On February 7, a day that a great many Americans will spend glued to their television sets watching a flying pigskin, I’ll be out in the Northwoods, searching for a creature fully capable of flying but usually rooted to a branch for the day. I noticed way back in the 1980s or 90s that you just needed to move one letter to the left to convert Super Bowl Sunday to Superb Owl Sunday. Ever since, I've wanted to see at least one owl that day every year. I haven’t always been able to break away from whatever else I was doing, but when I have gone searching, the only time I was skunked completely was when I was out with KUMD’s Lisa Johnson. It’s not that she doesn’t have good owl karma—she’s seen and photographed her share of owls now, but never with me. Whatever good karma we each have apparently cancels each other's out.
At the end of 2012, my 93-year-old mother-in-law, who had dementia and was starting to have more and more physical problems as well, moved in with us after I’d already made plans to do a Big Year in 2013. That meant I had to scale back my plans for both financial and logistical reasons, cutting out any possibility of getting to Alaska or even anywhere in Canada, and seriously shortening the length and number of my trips for the year. Even sadder, suddenly it was going to be impossible for Russ to travel with me—one of us had to be home every night, and we couldn’t ever both be gone for more than a few hours. The only time that whole year that Russ went with me on a birding adventure was on Superb Owl Sunday. We didn’t have time to go to the bog, but decided we could at least break away for two or three hours to see what we could see in Two Harbors.
So we headed up there at mid-morning. Along Highway 61, I spotted a couple of clusters of birders photographing what had to be Boreal Owls—we were in the midst of a short irruption—but I figured I’d be happiest finding my own owl, so we went on to my favorite owl spot, along a little alley in Two Harbors, with houses on one side and a nice wooded ravine on the other. We had just stepped out of the car and were starting to walk when a Two Harbors birder, Jim Lind, spotted me and charged down to tell us there was a Saw-whet Owl a couple blocks away in someone’s backyard. He gave us directions, but then we started chatting—this was the first time he’d met Russ. We’d been talking for five or so minutes when Jim looked up and WHOA! There was a Boreal Owl right there, just 18 feet away in perfect light!
I took lots of photos, including some when it caught a shrew, and then Russ and I went on to see the saw-whet, too. That was one truly Superb Owl Sunday.
The last two years, we went to the bog. In 2019, at the bog we saw and photographed a very distant Snowy Owl...
...and a not-much-closer Northern Hawk Owl.
I also got some very lovely photos of a Great Gray Owl...
...and a Barred Owl.
It was a great day to be out—I also got my best photos ever of White-winged Crossbills...
...and one very photogenic Ruffed Grouse.
Last year wasn’t quite so good. We’d seen a poor, doomed Barn Owl on January 12—that was our first venture out after my heart attack January 3.
Russ also took the morning off on Friday, February 21, when we saw a Boreal Owl roosting in the sun as it watched the activity at the Admiral Road feeders.
But on last year's actual Superb Owl Sunday, we saw only a single owl, a Barred, which gave me at least a wonderful a photo op.
We’re expecting a cold weekend this year, with Sunday’s temperatures supposed to be starting out around 20 below zero—the high is only supposed to be minus 5. We didn’t used to wimp out with cold temperatures, but it’s scarier during a pandemic, because we wouldn’t want to trouble anyone if we had car troubles. So we’re going to do what we did way back in 2013, just go birding up the shore as far as Two Harbors. Owls aren’t guaranteed anywhere, even on Superb Owl Sunday, but regardless, whatever we see, getting out for a few hours of birding together will definitely make it one Superb Sunday.