawk.

Harris's Hawk
We decided to make the drive to Larado where we had both seen White-collared Seedeaters previously. Again, we failed. While we had a great morning of birding, the afternoon was fairly disheartening.

We needed our luck to change. We had plans of chasing a Tropical Parula (a would-be lifer for us both) the next morning and we didn't want to miss it!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Texas- Day 1

The last stronghold for new year and new photo birds for the year was south Texas. I had yet to visit Texas this year and I found a really cheap, non-stop ticket from Minneapolis to Harlingen right after my grad school finals ended. I had to take it.

I booked it to Texas the morning after my finals ended. On December 18th I landed in Harlingen just before noon. My friend, Mike Lester, flew in the day before and picked me up from the airport. The birding started at Sabal Palm Sanctuary. A Black-crested Titmouse and was the first new photo bird of the trip.

Black-crested Titmouse
 We made our way to the well-stocked feeders where a bunch of the south Texas specialties greeted us. Green Jays were abundant.

Green Jay
This is a good spot to easily see the Clay-colored Thrushes that frequent the feeder areas. Today was no exception.

Clay-colored Thrush
White-tipped Doves were also all over the feeders. There must have been half a dozen or more.

White-tipped Dove
We saw yet another south Texas specialty under the feeders; Olive Sparrow. This was too easy!

Olive Sparrow
We continued to watch the feeders. It seemed like every few minutes a new species would pop in. This Golden-fronted Woodpecker showed nicely.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker
It wasn't long before things started slowing down and we thought we had seen all there was to see at the feeders. But this Buff-bellied Hummingbird didn't want to be left out! This is one of my better pictures from the trip.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird
We decided to walk the trails that went along the water. This is toted to be a good place to see Green Kingfishers, a bird I always have trouble finding in the Valley. However, it wasn't long before we heard, and then saw, this Green Kingfisher zipping around. I had worried that this might be a tough bird to see, and photograph, on this short trip. After a few rattles of the shutter, I worried no more!

Green Kingfisher
One bird I frequently see on every trip I take to the Valley is Least Grebe. I figured they would be all over the place on this trip as well. I got a quick look through some reeds at a pair. I snapped two pictures before they disappeared. Good thing I did as we didn't see any more the rest of the trip!

Least Grebe
On the way out of the park, we noticed a pair of yellow-bellied Kingbirds on the wires. Both Tropical and Couch's are in the Valley and can really only be safely identified by voice. Luckily, these two were very vocal toward each other and allowed me to get both pictures and a sound recording. Take a look/listen. Make sure to turn up the volume as loud as you can get it:

Couch's Kingbird

 We made our way to the Brownsville dump where we hoped for Chihuahuan Ravens. Unfortunately, the dump was closed. Fortunately, we got the ravens on the way in, so no harm done. The only crow/raven in the Valley is Chihuahuan Raven. While the Brownsville dump was historically a place to find Tamulipas Crow, they haven't been seen in years, and are much smaller than this Chihuahuan Raven:

Chihuahuan Raven
We also picked up this White-tailed Hawk sitting on the side of the road. It wasn't bothered by us in the least.

White-tailed Hawk
This was a great afternoon to start the trip! But, we weren't done yet. One last stop at Oliveira Park in Brownsville for the Red-crowned Parrots that come in the evenings to stage/roost proved successful. This was another bird I had never photographed, so it was nice to have them at point-blank range.

Red-crowned Parrot
With 13 new photo birds in one afternoon, I had no complaints. The weather was also much nicer than Minneapolis. I had high hopes for the next day as we were going to one of my favorite locations in the Valley; Salineno! Check back soon to see how it went!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Great Day with some Great Grays

Yesterady (12/14) was a day of birding I will never forget. There was excitement right from the get-go. I had planned on driving to Duluth in the morning to look for the King Eider and left St. Paul around 8am. Shortly after, I realized how bad the roads were, and how bald my tires are. It was a long, slippery drive the entire way, but we made it.

Once we were to the Eider spot we were dismayed at amount of ice that had formed or blew in close to shore. We talked to another man who said he had seen the Eider, initially very far offshore but that it had come in and he lost it. I was already nervous that the bird might be too far away to get a photo of after seeing the photos that the initial observers posted, so I joked that perhaps the bird was resting on shore!

