Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Northern Minnesota--Gunflint Trail and Lake County

It is Wednesday morning and I am just back from another pass thru Sax-Zim bog. The bobolink above was one of this morning's few highlight birds (click on photo to enlarge). It was overcast, cool and not as active as last Saturday morning when I birded there. This time I did not even hear a connecticut warbler singing. I also stopped to check a black-backed woodpecker site from this past winter to discover that it had been logged since then. But I am ahead of myself.

After birding Sax-Zim last Saturday, my family headed up route 61 to Grand Marais, and then took the Gunflint Trail (Cook county rd 12) up to the Gunflint Lodge on Gunflint lake. We stayed there Sunday and Monday nites. We had a nice cabin with an indoor hot tub and a large sauna. Gunflint lake is 1 mile wide and 7 miles long. The other side of the lake is Canada.

The sunset Sunday evening was quite nice and included several common loons calling. Monday morning I was out at 4:45 in the mist to hunt for a black-backed woodpecker in the burn area near the lodge. It was a very nice early morning of birding even tho I did not see any woodpeckers, and only heard the rapping of one far off in the distance. I did see a few mourning warblers along with various species of flycatchers, and white-throated sparrows. I heard a couple of winter wrens singing.

After lunch the sun came out, so we took 2 canoes out onto the lake. It was a bit windy, but not so much so that it made the paddling difficult. We crossed the lake and stood briefly on Canadian soil/rock. My 28 year old son and 20 year old daughter even took a short swim. After a couple of hours of paddling around we returned to the dock.

Yesterday we began our trip back to Duluth about 10 AM. I had birded the same burn area early but again saw no woodpeckers, but heard a pileated woodpecker calling in the distance. The sun came out briefly on our drive back down the Gunflint trail, but at Grand Marais on Lake Superior it clouded up, and rained on us off and on as we drove to Duluth.

We had a late lunch at the Lake Avenue Cafe in Duluth. The deconstructed fish and chips proved to be a big winner. Sauteed Lake Superior whitefish laid on top of cole slaw with small tempura batter pieces and roasted potatoes on the side. The 2008 torrontes--a white wine from Argentina that is becoming pretty popular--was an excellent match for our fish.

Our children departed for Minneapolis soon after our meal, and I got back in the truck to drive up to an area above Two Harbors in Lake county to search for a great gray owl. I missed finding this bird back in January, and 1 had been seen in this area last week. I arrived at the reported site about 7:45 PM and began my stake-out. Unfortunately it was raining some, but not so much that it was a problem. I soon saw a owl fly down from a perch. It did not seem like a great gray, and sure enough when it returned to its perch I could see that it was a northern hawk owl which are pretty rare in this area in the summer. I saw several back in January. It hung around for about 15 minutes before disappearing.

By 9:30 it was almost dark, so I headed back to Duluth without having seen a great gray. I did flush several woodcock off the dirt road as I drove home. I also had a short eared owl fly down out of a boggy area, and land on the side of the road. This was also a bit surprising since this owl tends to move up towards the Canadian border and more to the west in Minnesota for the summer. I was pleased since this is a new year bird.

The week's count of new birds seen is now 78, and the YTD is up to 613. We are going over to the Mcgregor marsh area and Aitkin county this evening to try again for the great gray owl. Stay tuned!

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