Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Day 20--Spruce Grouse
I made it to Duluth, MN late yesterday afternoon, so no birding yesterday. I was up before 6 AM to make a 75 mile drive up into Lake County which borders Lake Superior and is to the northeast of Duluth. I needed to reach a location about dawn that is known for the regular sightings of spruce grouse. The only other time I came up to Minnesota in the winter was in Feb. of '06 which was what is called an owl irruption or invasion winter.
In 2006 I drove to the top of Lake County Hwy #2 on 3 consecutive mornings looking for the spruce grouse and finally found a group of them right where the bird guides said they should be. This AM I made the trek again. At first it seemed like I was going to come up empty, but then I found a single male close to where I had found the group 3 years ago. This was a big relief because this is a hard bird to find. So now I don't need to make that long drive tomorrow to try again.
On my drive back I stopped in the small town of Two Harbors to see what was about. Back in '06 I had the very good fortune to see a boreal owl here. No owl today, but I thought briefly that I had found a small group of bohemian waxwings, another specialty of northern MN. Instead I found cedar waxwings (picture at the top).
On Thursday I will be going after the great gray owl and the northern hawk owl. The latter is often easier to locate, but the only real shot at finding it is here north of Duluth in the middle of the winter when it comes down out of Canada. The great gray owl also is fairly regular here north of Duluth in the winter, but it can also be seen in the west at places like Yosemite National Park. Both species have been seen in the usual spots already this winter, so I should be able to track them down.
While I was quite happy to see the spruce grouse, I was even happier to run across a small group of white-winged crossbills feeding in a large pine tree. I have not seen this bird since the mid 70's in a snow storm at Plum Island, MA. Overall, I added 14 new birds for the week, and 8 new species for the year. Tomorrow the weather is for temps in the low 30's but no snow or rain. Stay tuned!