We walked down to the observation spot and I noticed a weird looking dark "rock" on top of other rocks, but blew it off as just a rock because it had snow on it and, lets be honest, Eiders don't typically sleep on the shore of the Lake Superior. After scanning distant Goldeneye and coming up Eider-less, I took a closer look at the "rock" through my binoculars. It WAS the Eider! And it wasn't more than 30 feet away! We enjoyed watching it rest on the beach. It occasionally would lift it's head to examine the surroundings and became alert when a few friendly dogs came to investigate us.

King Eider

A great start to the day! I rarely ever saw King Eiders this close on the north slope of Alaska; this was crazy!

We made good time so I decided we should go to Aitkin to look for the Great Gray Owls that had been reported. It was a long drive so I kept an eye out hoping I might find a Great Gray along the way. At one point, I noticed a dark bird-shaped lump along the side of the road and, as we passed, I realized what it was; Northern Hawk Owl! I slammed on the breaks and turned around. The Owl was on the shoulder of the road, not far from the pavement and tire tracks. I wondered if it had just made a kill, or if it was injured or dead. I wasn't able to examine the bird immediately since two big semi trucks were passing. The bird got pelted with snow and ice as the trucks went by and didn't move an inch. This was not a good sign.

Once the traffic cleared I could see through my binoculars that the bird was not in good shape. I approached and could see that the Hawk Owl was still alive, but very lethargic. It had a swollen eye and blood around the bill and clearly had been hit by a car. I had to decide if we should leave the bird there or try to take it with us back to St. Paul. It was noon and the bird would have to travel with us as we went birding all day before making it back to the cities. However, if I left it along the road, it was certainly a goner.

I scooped the bird up in my North Face down jacket and placed it in a travel bag. This would at least keep the bird warm and, if nothing else, it would die warm instead of by hypothermia and getting hit by snow and ice from passing traffic.

We continued to the Aitkin Great Gray Owl spot. A birder passed by and said they had seen at least 3 Great Gray Owls in the past hour. After thanking them for the information, it took all but 30 seconds before we had our first Great Gray of the day. As luck would have it, we ended up seeing a total of 6 Great Gray Owls in a very small stretch of road.

Great Gray Owl
I had tried to find this bird in the Sax-Zim Bog twice in the last few weeks with no luck. I also missed them along the North Shore in February. To have six in one day was thrilling! This is one bird that I never get tired of seeing.

We ended up seeing a Snowy Owl in Aitkin as well.

When we finally made it back to the cities, at 7:30pm, a full 7.5 hours after finding the injured Hawk Owl, I was curious if the bird survived the trip. I lifted the sleeve of my jacket that revealed the head of the Hawk Owl. It's eyes were closed. I gently pet it on the head with one finger but there was no movement. However, it appeared the bird was still alive and we thought we could see the bird breathing.

I took it into my apartment hoping it could hang on just a little longer until the Raptor Center rehab person could come and pick it up. I wasn't ready for what happened next. The bird sprung to life, fought its way out of my jacket and almost out of the bag it was in. I was able to gently grab it before it went wild around the apartment. It was alive and feisty!

The Raptor Center sent a man to pick it up from my apartment and he was in shock that we actually did have a Northern Hawk Owl (I think he was skeptical at first). Besides the swollen eye and a little blood on the face, the bird seemed to be okay. I'll be checking on the bird tomorrow and will keep my fingers crossed that it is able to recover!

This was my last day to go birding in Minnesota before leaving for the year and I certainly made the most of it. Great Gray Owl and King Eider were new photo birds for the year. Check back soon for more updates! There will be a lot of updates in the coming weeks!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ross's Gull Fun!

In the ABA Area, Ross's Gulls are usually only seen in Alaska... and usually in Barrow (with a few exceptions). However, once in a while a stray bird will venture too far south, much to the delight of any birders close enough to make the chase. For over a week a Ross's Gull has graced Lake Red Rock in Iowa. On Saturday, I had the pleasure of making the chase from Minneapolis with two local birders.

