Monday, March 15, 2010

Winter Birding Part 4: Sax Zim Bog

One of the best places to bird in Minnesota during the winter is the Sax Zim Bog Wildlife Management Area. The bog is located in northeastern Minnesota not far from Duluth.
The main attraction of the bog are the owls that come down from Canada during the winter. As food sources up north of the border decline, due to winter weather, owls head down to the bog in search of prey. The most common northern owl to see is the northern hawk owl, above, which is a diurnal owl, meaning that it is active during the day which makes it easier to find. Other northern owls that sometimes visit the bog include great gray owls and boreal owls.
Besides the owls there are some other colorful species that can be found in the bog during the winter. One of the most common is the pine grosbeak, pictured above. Male pine grosbeak are red and gray while the females are more of a mustard color. Evening grosbeaks and white-winged crossbills can also be found, though they are not as common as the pine grosbeak.
Northern finches can usually be found around feeders. The numbers of these birds that visit the bog changes each year depending on the amount of food available back in their summer range. Last year there was quite an irruption of northern finches with pine siskin, pictured above, and redpoll being spotted all the way down in Iowa. This year I spotted very few northern finches, only a few pine siskin and one redpoll on this trip.
There are always plenty of chickadees around. Even though they are very common it is important to keep your eyes on them because you never know when a boreal chickadee might show up. These are another resident of the boreal forests up in Canada who will sometimes come down to Minnesota looking for food, but these little guys are not looking for seed. They are insect eaters so they are looking mostly for protein. So for the past few years several local birders in the area have attached parts of deer carcasses to trees in different locations through out the bog. This is a good source of food for many birds, especially the boreal chickadees and it also gives birders a place to look for these special birds. Unfortunately this year a local resident complained that the deer carcasses were attracting wolves, despite evidence to the contrary, and the DNR took them all down. This looked like it was going to be the end of one of the best places to photograph birds in Minnesota during the winter until a compromise was reached. The deer would no longer be allowed on public land, however seed and suet were allowed. So feeders went up in many key locations and the birds continued to come in to eat.
I never did see any signs of wolves. There were no tracks around the feeding stations and the carcasses were never torn down. The closes thing to a wolf that I ever spotted in the bog was a red squirrel but I don't think that he was causing too much trouble.

15 comments:

KaHolly said...

It takes all kinds, doesn't it? You'd think DNR would survey the area, looking for sign, before making such a determination! We didn't have any redpolls, siskens or grossbeaks this winter, either in Maine or Cape Breton, so they must have had plenty to eat in their own habitat this winter. Love the shot of the owl! I've gone out a few times in N. Maine to spot one that was reported, but I was never in the right place at the right time!! Have a great week. ~karen

margie said...

last summer for the first time ever we could hear wolves howling. it was beyond eerie. great shots today.

Jay said...

What gorgeous, sharp pictures of birds! The squirrel is cute too, but the birds beat him hands down for me!

birdsandgardens said...

those squirrels can be all kinds of trouble ;)

sweet bay said...

Gorgeous pictures. We don't of course get to see these birds in central NC so it's really nice to see them here.

Sylvia K said...

Marvelous shots as always, love the squirrel and the owls! It's so delightful to be able to see so many birds "up close and personal" through your photos and I look forward to them! Have a great week!

Sylvia

LadyFi said...

Fantastic shots of birds. And that squirrel looks really surprised!

Randi said...

You are a great photographer and I love visiting your blog!

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

EB: What a great owl shot.

Martha Z said...

Wonderful bird shots, as always. We don't get owls out during the day, very frustrating for the photographer.

J Bar said...

Top shots.
Sydney - City and Suburbs

Brooks Rownd said...

I heard people were having trouble with feral dog packs roaming around there last year - perhaps that's what they meant by "wolves"?

Glennis said...

Lovely photos, the birds are so pretty but the squirrel is perfect, I do like his tail. much nicer than a wolf!

Vicky said...

Terrific photos!!!! I admire you!!! I have try many times to shoot birds but I haven't succeed yet!!!!

Arija said...

Your photos are just stunning, also of the dragonflies below.