Friday, February 20, 2009

Northern hawk owls

The Sax Zim Bog is well known as the place to see northern owl species in Minnesota in winter. Even when there isn't a spectacular owl irruption like in the winter of 2004-2005, great gray owls and northern hawk owls are regularly seen around the bog. Mike Hendrickson, organizer of the Winter Bird Festival, has been posting maps of owl sightings in Minnesota this winter on his blog, Colder By The Lake. Many of these sightings are concentrated in and around the Sax Zim bog. I'm not sure if that's because there are in fact more owls there, or if it's because that's where people tend to go to look for owls. Northern Minnesota has extensive areas of coniferous forests and open lowlands, where these owls like to hang out, so I suspect there are many more owls in remote areas that go unseen by humans.

On a cold winter day, however, it is nice to ride around in a school bus and see birds from the road. Lynne and I spent Saturday riding around the bog, occasionally stopping at feeding stations. We saw white winged crossbills, pine grosbeaks, evening grosbeaks, a bald eagle, common and hoary redpolls (see Lynne's post for some great photos!), gray jays, black capped chickadees, and at last, my first-ever boreal chickadee.

We stopped by this abandoned farmstead when someone spotted a speck in a treetop across the field. Spotting scopes were set up, and after much discussion it was decided the speck was definitely northern hawk owl-shaped. In the meantime, we saw a northern shrike. I stayed in the bus because my feet were freezing...long story. When you're birding in northern Minnesota in winter, it is never a good idea to wear athletic shoes, even if you do have wool socks. But I sacrificed my warm boots to Calvin so his feet wouldn't freeze when his class went ice fishing on Friday. Good mom, right?

The bus didn't get a quarter mile down the road when someone spotted a northern hawk owl in a tree very close to the road!

I was happy to get such a good look at this one. Before last weekend, I had only seen a northern hawk owl once before, in 2005, and I didn't get to see it close up. On this trip I got good looks at three northern hawk owls, including one near Hasty Brook. The great gray owls were being more secretive; not a one was spotted during the festival, although some individuals were seen that week. Oh well, birding is never a sure thing!

7 comments:

Owlman said...

Fantastic looks at the Northern Hawk owl!

Floridacracker said...

Wow! I have never seen one of those before ... actually, I didn't know there was such a bird!

Deb said...

Owlman- Welcome and thanks for stopping by! You might enjoy my archives from January-March 2005, when we were in the midst of a huge owl irruption. No pictures though, didn't have my digital camera yet. But I was seeing up to 15 great grays a day. That was part of the reason I started this blog.

FC- Well, you would have to travel to northern latitudes to see these owls. We're talking above 45 degrees north (I'm 46 degrees or so). They're circumpolar I guess; in doing a little research I found they live in Scandinavia and Russia as well as (far) North America.

That's the beauty of blogging; I get to see your tropical Florida birds, you learn about what's going on up north!

RuthieJ said...

I'm glad you had a good time at the festival Deb and got to see so many cool birds. I never did see the Boreal Chickadee last year (only heard it).

Jayne said...

Heck, I've never seen ANY owls, so I would really have been jumping up and down...lol! Glad you all had such a great time.

troutbirder said...

Very interesting. I'm envious of the opportunity. Especially the hawk owl.

Deb said...

RuthieJ- I'm sorry you didn't get to see the boreal chickadee! It was such a treat!

Jayne- You really need to get up into the northern latitudes, where the owls aren't afraid to show themselves during the day. :)

Troutbirder- You are not that far away from Sax Zim! You should make a day of it. My son has basketball in Floodwood next Saturday. I'm thinking of driving, then it's not so far from Meadowlands...I could get some good birding in....