We arrived on site to find that the lake was frozen. This was not good news. After waking at 3am and making a 4.5 hour drive, this is not what any of us wanted to see. The area where the bird had been reliable was almost completely ice, although a few backlit gulls were painfully far away. While some birders tried to make any small, distant, backlit gull into a Ross's, we soon realized we were going to need a different strategy. We positioned ourselves in a situation with better light, but the majority of birds were still distant. We moved to the dam where there were pockets of open water. However, there were no birders here. Clearly this was going to be our best bet as we could actually identify birds with the light at our back. But where were all those other birders that left the first site?

Within 5 minutes of setting up our scopes, an eagle flew over and spooked the gulls enough to entice them to take flight. I watched a small flock of Bonaparte's Gulls in flight and, with them, the unmistakable Ross's Gull! The other birders from the Twin Cities were able to get on it as well and we all enjoyed seeing the bird.

There was one problem, though. While I was as happy as anyone to see this bird (not a life bird, but you can never see too many Ross's Gulls!), the bird was very distant. While scope views of the bird in flight were nice, it was clear that obtaining an identifiable picture was going to be a chore. I tried digiscoping the bird when it would sit on the water or ice, but, even with my scope jacked up to 60x, my digiscoping camera batter quickly died in the single digit temps. I was left with my SLR and 400mm lens. Every time the bird took flight I rattled off as many pictures as I could (after finding the bird in the viewfinder. At these distances, even that was a hassle). Right before we needed to leave, the bird flew in closer than it had before and, again, I rattled off a dozen or so pictures.

Imagine my surprise when a series of three photos, while absolutely horrible, actually are identifiable as a Ross's Gull!

Ross's Gull
 In the above photo, you can see the gray underwing, pinkish hue on the body and a wedge-shaped tail.

Ross's Gull
In this photo, the tail shape is even more evident.

Ross's Gull
While I would have loved this bird to come closer, I'll take what I got considering I thought I had failed.

I'm now super busy with finals and grad school things. I do still have a couple birds I want to track down in Minnesota before I leave, so keep an eye out for another blog post. I'll likely get out at least once or twice this week/weekend to break up all the studying I'll be doing!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving- Family and Birds

For Thanksgiving, I made the drive from Minneapolis to Lansing, MI to spend some time with family. Although my stay was short, I certainly made the most of it. After spending Thanksgiving day with the family, I got relatively little sleep before heading for Holland State Park and Muskegon on the shore of Lake Michigan. My dad and I left Lansing early on Friday and got to Holland State Park just after sunrise. A friend, Rick Brigham, met us there. While we didn't see the Little Gull I was hoping for, we did see a couple Red-throated Loons, a fly-over Rough-legged Hawk, flocks of White-winged Scoters and Tundra Swans. Not a bad way to start the morning.

We then drove an hour north to Pere Marquette Park in Muskegon County. While there were no recent reports from the area, I always make a point to bird this county. Between Pere Marquette and the Wastewater, good birds can pop up at any moment. Once we got to Pere Marquette we started walking the breakwall. This breakwall is famous for hosting Purple Sandpipers every winter, but none had been reported for the past few weeks. However, it wasn't long before I spotted a shorebird working the rocks. Sure enough, Purple Sandpiper. The birds found here are notorious for being very obliging, and this one was no different.

Purple Sandpiper
We continued along the breakwall and scanned the north breakwall where we had our first two Snowy Owls for the day. On the way back, we had an adult Iceland Gull on the beach with the rest of the gull flock.

On to the wastewater were we quickly had another Iceland Gull. This one allowed better pictures and closer approach.

Iceland Gull
We accidentally flushed another Snowy Owl along the dikes, had a few flyover Snow Geese and a Peregrine Falcon. At the dump we had good gulling: 2 Great Black-backed Gulls, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 Thayer's Gull and at least 1 Glaucous Gull.

Thayer's Gull

We dawdled until sunset and we hoped to find Short-eared Owls. We had to wait until after sunset when it was quite dark for the birds to appear. Two Short-eared Owls put on a show for the last bit of remaining light. At this point, it was nearly impossible to get a photo, but that didn't stop me from trying. I managed one identifiable picture of the bird. Pulling this off was nothing short of a miracle. I'm not proud of the picture, but I'll count it!

Short-eared Owl
Three new photo birds in one day this far into the year is outstanding! Especially when I had no idea that these birds were around.

