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Spring In Sax Zim Bog

Boy!  I needed yesterday.  I got one last look at a rough-legged hawk before they head north to their breeding grounds.

When Non Birding Bill opened his show MacBeth: The Video Game Remix, we engaged in the traditional opening night party after wards.  When I woke up the following Monday morning, I wasn’t sure if my body was having a bad reaction to my first long bike ride after winter, I was slightly hungover or coming down with a cold or flu.  By the afternoon, it was obvious that I was getting sick.  I hoped it would be mild, I had a busy weekend ahead with work and a friend from Michigan was coming to town and requested a Birds and Beers on Saturday night and a trip to Sax Zim Bog on Sunday.  I sensibly spent the rest of the week sleeping, watching movies and eating lots of spicy food.  Saturday I felt okay and had a terrific time at Merlin’s Rest (so good that between it and Daylight Savings Time I managed only 3 hours sleep before leaving for the bog).

It was such a perfect day at the bog–mostly sunny, blue skies, a few colorful clouds, temperatures in the fifties and most of the snow melted.  The sun brought out the color of the bark on the dogwood, grasses and pussy willow.  I also had excellent company in the form of BlobbyBirdMan (aka Mark). I wondered if we’d see many sunny signs of spring and we did.  Above you might notice a dark lump in a distant bare tree.  That was Blobby’s lifer porcupine.

I tried to digiscope it as a souvenir for him but the porcupine appeared to be rather lethargic or doing his best impersonation of a sloth.  We hoped we would hear ruffed grouse drumming and we did.  It was distant, so we walked into the bog a bit, we found a log and sat for a long stretch to listen.  About every ten minutes we would hear the tentative drum beating and then accelerate.  I’ve always thought it more of a sound that you feel inside your rather than hear.  Mark described it as more of a heart beat type sound.  After being sick all week, I treasure the time spent on a log with no talking and natural sounds (periodically broken up by the sound of a distant train or surprisingly close ATV).

I did get off with a rather dubious start.  The first bird I stopped our car for ended up being a starling.  But not long after that, I stopped at a spot that looked good for black-backed and three-toed woodpeckers.  As soon as I turned the engine off in my car, I heard soft tapping and it wasn’t long before Mark got his lifer black-backed woodpecker.  We also had a small flock of boreal chickadees show up too.

One of Mark’s target birds was a bohemian waxwing and we saw several flocks.  What was interesting was the very different attitude the birds had compared to last November when winter was just getting underway.  Back then they were in large flocks and the birds stayed close together calling with a bit of urgency.  The flocks we saw yesterday were very loose and calling but with an easy going frequency.

Some of them even appeared to be setting up pairs.  The really exciting thing was the the waxwings weren’t eating berries but jumping out into the blue and catching insects!  It’s warm enough for insects!  Whoot!  That was also confirmed on the drive home when several large bugs left tacky yellow smudges on my windshield.

There were still good numbers of pine siskins about but we didn’t see much in the way of grosbeaks or redpolls.  Some of the feeders were coming down in the bog too.  The feeders on Blue Spruce road were missing.  The home owners said that the pole came down during the melt and broke all the feeders.  I asked if they needed some new ones.  I figured birders would be willing to donate some since so many of us enjoy the feeders.  They said that they get plenty of donations and that they would put them up again next fall.

The feeders on Admiral Road were still going only now instead of a big old hunk of deer carcass, there’s an actual bird feeder and suet cages.  I heard that there had been some complaints from residents in the bog that the deer carcass would attract wolves.  I think wolves are in the bog whether deer carcasses are hung or not–I actually saw one there a few years ago crossing the railroad tracks.  But if the locals will allow feeders for public enjoyment as long as it’s not a deer rib cage, that’s a reasonable compromise. It’s really nice that there are people willing to maintain public bird feeders in the bog.  I know some mornings I don’t always want to fill the feeder out the window.

We saw mostly red-breasted nuthatches and black-capped chickadees at the feeder.  Some blue jays and some grays also flew in.  Red-breasted nuthatches were definitely pairing up.  Look at the female red-breasted nuthatch above.  By that swollen little cloaca, I’d say she’s in them mood for some mating.

Speaking of mating, Mark spied a distant northern hawk owl and when we pulled over, we briefly saw a larger one beneath it mantling.  The larger hawk owl dove lower into the trees and I wondered if we caught the tail end of a food pass between a male and female northern hawk owl?  The smaller of the two continued his watch for prey from the tops of snags.  We heard a bit of vocalization which is called the “scree yip” on the Cornell Owl CD.  It can be used as either an alert to an intruder or during food pass.  We were way too far out on the road to be causing it, so perhaps it was related to food passing.  I hope they stay and raise a few chicks.

At another stop, we heard a woodpecker quietly working away at some bark and I hoped it would be a three-toed for Mark, I’ve seen them here before.  Alas, it ended up being a hairy woodpecker, but I loved that it gave an excuse to sneak and see the green of the bog.  When you look from the outside along the road, it looks like such a dark and foreboding place and inside the light filtered through the trees is a shady green.

The spongy green floor looked to tempting.  I wanted to take off my jacket and lay there for hours, feeling the cool of the green and enjoying the warm air.  It almost seemed to say, “Sharon, winter is over for sure, spring and summer is definite in its arrival.” But I’m not falling for that siren’s song.  It’s too early in March for me to believe that we will have no more snow.  I thought I would take an alternate route on the way home to try for a few species we missed.  My navigational system and Google Maps took me to Great River Road.  When we were about 6 miles from our destination, we saw an orange sign that read road work was ahead and there was suddenly no pavement.  I went a few miles and felt the shifting mud from the melted snow get more unpredictable and said, “I’m not so confident about this road…”

Famous last words!  I swerved to the right side and was properly lodged into some mud.  DOH!  As I started to figure out how to explain my location to AAA, Mark walked to a neighbor who confirmed we were still on the Great River Road and that he’s now so house bound, his neighbor down the way has to fetch his mail and drive him to town, his driveway is a mud trap.  Mark thought it would be faster to look for this neighbor.  We went about a quarter of a mile and their first sing of humans we passed was an old cemetery.  I was beginning to worry this was going into urban legend territory and learn that this man hasn’t had any neighbors for 30 years.  Another half mile we found the neighbor who kindly offered to dislodge my Kia with his truck and gave us a route that would be on higher and drier ground. I owe him a big box of chocolates.

We made it out of the mud before sunset and on our way out we were rewarded with a very close northern hawk owl.  It was too dark for digiscoping, but I got a quick photo with my blackberry.  All and all it was a great adventure to cap off a week of being sick.

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