Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Pathological Moseyers Visit the Bog

Gray Jay
Gray Jay
I was in Colorado this month during the annual Sax-Zim Bog Birding Festival. It’s sad when even a lovely conflict makes me miss the wonderful local event, so on Saturday I headed to the bog with my little birding dog Pip and my friend Lisa.

Electric Puppy (photo by Lisa Johnson)
Earlier in the week, the forecast had called for snow on Friday, but that didn’t pan out. The 7-degree temperature and high winds made it a little unpleasant putting gas in my car first thing in the morning, but clear roads and glorious sunny skies in the bog made up for that.

If I had a rock band, I'd call us the Pathological Moseyers. I don't like rushing from place to place, or bird to bird. Even when covering a lot of ground, as we did on Saturday, I like to take my time, driving slowly and staying at birdy spots longer than more acquisitive birders enjoy.


We saw a few crows and ravens on our way into the bog, but our first exciting sighting of the morning wasn’t a bird at all but two coyotes, crossing the road together and then splitting up. They weren’t close, but were curious enough about us to stop and look—Lisa and I both got photos. There’s genuine magic in seeing coyotes or wolves. We of course stayed in the car—my little dog Pip didn’t pay much attention.


As we approached Correction Line Road, we watched for and found 8 displaying Sharp-tailed Grouse way in from the road on their lek, too far for photos. We didn’t see the pheasant that’s been reported in the same area, nor did we see any of the Wild Turkeys hanging out in the bog recently, nor any Ruffed Grouse which are ostensibly there all the time, and which Lisa was specifically hungry to see. But I was happy with the Sharp-tails, even from so very far away.

This year, owls have been few and far between—not one Northern Hawk Owl has been reported from the bog all season. We watched for owls as we worked our way to the Sax-Zim Bog Visitors Center to check out the feeders. We got skunked on owls for the day, but did see some spectacular Rough-legged Hawks. We didn’t spot any magpies this time, and saw more Bald Eagles on our way back to Duluth than we found in the bog.

Common Redpoll
Common Redpoll
A couple of distant Gray Jays were hanging out near the Visitor Center feeders, and Pine Siskins were wonderfully abundant, making their exuberant chattering sounds, punctuated with their zippy rising song—I’ve been hearing that a lot in my own yard, too. In my own yard I’ve been seeing a handful of American Goldfinches, which I didn’t find in the bog, but did find some Common Redpolls hanging out with the siskins at the Visitors Center feeders.
Gray Jay
Gray Jay
At the feeding station on Admiral Road, two Gray Jays posed for lots of close-up photos. Boreal Chickadees have been exceptionally hard to find this season, and sure enough, we didn’t see any. But I got some wonderful Black-capped Chickadee photos at the Admiral Road feeders.

Black-capped Chickadee

Lisa was positioned in the car perfectly to get nice Red-breasted Nuthatch pictures out her window—I missed that opportunity, but was fine focusing on Red Squirrels instead.

Red Squirrel

My total of 15 species for the morning seems rather paltry, but the quality of the experiences more than made up for the low number. We birders try to set up situations to maximize the variety and the number of birds we see, but the joy comes from individual encounters, which no abstract number can truly summarize. Even if it were the only thing I saw all day, the sparkle in a Black-capped Chickadee’s eye fills me with joy that lasts.

Robert Frost took that same deep pleasure in simple bird encounters.

Dust of Snow  
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree   
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.