Thinking like a Wolf… or just lucky (photos & video)

December 30, 2020

As Executive Director of Friends of Sax-Zim Bog, I sometimes have to run supplies up to the Welcome Center, and on today’s early afternoon jaunt I spotted a Coyote crossing the road a long ways ahead. I pulled over and waited, but I wasn’t too excited since on every trip to Yellowstone we seem to get our fill of “yote photos.”

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

I squeaked to try and get it to come back out of the woods. It did, and to my surprise the “Coyote” turned out to be a Timber Wolf! 

I knew from previous experience that they will sometimes parallel roads while hunting, so I pulled ahead slowly and stopped at a game trail that gave me a bit of a window towards the bog. And sure enough, I saw just the back of a wolf quickly move across the trail.

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

Now I was getting a bit more confident that I could intercept one of the rarest (or at least rarely seen) of Minnesota’s abundant wildlife. About a half mile up I found a trail I figured it would cross. It was about 15 feet wide and I quietly got out of my van. The woods were silent under the still of last nights 6 inches of snow. 

I walked about a hundred yards in and waited. Sure enough a couple minutes later the wolf appeared! But instead of simply crossing the trail and vanishing, it turned and took a few steps toward me. It couldn’t figure out what I was, which enabled me to get a minute of video and photos. I imagine it was 50 yards away. Amazing experience! Magical experience! You never know what is around any bend in Sax-Zim!

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; handheld]

Video of Timber Wolf Sax-Zim Bog Minnesota

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens; 1/500 second at f8; ISO 1000; handheld

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 270mm; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020
Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 270mm; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; handheld]

Ghostly Great Horned Owl: Visitor from the Subarctic (video & photos)

December 27, 2020

A few days ago I went to see this pale beauty! Its been on my “owl bucket list” for a long time. Especially gratifying since I searched three times for the subarctic at Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley, Minnesota a few years ago.

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 5000; +1.0ev; tripod]

After a 4 hour drive from our homestead on the Wisconsin border of Minnesota, I arrived on the complete opposite side of the state on the North Dakota border. I had just about an hour before the sun set.

A wildlife photography friend had tipped me off to the location of this stunner. It had been seen on and off for a couple months. But as I began searching the numbers trees in the woods along the Red River of the North I started wondering if I would really find it.

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

But then there it was! On a tree I thought I had looked at on my way in. Wow! What a pale beauty! The Subarctic (or Western Taiga) subspecies of Great Horned Owl is very pale or even white with black markings. But the disc around the eyes almost always shows some color. They can be mistaken for Snowy Owls if it weren’t for this trait (and of course their feather “horns” which on Snowies are tiny and usually hidden).

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 343mm; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 12,800; +0.0ev; tripod]

This boreal subspecies occasionally may mate and nest in northwestern Minnesota. This bird appeared to be a male since it seemed smaller in size. Females are significantly larger than males.

Thanks again to Matt Sorum who found this in Clay County a couple months ago!

Video shows it coughing up a pellet, stretching, fluffing, watching a couple woodpeckers and silhouetted against the full moon.

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 428mm; 1/640 second at f7.1; ISO 4000; +1.0ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 363mm; 1/640 second at f6.3; ISO 1250; +0.3ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f7.1; ISO 6400; +1.66ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 254mm; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 5000; +1.66ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/320 second at f7.1; ISO 4000; +2.0ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; SINGLE FRAME EXTRACTED FROM VIDEO]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; SINGLE FRAME EXTRACTED FROM VIDEO]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/125 second at f7.1; ISO 12,800; +3.0ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/250 second at f7.1; ISO 12,800; +3.0ev; tripod]

HD Video of Subarctic Great Horned Owl

Video shows it coughing up a pellet, stretching, fluffing, watching a couple woodpeckers and silhouetted against the full moon.

