Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, December 26, 2021

My 2021 Backyard Birding Highlights

Blue Jay

Although I took two road trips in 2021, I spent the vast majority of the year at home, with a few excursions here and there in and around Duluth. On January 5, I heard a Great Horned Owl calling somewhere near my yard, so when I heard a murder of crows screaming the next day, I was sure that I’d find it roosting. But no, the crows were yelling at a Barred Owl—only the second I’ve ever seen on Peabody Street.  

Barred Owl

On January 17, Steve Kolbe discovered an extraordinary Ancient Murrelet, which belongs on the ocean, on Stoney Point, and word got out fast. Russ came along for that one.  

Ancient Murrelet!

I heard and then saw a Piping Plover on Park Point on May15, but my only glimpse was when it was flying away.  The Great Lakes Piping Plover population has been surging, but dog walkers here feel so entitled to let their dogs run on public beaches even where there are clear and obvious signs stating that dogs are prohibited that I doubt if these splendid birds will ever return to Duluth, much less successfully rear chicks. 

Piping Plover

The next day, a Red-headed Woodpecker turned up in my yard and next door. It didn’t approve of paparazzi so my photos were marginal, but the one I saw at the Western Waterfront Trail on May 29 was more cooperative. 

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

I set out my sound recorder several mornings this spring to capture the dawn chorus. On May 18, when I was going to the back of my yard to bring the recorder in, I heard the first Wood Thrush I’ve ever heard in my yard. So I set my recorder closer to where he was and got a nice 3-minute recording. Tragically I barely got a single glimpse of him, so couldn’t photograph him. That night, though, when I was looking at the day’s trail cam photos of my bird bath, there was photographic proof! In August, I lucked into seeing a Wood Thrush in my daughter’s yard, too, but again, no photos.  

Wood Thrush

Dickcissels are an odd species that ranges south of here—most years, they’re quite common in Iowa. But every now and then, a huge number of them turn up outside their normal range, and this year, we had an influx all over northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. I got a nice recording at the Roy Johnson Wetland in Wisconsin, and plenty of photos there and at the Sax-Zim Bog.  



My main goal when I went birding at the Bog on June 10 was to see a Connecticut Warbler that was hanging out near the road in an easy-to-get-to spot. The bird was amazingly cooperative, but the batteries were dead in my sound recorder. Fortunately the bird was close enough that I got decent recordings with my cell phone as well as photos.

  Connecticut Warbler

Connecticut Warbler

This summer, about a dozen Chukars turned up a half mile or so from my house. This small game bird, the national bird of Pakistan and Iraq, was introduced here and there in the United States by various hunting groups. It’s only established in the West, but is often raised on game farms—this flock obviously escaped from somewhere. My friend Janet who lives near where they were hanging out watched the flock get smaller as the days went on. I saw and photographed one—the first I’d ever seen anywhere—on July 13. It doesn’t count on my lifelist but was still a thrill.  


This fall’s Blue Jay migration over Duluth was astonishing—a total of 59,601were tallied at Hawk Ridge! My backyard was popping with them all season. I love Blue Jays anyway, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to get a photo with 24 of them in my 3x1-foot platform feeder!  

Blue Jays at feeder

Most years, many of these birds would be my Species of the Year, but encounters with four species, three of them fairly common, so transcended anything I’ve ever experienced that I’ll end this splendid year giving each one the special recognition it deserves with its very own blogpost.

Blue Jay