Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sax-zim Bog Winter Birding Festival

Sax-zim Bog.  

No, the name is not Norwegian for "Frozen toes."  Though, to some it may bring thoughts of icy Minnesota cold and deep snow. To quote long time Minnesotan and humorist Al Batt "The Mercury dropped so fast it bent the nail that held the thermometer."   But even though it can be cold sometimes, the bog is one of the best and most famous birding spots in the country. 
To birders, the name brings thoughts of Owls, Boreal Finches, Chickadees and Woodpeckers, Sharp-tailed, Ruffed and Spruce Grouse and the easternmost place to find breeding Black-billed Magpie.   
Owls, especially Great Gray and this Northern Hawk-Owl, are what draws the most people:

Sax-zim Bog is just that. A bog. More precisely, it's a Black Spruce/Tamarack bog.  
The Bog is located about an hour's drive northwest of Duluth, Minnesota between the two almost non-existent towns of Sax and Zim, just north of the town of Meadowlands.   
It's a vast place. Acres upon acres of endless trees interspersed with open fields and small clearings.  

This year's Sax-zim Bog Birding festival took place on Valentines day weekend.   
If you're a birder without a girlfriend, what better way could you possibly spend a weekend?  

Especially with awesome birds around like this Pine Grosbeak that are already suited up for the occasion:

This year's festival was excellent. Very well run. Everyone seemed to have an awesome time and, for the most part, got to see what they wanted.   Due to the slow year, there was a distinct lack of boreal birds including many finches,  and most notably, Great Gray Owls.   Out of roughly 200 people (both with the festival and separate) not a single person was able to find a Great Gray Owl during the festival. I guess the food must be good up north. 

Many of the favorites still graced our presence though.  Redpolls, though much less common this year from last year were still a conspicuous sight around the bog.  This highly cooperative bird posed quite nicely for the camera: 

While Redpolls and other finches (especially Siskins) were present in fair numbers, other species were either present in small numbers or nonexistent.  Not a single Black-billed Magpie was found and only a few Northern Shrikes.  Gray Jays also seemed to be fewer than last year as well as the Chickadee population. Despite this the old favorites still showed up on time.  This beautiful Boreal Chickadee gave us spectacular looks, posing here and there, just being the star of the show: 

On Valentines Day, I lead a field trip to Minnesota's famous Aitkin County.   The primary goal of the trip was Sharp-tailed Grouse on a Lek. Arriving at the location at sunrise, we spotted roughly a dozen Sharp-tailed Grouse already on site.  Unfortunately, the moment we tried to hop off the bus, they all flushed and refused to return.  Admitting defeat, we headed onwards.  The rest of the day was composed of two Northern Goshawks, a few finches, a couple Gray Jays and lots of clouds and wind.  

Since no Evening Grosbeaks could be found in the bog, we opted to stop by Kim Risen's feeders for a bit to try to find some. We were not disappointed.  In all, 14 birds eventually came down to the feeders including this beautiful adult male: 

The festival ended with the trip returning to the festival headquarters in Meadowlands.  
A fun time was had by all in one of the best winter birding spots in the country. Even though some of the birds appeared to have missed the invitation.  

Many thanks to Mike Hendrickson and the rest of the festival committee for all their hard work and long hours making everything work.
Thanks also to the festival speakers, Kim Risen and Al Batt for their excellent presentations.  
The festival would not have been the same without Al's quick wit and great jokes.

It was another great weekend in Northern Minnesota!
Mark your calendars for Valentines Day weekend 2011!  Hope to see some of you there next year, attending this great festival that is without a doubt, the best winter birding festival for boreal species in the country!  

Til next time,
Happy Birding!


Ali Iyoob said...

Nice birds!

Andrea said...

Great post! A lot of fun to read, and it sounds like it was an excellent weekend!

one of many said...

Excellent shot of the Boreal Chickadee. One of the best I've seen considering the nice clarity and your fortune with capturing the light in the eye.