As I sat in my hotel room Friday night I was worried that the trip would be a waste of time due to the weather but when I woke up Saturday morning the skies where clear and blue. After digging my car out of the snow I headed out slowly to the bog. The city plows were already out working but the road conditions were still not very good, especially when I got to the back roads in the bog.
Despite my concern over the roads I was excited about the number of birds that I spotted as I travelled to the bog. The end of the storm seemed to bring the birds to life and many of them fluttered from tree to tree looking for food. As I entered the bog area a bald eagle soared from his perch to greet me.
The first place in the bog that I headed to was a feeding station that had been set up on Admiral Ave. Admiral had not been plowed at all but I was able to make it through travelling down the tracks of others who had already made their way down the road. A feeding station has been set up in this location for years and it has always been good for attracting northern species including boreal chickadees. When I arrived at the feeder there was already a pair of boreal chickadees there as well as black-capped chickadees, pine grosbeaks, red-breasted nuthatch, and downy and hairy woodpeckers.
After shooting at the Admiral feeder for about an hour I headed over to McDavitt RD, which is another location that many of the northern species have been seen. About half way down McDavitt I found a path in the snow that went back to a small feeding station that was located in the woods. I decided that I could use a little exercise so I through on my winter gear and headed out down the path. It did not take long before I located a pair of black-backed woodpeckers. I was excited because black-back and three-toed woodpecker sightings have not been as common this year as they have in the past. Unfortunately to get the angle I needed to get decent shots of the bird I did have to wade through waist deep snow. It was worth it though, don't you think?
The main attraction at Sax Zim are the northern owls. The Sax Zim Bog is a mix of state, county and private lands, which includes the Cloquet Valley State Forest, Whiteface River State Forest and the Sax and Zim Wildlife Management Areas. The habitat consists mainly of conifer bog, spruce, tamarack and white cedar. This particular habitat is very attractive to northern owls that come down from Canada in the winter in search of food. The most common type of owl seen during the winter is the northern hawk owl. I found this northern hawk owl perched in a tree not far off of Mcdavitt. Since northern hawk owls are mostly diurnal, active during the day, they are one of the easiest owl to photograph.
As the sun went down on Saturday night many birders began their search for the most prized bird in the bog, the great grey owl. Great grey owls have not been seen with any regularity in the bog since 2005, when there was an irruption of thousands of birds which came down from Canada. This season there have been more sightings then in the past few years but it still seems to be hit and miss. The fact that they are crepuscular, hunt at dusk and dawn, also does not help, especially if you are looking for pictures. Fortunately around 4:30pm I found some people who had spotted a pair of these owls on McDavitt Road. I got a few pictures in the low light and then just watched them hunt until the sun went down.