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Northern Birding Trip

Today, we got a small taste of the fun that participants will have at the Sax Zim Bog Bird Festival in the coming weeks! Stan Tekiela and I took a group up for a day birding around the bog and had a great time.

We started at a resident named Derek Morse, who has a feeding station set up one mile north of Co Rd 133 on the Blue Spruce Rd. If you go here on your own, everyone is warning peopl to park in the parking lot and not in the driveway! Above are some common redpolls draining a feeder filled with Nyjer thistle and sunflower chips.

Our group even had a chance to glimpse a hoary redpoll in the above blurry photo. That was the first time I had seen one and there was no question whatsoever to its id. Because this resident is so generous to allow birders from all over to come and watch and photograph birds, a donation box has been set up for donations to contribute to the seed supply. We were happy to contribute to the cause. I remember from when I worked at the bird store–we loved it when redpolls showed up, they can go through see like there’s no tomorrow.

Our groups also got to see loads of pine grosbeaks like this female and male above. Depending on the time of day, people are also seeing boreal chickadees and gray jays at this feeding station. We saw those birds at the bog, but did not see them at this particular feeding station–oh, and early in the morning, you can also have a chance to see evening grosbeaks too. I love how just three hours where I live, you can see just completely different birds at feeding stations–all part of the magic of living in this area of the country.

Our group really enjoyed all the birds and had a great time, but hands down the highlight for me was getting a lifer mammal–a wolf! I have never seen one in the wild, and one loped across the road in front of our van. Above is a very blurry photo that I sadly attempted well after the wolf crossed the road–it’s that blur behind the shrubbery. So, so cool.

We continued our adventure down the bog’s remote roads. We passed many ruffed grouse and white-tailed deer. I watched a grouse take a total nose dive (or would that be a beak dive?). The bird was scooting near the road, when our van came to stop, it froze among the trees, trying to hide, then it tried to do that slow stealthy walk, before finally breaking into an all out run. The ruffed grouse took three strides, then one foot got caught in the snow and it fell face forward–you just don’t see wildlife take a spill like Charlie Chaplin and I felt amused and sorry for the bird all at once.

We continued to Admiral Rd where Mike Hendrickson has been gracious enough to hang some deer rib cages on trees as a sort of industrial sized suet feeder. There was quite a bit of activity near this cage, and someone had also scattered some bird seed near the road to the delight of the area chickadees.

Gray jays also called Whiskey Jacks (and look kind of like a chickadee on steroids) love the the hunk a deer fat on the trees.

This bird almost looked like it was smiling like it was king of the fat as it perched on the deer ribs.

There were also just some deer carcasses on the side of the road. Chickadees were flitting over it, as was this red squirrel who came over for a nibble on the meat. This spot was also full of signs of woodpecker activity. A black-backed woodpecker showed up near the deer rib cage and then flew away.

There was still quite a bit of quiet tapping and very low on the trunks we found a male three-toed woodpecker–who had n incredible knack of positioning itself around a trunk or tucked behind branches.

For a mere few seconds it appeared unobstructed and I did manage on photo of this very cool woodpecker. Incidentally, the weather was perfect–in the twenties and I found myself quite comfortable without gloves and ear muffs–the one advantage of sub zero temperatures, it fools you into thinking that twenty degrees is a reasonable temperature.

We watched the cooperative gray jays for a few more minutes and then pressed on to look for a few more species including northern hawk owl and boreal chickadee.

We headed out to look for the hawk owl and found it, thanks to some birder’s pulled over. Here it is in the distance being mobbed by a couple of gray jays.

It flew in a little closer, but it was getting dark and it’s not the best photo. When we found this bird, it was time for us to head back in order for us to be home by the time scheduled on my itinerary. We still had not seen the boreal chickadee and Stan said he knew of a friend’s house and we could get one but we would be returning late. I had plans for the evening, but we asked the group and no one apart from Stan and myself had ever seen one before and were happy to return late to get one. Well, how could I be the spoil sport, so we went for the boreal chickadee and saw it right away and I’m glad I delayed my evening plans.

16 comments to Northern Birding Trip

  • Amy

    Wow ~ I’m so jealous you got to see all those awesome birds! Thanks for sharing your photos though so I was able to experience it vicariously.

  • Peggy

    It is funny how quickly you get to the point where 20 degrees isn’t that bad. When the temperature drops too far down, it gets too cold to snow. I tried to explain that to my British husband and he just looked at me and blinked.