The next day I went with my uncle to Cleveland. Little Gulls were basically a given and a Red Phalarope was sticking around. We got there to find a mass of birders enjoying the Red Phalarope. Unfortunately, the bird has a broken leg. It was feeding and pooping and able to fly and it couldn't have been more cooperative. The bird was within spitting distance!

Red Phalarope
We worked the Bonaparte's Gull flocks all day but still couldn't come up with a Little Gull. We were on a time crunch and as we were already half-way back home, I got a text that a Little Gull had been found. Bummer! Fortunately, I still have time to get that bird for the year.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! With less than a  month left in the year, I'll be frantically trying to find new birds when school isn't consuming my life. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sax-Zim Bog Letdown

All of the recent Great Gray Owl sightings at the Sax-Zim Bog persuaded me to take a drive on Sunday (11/24). I spent 5 hours in the afternoon/evening searching for the reported Great Grays without luck. I'm sure they are still around, but they were hiding, and doing it quite well. Therefore, no new photo birds this weekend. I did see a porcupine, a sight I don't often see. I'll be heading back to Michigan for the Thanksgiving break where I'll search for Little Gulls, Short-eared Owls, Long-eared Owls and anything else that might show up. If that Red Phalarope sticks around in Ohio, perhaps I'll make the drive. Hoping for a few new ones by the end of the week!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Two weeks is too long. +2

On this dark and wet day in Minneapolis, I didn't wake early to go birding. Instead I slept in, had a great breakfast, and by 1pm was ready to go look at birds. It had been a full two weeks since my last time even picking up binoculars. To put this in perspective, the last time I had gone two weeks without birding was over 7 years ago!

Since there was a recent eBird report of 6 Gray Partridge south of the cities by only 45 minutes, I thought I'd go explore the area. I've looked for Gray Partridge only once or twice before, so calling them a "nemesis" bird isn't appropriate. More like a much overdue lifer. When we got to the location, the Great Western Industrial Park near Randolph, MN, it was dark and rainy... the exact opposite of what you want for taking pictures. To make matters worse, Gray Partridge are notoriously tough to find without snow (and even when there IS snow), and are often seen only in flight. Even if we did find them, I knew getting photos would be tough.

We walked the area where the Partridge were described from for a while, soaking our feet and pants, but no luck. As I turned to head back to the car, 5 birds flushed away from me. Gray Partridge! I rattled off a few pictures but, shooting at ISO 3200 against a dark sky isn't ideal. The photos leave much to be desired. Luckily, we saw where they landed. This time, when they flushed, there was a slightly better background. While these pictures may be the worst identifiable photos of Gray Partridge that exist, they are still identifiable.

Gray Partridge
Notice the rufous in the tail of both birds, and the rufous face, barely visible, on the top bird. No other game bird in North America will show these features. While Chukar have rufous in the tail, they lack the rufous face and are gray overall. I just barely pulled this off!

We decided to check Lake Byllesby. On the way, two male Ring-necked Pheasants were feeding along side the road. This is always a tough bird for me to SEE, so I was happy to have two very cooperative birds.

Ring-necked Pheasants
While the pictures today are far less than great, I'll take them given the conditions. Two new game birds for the year, and a long overdue lifer! New photo birds continue to get harder and harder to find. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 15, 2013

No Birding = No Birds

Apologies for my lack of posts lately. But, since my trip to Hawk Ridge almost 2 weeks ago, I haven't been out... at all. Its horrible. I've been very bogged down with school the past two weeks. However, I plan to get out once this weekend and once next weekend in hopes of cleaning up a few more birds while the weather is nice. Then, over Thanksgiving break, I'll have 2 full days to go birding in Michigan. So, hang in there. More birds will be coming soon. I promise.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hawk Ridge and Duluth

I visited Hawk Ridge on 11/2 with one goal in mind; photographing a Northern Goshawk. When we arrived at 930am, there were Rough-legged Hawks and Bald Eagles already moving. A nice start. After an hour or so, a very pale Red-tailed Hawk soared right over us, in view for long enough to study the field marks, take pictures, and conclude we had just seen a Krider's Red-tailed fly by. In talking with the official counters, it sounds like maybe 1-2 are seen every fall. This was my first Krider's ever! While the Krider's was still in sight, a Northern Goshawk also started heading our way. It never came close, but it did come close enough for a few distant, identifiable pictures.

