Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sax-Zim Bog trip report

Sax-Zim Bog. A birder's mecca for boreal birds. Every winter, this is the place birders from around the country go to see such boreal specialties as Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk-Owl, Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak, Bohemian Waxwing and Boreal Owl.

4 of my birding friends and I made the trip for the first time this past weekend.  
We all stayed over at Alex's house on Fri night and then awoke at 4am on Sat morning to make the 7 hour drive to the bog.  After stopping a few times for food, to gas up and to buy a map, we made it to the bog at around 11am. We immediately started off our weekend with a stop at Morse's feeders on Blue Spruce Rd where we picked up our first year birds and lifers of the trip. These Evening Grosbeaks were my first year birds of the weekend:

Year bird #2 came in the form of this Red-breasted Nuthatch!  A bird that I had been unable to find anywhere in Southern Wisconsin:

The feeders were completely swarmed with Redpolls.  This photo represents about 1/8 of the entire flock:
After checking through each Redpoll and failing to find a Hoary, we continued around the loop to see what else we could find.  As I drove down the road (I happened to be driving at the time) I spotted a rather chunky reddish bird hiding a few feet back in the thick spruces by the side of the road. I slammed on the brakes (thank goodness we weren't going very fast) and yelled PINE GROSBEAK!!!!    I pished a couple times and the birds flew out into the open. Well, almost open anyway.........
Stupid branch........

Would have been the most spectacular photos of a male Pine Grosbeak ever!  
And it was my lifer Grosbeak!!!
It was also the only male Pine Grosbeak we saw.
Oh well, next time.......

Did manage to get a nice shot of a female though:

Then we headed up to McDavitt Rd in search of the two species of woodpeckers that frequently inhabit the tamarack bog. Black-backed and Three-toed.  Once again, we failed miserably. We did find this highly inquisitive Gray Jay though. Another cool year bird for me:

We then drove to the North end of McDavitt and turned back south on Admiral Rd. It was an interesting drive since Admiral was still snow-covered.  We managed to make it down to the feeding station though.  There were many Redpolls around including this possible female Hoary:

Note the whitish rump:

And small, rather conical bill:

and light streaking:
Whether it is a Hoary or not though, would take DNA testing.  After consulting some experts, we just left the bird as Redpoll Sp. 

Now this bird, is a Male Common Redpoll:

and a bright one at that!

Then, the bird we were waiting for flew in:

Boreal Chickadee!! 
My second lifer of the day and the trip. 

He posed quite nicely for us. I highly doubt that I'll ever get better photos. 

This Common Redpoll also posed quite nicely:

Another stunning male:

This is what having a camera that will shoot 6.5 frames/sec will get you: 

Then we headed down to Arkola Rd where we found a few more female Pine Grosbeaks

They also posed quite well:

We called it quits for the day and headed back.  As I was driving back (yea, I drove for the entire afternoon) at about 50mph, I spotted some largish birds out of the corner of my eye sitting in a bush a few feet off the ground.  I spun the car into a U-turn and headed back. I was quite pleased to find 4 Ruffed Grouse sitting in the bush. Another year bird for me and a lifer for some of the others!  Rather evil looking bird eh? lol 

Day 2, Sax-Zim Bog!  

We started off the day with a 2 hour stop at Morse's feeders where I got another shot of this Red-breasted Nutcatch:

I then spent some time photographing Redpolls.  This one didn't seem to like the cold snow and preferred hovering above it:

This guy came to check me out:
That's what you call a Common Redpoll at 4 feet. :D 

This rather light Common Redpoll perched perfectly on a stick to have his photo taken:

Mr Nuthatch was very photogenic: 

Amazingly, the birds let us get super close. Even the Grosbeaks after a while.  This adult male Evening Grosbeak let me get within about 5 feet of him:

The girls managed to get a bit closer.........

Yea, Abbey has better Redpoll photos than the rest of us put together.......

Then we headed on up to McDavitt Rd to look for the woodpeckers again.  
When we got to the spot, we pulled up in front of a black pickup truck that looked vaguely familiar.  We hopped out and started to enter the woods when all of a sudden from in the woods a voice called "Chris?"  Chris West?"  I stopped dead, completely surprised and called back "yea, who's there?"  
The voice called back "Jackson."   Almost at a loss for words at our good luck, I called "Dan Jackson?"   Dan is a birder from La Crosse, WI who I have known for around 3 years now. We've birded together off and on over the years.  Of all the people I could run into in the bog, I hadn't expected him at all.  "Lucky we ran into him though" I thought. "Dan's a good birder and knows what he's doing."  

