Monthly Archives: June 2012

Rare Bird Alert!

I woke up at 4am this morning, so that I could be at the Sax-Zim bog at dawn.

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Sax-Zim bog is one of the coolest places to bird in Minnesota.  It is a spruce bog in St. Louis County, and home to many special birds that are hard to find anywhere else.  I had a very enjoyable morning, tromping around in the bog.  My best birds were Sharp-tailed Grouse, Connecticut Warbler, and Dickcissel.  The warbler was tough – I had to go deep into the bog (which required a complete change of clothes later, and 2 hrs with a hair dryer making my only pair of shoes wearable again – but it was totally worth it.  There were many amazing plants in the bog too – but unfortunately my botanical knowledge is next to zero.  I did take a picture of some cool bog flowers.

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I did stumble across a few rare birds today.  “Rare” has all kinds of meanings to a birder, depending on the context.  Whopping Cranes and Kirtland’s Warblers are rare because there just aren’t very many of them left.  The global population of Whopping Cranes is probably a few hundred individuals.  They are critically endangered.  So in that sense, they are “rare birds” – but it’s not too hard to see one if you go to Aransas NWR in Texas in the winter.  Connecticut Warblers are not critically endangered, but their population is not that big, and they only live in pretty inaccessible places.  It’s maybe the third-hardest warbler to see in the US (of the 50+ species that breed here regularly).  Other birds are common in some parts of the world, but just not here in the United States.  Rufous-capped Warbler is a really rare bird for the USA, but go a couple hundred miles south and they are everywhere.  I saw them almost every day in Costa Rica a few years ago.  And then there are the rare birds that are common in places in the US, but just not exactly where you are right now.  For example, the Dickcissels that I saw today in the bog are abundant over much of the midwest right now, but they rarely range this far north.  I could only find one record online for Dickcissel in Sax-Zim bog, and that was from 1991.  So this was my “rarest bird” of the day.  I took a snapshot by holding my point & shoot camera up to my spotting telescope:

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The quality isn’t great, but it’s recognizable.  It’s helpful to document rare birds with photos if you are able.  I have a “real” camera and lens set to shoot birds, but I didn’t bring it on this trip because it is really big and heavy.  

Tonight I spent an hour at McGregor Marsh after dark listening to Yellow Rails.  One was click-clicking away, calling out to his fellow rails (and the fireflies and the stars).  Time for bed…

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To the Great North Woods

Every story begins somewhere, and the story of my really big year begins in Minnesota.  Actually, it really began months and months ago in Seattle, but that’s for another post.  I arrived on Wednesday in the Twin Cities, secured a rental car, and began to drive north.  I’ve spent the last two days exploring northeastern Minnesota, along the shores of Lake Superior, and inland on the Gunflint Trail.  So far, things have been going well.  We’ve had a fair bit of rain, but so far I have managed to dodge most of the showers.

Grand Marais is a scenic little tourist trap a couple dozen miles south of the Canadian border.  It has a lovely little harbor.

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And a pie shop/cafe.  Guess where I ate lunch?

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Birding has been great!  I haven’t tallyed up my species count yet, but I’m probably somewhere near 100 or so.  Best birds so far are Black-throated Blue Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and Mourning Warbler.  I love me some warblers.  Favorite spot so far: Tettegouche State Park, NW of Silver Bay.  Below are some pics of Tettegouche and the wildlife there:

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That’s all for now, since I’m getting up tomorrow at 4am (I want to be at the Sax-Zim bog when it gets light at 4:45!).

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