Krider's Red-tailed Hawk
Northern Goshawk
We left before noon and ventured to Wisconsin Point for some gulling. When I was an undergrad at Northern Michigan University, I spent 4 years gulling in the harbors just about daily. It became an addiction. Lately, I haven't been able to get my fix as I've lived too far from good gulling locations. Now, with Wisconsin Point only 2.5 hours away, I will be going more frequently. On my last visit a couple weekends ago we had Thayer's, Great Black-backed, Sabine's, Herring and Ring-billed Gulls. I was hoping for Iceland Gull this trip, but no such luck. I did spot what I believe to be a 2nd cycle Thayer's, an age class I don't see many of. At some angles, the primaries looked lighter than others. Here they look pretty dark. If someone wanted to argue "intermediate" between Thayer's and Iceland for this gull, I wouldn't argue back. A beautiful gull, though!

2nd cycle Thayer's Gull

We also had a very snazzy Western Grebe on the Minnesota side of the line. This was a full-on Western with no signs of intermediate or hybrid characteristics and one of the nicer ones I've seen on the Great Lakes.

 I still am managing to find new photo birds, one by one.

Next weekend, I may target Ring-necked Pheasant or Great Gray Owl. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Boreal Weekend

This past weekend I ventured into northern Minnesota, leaving very early on Saturday morning. I first stopped at the Sax-Zim bog. Battling snow squall after snow squall, I finally made it just after sunrise. Given the conditions, it was still overly dark. Almost immediately after getting into the bog, a Snow Bunting jumped up from in front of the car, landing back on the road. I got out and did what I could to photograph this bird in dismal conditions.

Snow Bunting
I continued down the road and it wasn't long before I ran into another of my targets; 2 Ruffed Grouse were feeding along the road. A quick look in my rear-view mirror revealed another car coming up behind me. I pulled over as quickly as I could scrambling to get a few shots off before the other car flushed the birds. Not cool...

Ruffed Grouse
These two were easy... easier than I anticipated. Feeling productive, I drove the roads again looking for Great Gray Owls. One had been reported in the area 9 days ago, but I couldn't find it.

After finishing the Sax-Zim Bog, I took a drive to Hawk Ridge. I made a quick stop at Page Pond, west of Hawk Ridge, to look for the Winter Wren that was reported from there on eBird. It only took me a matter of minutes before this Winter Wren came in to investigate some pishing.

Winter Wren
At Hawk Ridge, I saw one Northern Goshawk but failed to photograph it. I'll be going back soon for another try. I didn't stay long as I wanted to get further north. My destination was the Pagami Creek Burn near Isabella Lake.

On my way to the burn I had a Spruce Grouse fly right in front of me. I pulled over and started investigating the trees where it looked like it landed. I couldn't see it, but it started making some growling sounds at me and then flew off further into the boreal. Yet another bird I'll have to track down later.

Shortly after the Grouse incident, while driving on Tomahawk Road leading to the burn, I found this Northern Hawk Owl. It was content hunting from alongside the road and didn't mind me at all. Unfortunately, the light was tough and I couldn't get a great picture. This was the highlight of the trip, and it wasn't even a new photo bird for the year!

Northern Hawk Owl
I was able to poke around the burn for about an hour before dark. I found 3 Black-backed Woodpeckers but no American Three-toed Woodpeckers. I found a nice place to camp and called it a night.

On Sunday (10/20), I woke at sunrise and spent 3 hours in the burn. Again, I failed to find any American Three-toed Woodpeckers but came up with at least 7 Black-backed Woodpeckers and tons of sparrows.

It was getting time for me to make the long drive back to St. Paul, but I wanted to make one more stop at Wisconsin Point/ Superior Entry to look for the Thayer's Gulls that were being reported. Luckily I arrived just as another group of birders started throwing moldy bread to the gulls. It wasn't long before an adult Thayer's joined the crowd.

Thayer's Gull
Thayer's Gull
Shortly after the Thayer's excitement, a juvenile Sabine's Gull showed up. What a great way to end the weekend! When I see this bird on one of the Great Lakes, it is usually very distant and through a scope. This one almost came too close!

Sabine's Gull
This was an excellent weekend! I added 5 new photo birds for the year, missed a few that I will have to track down later, had some unexpected sightings and got to explore some new areas in the state.