After introducing everyone, I asked Dan if he'd seen anything. He replied that he'd just seen a female Black-backed Woodpecker about a 1/2 mile down the road and offered to take us there. Naturally, we couldn't refuse an offer to show us a life bird, so off we went.  
We drove down, hopped out, Dan listened for a second and then headed off into the woods. We eagerly followed.  He stopped about 100yds in a pointed. Perched near the base of a Tamarack, was this female Black-backed Woodpecker:

After thanking Dan for the lifer, he headed off in search of his nemesis bird. Three-toed Woodpecker. 

We hung back and enjoyed the Black-backed a bit longer:

Then we walked back out to the car and drove down to thank Dan again for showing us the bird. Before we could do so however, he told us he had just found a Male Black-backed Woodpecker. Naturally, we wanted to see that too, so Dan told us to just follow his tracks in the snow. 

We drove down the road about 200yds, found Dan's tracks and walked in a little ways and stopped to listen.  I quickly picked up the tap tap tapping of the woodpecker as it worked a tree a short distance back into the bog.  We walked back a bit farther til the tapping was right in front of us. Then Abbey said "There!"  and she pointed to the base of a nearby Tamarack.  There, working hard to strip the tree of it's bark, was the male Black-backed:

He was very cooperative and allowed us to get within about 8 feet of him. 

After the show was over, we decided to head south and east in search of Hawk-Owls.  
We had just made it to the south end of McDavitt when Dan came tearing up in his truck, screeched to a halt next to us and mouthed something through the window while pointing over his shoulder excitedly. Figuring it was something good, we rolled down the window.   Dan yelled "Male Three-toed Woodpecker!!!!"  He didn't have to say anything more. We spun the car into a U-turn and raced after him up the road.   We got to the location, screeched to a halt and jumped out. Dan's son who was with him and had been "babysitting" the bird, pointed to a nearby Tamarack and said "there."  

This bird didn't allow quite the views that the Black-backed did, but it was good enough to tell what it was.  Another lifer for all of us. My 5th of the trip!! 

Without Dan's help, there was no way we would have found either woodpecker. 
Thanks a million Dan!!!!!!

We finally headed off in search of Hawk-Owls.  We had heard of a road that had had at least 3 separate birds reported on it in the last couple days so we started there.  We arrived at Melrude Rd at about 1:45pm and began cruising up and down.  At about 2:30ish, I finally spotted a Hawk-Owl through the trees, perched at the back of an aspen stand. We slid to a halt and hopped out. The moment we did so though, the Owl flew off.  I was the only one who had gotten a decent enough look to ID it.   

We kept cruising around a bit longer and about 20 mins later, I spotted a telltale shape at the top of a tree.  I yelled "Hawk-Owl! Stop!! Backup!!" 
This time the bird allowed me to put a scope on it. I managed to pick out a telltale black patch on it's side among the overall greyishness of the bird before it flew. I glanced up and watched it fly down into the undergrowth. Something wasn't quite right. Then it clicked.  "Did you see how that flew??" I asked. "It was a friggin Shrike!!" 

I managed to get a photo of the miscreant Shrike in question. 
The shape is rather similar at long range, but the tail is too long, the posture is wrong and the head is a little small.   We started to head back to the highway. 

On the way out, Alex asked if we should turn down Lindstrom Rd just for the heck of it.  We all agreed.  It was the best decision we made during the entire weekend. 
We pulled up to where the road made a sharp lefthand turn and a cat ran across someone's driveway in front of us. Abbey said "hey, look at the cat."  Fortunately though, Luke's and Alex's eyes were not on the cat, but on something a little farther away. Alex was the first to recognize what it was and yelled "HAWK-OWL!!!!" 
We piled out of the car and set up our scopes. Sure enough, there sat a beautiful Northern Hawk-Owl:

We only managed to get within about 300yds without trespassing too badly so my photos are a little fuzzy, but there it is:

It was my 6th lifer of the trip and easily the best bird of the weekend. A lifer for all of us!!  
After watching the highly cooperative bird for about half an hour, we decided not to push our luck any farther and to call it quits and head home.   
We had a grand total of about 27 species for the entire weekend, but what awesome species they were!! and what awesome photo ops!!!  
Add on the beautiful (albeit cold!) weather we had and you couldn't ask for a better way to spend a weekend with friends. :D 

Happy Birding! 

1 comment:

RuthieJ said...

Looks like you had a very fun and productive birding trip with really nice weather. Loved this story and the pictures--especially the girls on the ground with the redpolls.