Monday, February 8, 2016
The Call of the Wild: A Far North Birding Adventure - Last but not Least
MINNESOTA - THE ROAD HOME
Day 4 and we had the luxury of of later start as this was our last day to focus on any more birding before our flight home that evening. Since we were about 3½ hours from the Minneapolis/St Paul Airport, Josh had made some plans to see what we could find in the direction of the airport. Due to a very nice sighting by Evan the day before of 3 Spruce Grouse near the home of Josh's parents where we were staying, we decided we should at least check it out in the hopes that these birds would show themselves to us as well. As we drove the roads where they had been spotted, we were not having much luck, but Josh thought we might have a better chance being on foot, so he let Tommy and me out of the vehicle while he was going to travel a larger loop in the van. As Tommy and I headed down the road, I turned around to see that Josh had departed and here we were all alone on this gravel road in a 'foreign' state in the freezing temps. It reminded me of my youth and taking unsuspecting people out for a 'Snipe Hunt' at night, far out into the country. They would take this person way out into a field at night in the dark and give them a burlap bag and tell that person to wait there and hold the bag open while they would go out and chase the 'snipe' into the bag. Obviously, this was a prank and that poor soul left holding the bag open would get pretty frightened quite easily in a remote area with no one else around and in the dark with no flashlight. Tommy was quite amused with that prank, but we also had all the confidence in the world that Josh would return; after all, he did leave his cell phone with us.
While walking the road we did not have any luck on the grouse, but we did find a couple of Common Redpolls and also heard a Common Raven, a Gray Jay, and a Blue Jay. We also heard a woodpecker drumming just before Josh returned. We told Josh about the woodpecker drumming as Tommy was pretty sure it was a Black-backed Woodpecker and he has some of the best ears for identifying birds by sound. We played the recording to see if it would respond and sure enough, it did. In fact, we had a male and a female respond to playback. While the photos are less than stellar, I was able to capture a couple of photos of this new lifer. What a way to start off the last and final day. I was not expecting much on this last day in the way of new life birds, so this was a special treat.
Black-backed Woodpecker - Male
We finally departed and headed to the twin cities and one of the places we wanted to visit was the same location that we attempted to find a Barred Owl, when we arrived, Fort Snelling State Park which is located very near the airport. As we were driving in and focusing on the location as to where these owls were being seen, we drove by an area of water and part of the water was not frozen and Evan made a casual comment about swans in the open water. That got my attention very quickly and sue enough on the far side of the pond were several swans. The expected species would be Trumpeter Swan and after taking a closer look at them, we were able to confirm that was what they were. Thanks to Evan, I got garnered my last life of this amazing trip!
We then began an earnest hunt for the Barred Owl, and sure enough we found it, or, I should say Josh spied it first. With no leaves on the deciduous trees, one would think it would be an easy spot, but when they sit perfectly still, they can be easily overlooked, which is why they probably go undetected by most people visiting the park. Even though we had this owl on the road back from the northwestern part of Minnesota on Sunday night as a lifer, this one at least allowed closer looks and better photo opportunities. These owls are nocturnal hunters and most generally rest and sleep during daylight hours.
Finally we departed for the airport and Josh wanted to make one more round near the airport to see if we could locate the Snowy Owl that has been a regular there for sometime. Finally on the second pass by the UPS terminal, Josh spied it on the edge of the roof. Being on a busy street, we did not have much time to view it and was not able to approach the building very close, but from a great distance, it stood bright white. This was our third Snowy Owl on this trip, a species that we thought would be the easiest to find and this one was the whitest of the three we saw and this one was not wing tagged. A fitting ending to birding in Minnesota.
Snowy Owl on the roof of the UPS building
What an incredible journey to the far white north. I came away with 18 new life birds and I believe Tommy came away with 15. I hope he corrects me if I am wrong on that number for him. We had the most excellent guide; both Josh and his son Evan, made a great team for helping us find some great northern birds of the snow country. I have to thank them for all they did and we cannot forget that Josh's wife Melissa, had a very big role in allowing us to spend so much time with Josh. Her support meant a lot to us as well. Really enjoyed dining out with Josh and Melissa one night as well. Also want to extend a very THANK YOU to Sandi and Rick Wallestad for allowing us to stay at their beautiful home in Minnesota and the use of their van for our birding excursions while we were there. The hospitality and friendliness of everyone we met in Minnesota was top notch! Tommy and I, are extremely pleased to know them as friends and we can only hope to assist Josh and Evan in the future on trips to Arizona in obtaining more new life birds.
FAREWELL TO MINNESOTA FOR NOW AND HOPING TO RETURN AGAIN SOMEDAY!
(I still would love to see Bohemian Waxwings and get better views of the Pileated Woodpecker! And there is still so much more!)