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.
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|
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!