Virtually Live 13 Christmas Bird Count Sax-Zim Bog: Great Gray Owl, Fisher, Short-eared Owl Dec 2020

My 35th year as compiler of the Sax-Zim Christmas Bird Count turned out to be a record-breaker despite teams having to social distance. 13 hardy participants brave -10 below zero F windchills in northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog to turn up 39 species!

We also find a species NEVER recorded on the count before (revealed in the video). And I find several owls and gets some crazy cool images of a Great Gray Owl plummeting and pouncing on suspected vole victims.

We find Boreal Chickadees, accidentally film some Black-billed Magpies at the “Bison Farm,” make a visit to Loretta’s grosbeak-rich feeders and have a yummy lunch at the Wilbert Cafe.

I also share some exciting recent sightings of a Fisher chasing Snowshoe Hare and a Short-eared Owl on Stone Lake Road.

Thanks to all CBC Participants: Bill Tefft, Lori Williams, Frank Nicoletti, Abbie Valine, Dave David Benson, Lars Benson, John Ellis, Sparky Stensaas, Sarah Beaster, Clinton Dexter-Nienhaus, Kristina Dexter-Nienhaus, Tony Anthony Hertzel, Tommy Hertzel

Virtually Live 12: November Birding in Sax-Zim Bog

A frosty cold morning in Sax-Zim Bog turns up a few goodies…including a dawn Ruffed Grouse, a flock of Pine Grosbeaks (away from a feeder!), a Black-billed Magpie on a deer carcass and cooperative Rough-legged Hawk. We hike Auggie’s Bogwalk at Fringed Gentian and find an unexpected critter! Sparky also shares what your donation on today’s Give to the Max Day campaign goes to.

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Snowy Sax-Zim Bog: October 24 —Virtually Live 11 video

VIRTUALLY LIVE 11: Snowy day in Sax-Zim Bog; October 24 2020

A rare (for Minnesota) Mountain Bluebird is seen, as well as a very late Palm Warbler. We drop by Mary Lou’s amazing feeders to see if the Evening Grosbeaks are around…and we check out her photo blind. Sparky will also take us to the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog’s newest preserved land…41 acres on the Whiteface River called Wood Thrush Woods. We also take a loop on the newly-completed Bob Russell Bogwalk.

Jaeger Attacks: Lake Superior, Wisconsin Point

Parasitic Jaegers migrate through Lake Superior in spring and fall. We often see them harassing gulls in mid to late September off of Duluth, Minnesota’s Park Point and Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Point. Long-tailed, Pomarine and Parasitic can all be seen here, but Parasitic Jaeger is the most common by far. They will somehow single out an individual Ring-billed Gull that it feels has a crop full of food. I suppose they can see the full crop. Then they perform the bird equivalent of a aerial “dog fight” and scare the gull into coughing up its last meal. The jaeger can often catch the regurgitant in mid air!

You will see a successful “hunt” in this video. By the way, “jaeger” is “hunter” in German.

These attacks were filmed in mid September off Superior, Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Point with the Panasonic GH5 at 180 fps.

60 Hummers at my one feeder?!

Early August 2020, Carlton County, Minnesota

Estimating numbers of birds coming to your feeder is, of course, an inexact science. But we all know that there are FAR MORE BIRDS using your feeders than you see at anyone time.

The max I saw at my one Carlton County feeder at one time in early August was 9….and they were going through a quart every 48 hours. So by using the two methods below, I was likely hosting between 54 and 64 Rubythroats each day!

TWO METHODS for calculating hummingbirds at a feeder have been derived by hummer experts:

1. Multiply max number you see at one time by 6: This formula was arrived at by banders Nancy Newfield and Bob & Martha Sargent who arrived at this numerical factor after years of banding and color-marking hummers at feeders. Using this formula, I was feeding 54 hummers on any give day in early August.

2. Divide hummingbird nectar ounces consumed per day by 0.25: This “Consumption formula” was devised by North America’s preeminent hummingbird authority, Sheri Williamson, based on years of experience. Sheri arrived at 1/4 oz. per small hummer per day. I was going through 32 ounces in two days, so 16 ounces per day. That calculates to 64 hummers were using my single feeder each day. Crazy!

