Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Saturday, February 5, 2022

It's All Good

Bohemian Waxwing

I spent January 29 birding with my good friend Erik Bruhnke. I always plan out a birding adventure by thinking of birds I hope to see. I’ve been hearing lots about Bohemian Waxwings and love seeing them, so I set them as my main goal of the day.   

Erik and I made plans to start out at 5:30 so at first light we’d be at the Sand River, way north of Two Harbors, where people have been seeing Spruce Grouse. Then we’d work our way up to Ely where Bohemian Waxwings hang out in the town’s many fruit trees, and then on across to the Sax-Zim Bog. Waxwings would be possible there, too, but our best chance would be Ely.   

This wasn’t strictly a birding day for Erik—he had to check out restaurants and restroom facilities ahead of a birding tour he’d be leading a few days later, so we couldn’t dawdle the way I do when I’m birding alone. That was fine with me. As Erik always says, “It’s all good.”    

Our plans went awry before we even started—due to unforeseen circumstances, we left much later than we’d planned. It was still darkish but the sun would rise well before we got to the Spruce Grouse spot, lowering our chances of seeing any. So we decided to reverse our plans, starting out at the Bog. No big deal—as Erik says, it’s all good.   

Snowy Owl

And it was good! Our first cool bird of the day was a Snowy Owl on a power pole on Highway 7. Then we worked our way to the Fringed Gentian Bog, a good place to see feeder birds and the best spot to see a snowshoe hare—one has been hanging out around the boardwalk there. I’ve yet to photograph one of those in winter, so I was particularly excited about that prospect. There were a lot of redpolls there, a few Pine Grosbeaks, and the usual chickadees and nuthatches, but we missed the snowshoe hare—an excellent reason for me to return soon. 

Common Redpoll

Erik called out a magpie in time for me to just barely catch it as it flew out of sight beyond the trees. No photos, but even a split second with a magpie is wondrous. As Erik says, it’s all good.   

Next we headed to the feeders on Admiral Road. That used to be the best spot in the bog to see Boreal Chickadees, but they’re not showing up there this year. Erik and I didn’t get to the Welcome Center where Boreal Chickadees have been easy this year, but I got some nice photos a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll head to the Welcome Center again next time I’m at the bog. 

Boreal Chickadee

We did see four Canada Jays which is always exciting.

Canada Jay   

Next we headed to the feeders on McDavitt Road, where 60 Evening Grosbeaks were a sight for sore eyes. I’ve seen them there before this year, but I can never get enough of them. We also had a small flock at Mary Lou’s feeders in the northwest corner of the bog’s birding map. That’s also where we had a delightful flock of Wild Turkeys, including a few of the pale, “smoke,” plumage variant. These were my first turkeys of 2022. As Erik says, it’s all good.   

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

In recent weeks, lots of people have been seeing Great Gray Owls here and there, but Erik and I didn’t spot any. I still need to see that one for the year, but 2022 still has a long way to go. As we headed out of the bog, we got an even better look at our first Snowy Owl of the day. As Erik says, it’s all good.  

We got to Ely later than we’d wanted, and later than the Bohemian Waxwings come each day to a good stand of fruit trees. Erik had to check out a couple of restaurants, and then we drove around town, looking for and scrutinizing every fruit tree we could find, but no waxwings.  

We made one stop, on Spruce Road, on our way down to Two Harbors, and kept searching for owls, waxwings, and anything else we might see, but it was getting late. Oh, well. My goals for each day aren’t like a child’s list of Christmas wishes from Santa Claus. I was too excited about the three new birds for my year list—a Hoary Redpoll at the Fringed Gentian Bog and both Wild Turkeys and House Sparrows at Mary Lou’s feeders—to feel any disappointment at all.  

Oddly enough, the next morning, while I was working at my desk, something made me go to the window right when a large flock of Bohemian Waxwings was sitting in the maple tree in my front yard. I got two very backlit photos from the window and then rushed outside, but the birds were already taking off. I’m sure I’ll get plenty more photos of them in the coming weeks—they were milling about here and there in Duluth on February 5. The sun behind the Bohemian Waxwings in my pictures gives some of them a soft halo-like aura around hazy, ghostlike bodies. Somehow I couldn’t resist posting one on my website. It won't win any photo contests but, like Erik says, it’s all good.   

Horribly backlit Bohemian Waxwings