    That looks like a great day out with the scopes and binoculars! Good birds and other wildlife. Bonus animal: wolf

  • Lynne

    Can you sense my envy? Four of those birds would have been lifers for me. I sure hope they’re still around in two weeks- I’m going to the Sax-Zim Festival. That timber wolf must have been so cool to see.

  • birdchick




    I have no doubt that you will get your life birds at that festival, there are lots of great trip leaders keeping tabs on birds in the area.

    Glad to hear you are still going, I think you’ll have a great time.


    my husband does the same.

  • donaldthebirder

    I went up there during the ’05 owl invasion and I wish I could go back! It was the best birding I have had in a long while. Saw lots of good birds and lifers – see for photos from the ’05 trip.

  • hellziggy

    Lynne: I’m guessing the same four that were lifers for me? The common redpoll, hoary redpoll, gray jay, and boreal chickadee?

    ~other Sharon

  • Lynne

    Hellziggy- I’ve seen Boreal Chickadees but the Pine Grosbeaks would be lifers. I’m glad you guys had such a great trip. I would have loved to join you but someone had to man the blood bank!

  • Patrick Belardo

    WOW! That wolf sighting is something. I wish I had seen one up there in 2005 when I was there. I need to find a 3-Toed Woodpecker… it’s becoming a jinx bird for me.

  • Mike Hendrickson


    On your blog you have a blurry photo of a Hoary Redpoll at the feeder and the photo above is a pretty damn nice photo of a Hoary Redpoll as well (probably the same bird in the blurry photo).

    I did not put the deer rib rack up but the person who did hang is the same guy who scatters seed on various roads in the bog. The guy lives in Hibbing and I met him once.

    Glad you had a good time in the bog.

    Mike H.

  • birdchick

    I’m so confused on hoary redpolls, now the guy in the other photo that’s light looks like it has streaking on its rump and I though that excluded it from being a hoary? The blurry one didn’t have any streaking on its rump (I saw it through binoculars before I took the blurry photo).

    I thought you were the one putting the suet out, my mistake. Whoever is doing it, the birds are lovin’ it.

  • Birding Scott

    You got to see some great birds! But, the pictures alone make me cold. :) Love that owl photo!

  • HellZiggy

    I had a picture of the same group at the feeder ( ) and was going to ask you if the one on the left was a Hoary or a Common until I saw this post where you identified it as Common. Silly birds should just wear nametags!
    ~Other Sharon

  • A Portland Backyard

    Great photos and stories! We really enjoy your blog. Thanks for all your hard work! We would LOVE to see some Common Redpolls. We watch everyday, but so far, no such luck. Thanks again.

  • John S

    Hi Sharon!…I was at the Morris feeders on blue spruce also saturday and saw you and Stan(and the other birders) with the bus!…I was with the other 2 guys taking photos(with my digiscope)…I picked you out of the crowd!…lol!…Stan and the guy with me(Mike Lentz) know each other and have a tour in Iowa for ducks or something in a few weeks)got some beautiful images of the grosbeaks!…I am the “the guy” from Hibbing that has been throwing the seed out on a few of the roads since before christmas(but I didn’t put the deer rib cage on the tree on Admiral road,that’s another guy from Hibbing “Jay M”)….just didn’t want to advertise it that much(you know how it is…lol!)being that I live in Hibbing,I fequent the “bog” almost every weekend…well…every couple of weeks at least…I have been putting seed and blocks on owl avenue(saturday) at a corner site station for a couple years now and seed and on arkola road(deer kill there where I got some magpie photos last week(more suet blocks))…I just want to get some picks of a boreal chickadee!…lol!…haven’t been on mcdavitt road for a few weeks as I’ve been going to the blue spruce road for the grosbeaks…I have an image of the hawk owl on the MOU rare species just put it there a couple weeks ago and the 3 toed woodpecker……I did meet Stan saturday and 3 weeks ago also met Mike Henderickson(owl avenue)…I’ll be around! no doubt in the “bog”…Thanks John Sikkila (Hibbing)….

  • Eva Matthews

    Those are some sweet birds! I would love to see that Hawk Owl. You have done something amazing…you actually make me want to go up to the cold northern states. I am a little scared of snow…and have never seen more than a foot of it for a few days. For now I will enjoy the 70 degree cold days and the brown boobies that show up on random piers.

  • Julie Zickefoose

    This is such a wonderful post. I’d have had three lifers (3-toed, H. redpoll and wolf) on that trip. Your pictures tewtally rawk!! Esp. the woodpecker!! WOW! and the pair of pine grosbeaks. I fear I won’t see one this winter though we’re hearing of them from all over.
    Thanks for the virtual boreal birding trip!