I have put Sheri’s actual blog post below: “Studies of field metabolic rates (the average rate at which an organism consumes energy as it goes about its daily life) indicate that small hummingbirds such as Black-chinned and Ruby-throated are going to need 45% to 50% of their body weight in sucrose (a.k.a. white sugar, the dominant sugar in the nectar of hummingbird flowers) to get through an ordinary day, so they would actually need 180% to 200% of their weight in a 25% sucrose solution.

A 25% solution is much stronger than most people use in their feeders. The generally recommended proportion is 1 part table sugar to 4 parts water by volume, which comes out to about 18% sugar by weight. Converting to this recipe, it would take approximately 250% to 280% of the bird’s weight in ordinary 1:4 feeder solution to meet each bird’s daily energy requirements.

So, how do you use these data to estimate numbers of feeder visitors? The simplest way is to convert grams to fluid ounces so that you can measure the volume consumed (you can even mark your feeder and estimate usage on the fly).

According to my postal scale, one fluid ounce of 1:4 sugar water weighs about 35.5 grams (approximately 20% more than its plain water counterpart). We’ll average the weight of the birds to 3.5 grams, or about 10% of the weight of a fluid ounce. Multiply that times by 265% for average consumption and we get 0.265 fluid ounce of 1:4 feeder solution per bird per day, which we’ll round down to 1/4 fluid ounce per bird per day. This multiplies out to around 32 smallish hummingbirds per 8 ounces of 1:4 sugar water, 128 per quart, and 512 per gallon. This is higher than the TFFBBB estimate, which is not surprising considering the differences between our figures for weight and consumption rates of the birds and weight/volume ratio of the sugar solution.

Of course, there are a lot of factors that can skew this already crude estimate. The amount of sugar water each bird consumes may be greatly reduced when natural nectar sources are available and greatly increased when the birds are under stress from cold, drought, courtship, fighting, nesting, and/or migration. A given volume will supply the needs of more birds if you make your feeder solution a little stronger than 1:4, as many people (myself included) do in winter and migration, and fewer if you make it a little weaker. Size figures in as well, so a given volume of sugar water will feed fewer Anna’s than Black-chinneds.”

—Sheri Williamson on her blog, Life, Birds, and Everything: Jan. 12, 2008

https://fieldguidetohummingbirds.wordpress.com/2008/01/12/running-the-hummer-numbers/

Blue Cliffs & a Salty Lake:Virtual Birding Trip to Blue Mounds and Salt Lake Minnesota

July 27-28, 2020

I visit a great Salt Lake on the Minnesota-South Dakota border (“great” with a small g!) where I kayak out to see Red-necked and Wilson’s Phalaropes, 532 Franklin’s Gulls, Eared Grebes and many other interesting birds. Next stop is Yellow Medicine County and a cooperative pair of Western Kingbirds. Then on to camp and explore Blue Mounds State Park on the Coteau de Prairie where we find Blue Grosbeaks, Upland Sandpipers, booming Nighthawks and groups of close Turkey Vultures. Also a side trip to Touch the Sky Prairie NWR and many fascinating prairie wildflowers.

Virtually Live 10: LeConte’s Sparrows in flowers— Birding Sax-Zim Bog MN

This August 2020 episode explores Northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog in late summer. In this episode we go birding in the “slow” time of year. But a couple cooperative LeConte’s Sparrows in a flower-filled field steal the show. We also stop by Nichols Lake/Lake Nichols and bird the bog stretch of Admiral Road where we find Boreal Chickadees, Palm Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Canada jays and more.

Sparky also shows us the new platform and bench on Gray Jay Way trail north of the Welcome Center. And we go on a kayak journey on the Whiteface River where a pair of shy River Otters briefly make an appearance. Stunning emerald green and black Ebony Jewelwing damselflies perch along the riverbank.