Posts tagged ‘Snow Bunting’

Snowy Owls & other birds—Glacial Ridge NWR March 9-10

Last week I posted photos of the amazing hoarfrost that greeted me at sunrise in northwest Minnesota’s Polk County on Friday March 9th. This time we will concentrate on the wildlife I saw over these 2 days (actually 1 1/2 days). Most of my time was spent in the 57 square mile Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge east of Crookston, Minnesota. It is Minnesota’s newest National Wildlife Refuge, established in 2004.

My main purpose for this trip to far northwest Minnesota was picking up a pallet of books in Pembina, North Dakota, but my photographic goal was to get slow-motion video of a Snowy Owl in flight. I ended up having six sightings of FOUR different Snowy Owls….A success even without getting any video.

Snowy Owl in Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. I saw 3 different Snowies in the western part of the refuge. Unfortunately all were sitting on telephone poles…Not the most photogenic perch. But my goal was slow-motion video of Snowy Owls in flight….but most were just patiently watching the landscape for any mammalian movement.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec. at f9; ISO 100; hand-held]

Three Sharp-tailed Grouse in the frosty landscape of western Minnesota.

This gal (?) was the most tolerant of the four Snowy Owls I saw over the two days. But unfortunately she was sitting right above a busy highway in Kittson County and a State Trooper urged me to move on. I asked for a few minutes longer and he said that was fine. But I could have spent a couple hours with this beautiful owl. I did get video of it stretching and fluffing its feathers.

Kittson County is the extreme northwest county in Minnesota. It is a LONG WAYS from anything! In fact, Kim Eckert claims that if you were in Minneapolis and wanted to get here, it would be faster to fly to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and then drive southeast to Kittson County than to drive here from the Twin Cities!

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens; 1/640 sec. at f10; ISO 100; tripod]

Excavating a nest cavity or just feeding? Hard to tell but this female Pileated Woodpecker (no red mustache and the red on the head doesn’t reach the bill) was busy chiseling away at a very oval hole.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1600; +1.33 ev; braced on car window frame]

Rough-legged Hawk taking flight from the railroad tracks bisecting Glacial Ridge NWR. I  really think the Roughleg is one of the most beautiful buteo hawks in North America. They nest on the tundra of northern Canada and Alaska but spend the winter in southern Canada and the northern U.S. Their tiny bill and feet are perfect for feeding on small rodents, especially voles and lemmings.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1600; +1.66 ev; braced on car window frame]

Finally! A Snowy Owl on an eye-level and photogenic perch! But alas, it was about a half mile away. Let’s call these “bird in the landscape” photos. I actually think they would look pretty cool printed large (like 4 feet wide!).

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec. at f9; ISO 100; tripod]

Sparky in the Polk County, Minnesota portion of the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail on a gorgeous late winter day.

Very small and very white Snowy Owl (so likely a male) atop very large power pole just outside Glacial Ridge NWR. The day before he was in the refuge, and hunting from a smaller power pole.

Coyote hunting in northwest Minnesota’s aspen parkland.

Note the beautiful barring on the breast and belly of this Greater Prairie Chicken. Glacial Ridge is a real stronghold for this prairie species in Minnesota. I (conservatively) saw 28 prairie chickens on Saturday March 10 in Glacial Ridge.

Rough-legged Hawks were mostly absent from NE Minnesota this winter, but there were good numbers at Glacial Ridge on this weekend. I saw 15 in just the eastern part of the refuge in one morning.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f6.3; ISO 640; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

Both Sharp-tailed Grouse (pictured above) and Greater Prairie Chickens were feeding along the railroad tracks that bisect Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. Maybe there is spilled grain along the tracks. I saw a total of 48 Sharptails in the refuge on March 10th.

Either Sharp-tailed Grouse or Greater Prairie Chicken tracks in the snow.

 

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

Snow Buntings were beginning to head north to their tundra breeding grounds in northern Canada. I saw many flocks along US75 between Crookston and the North Dakota border near Canada…441 total with one flock totaling about 150 birds. But this Snow Bunting was all alone and I saw him on two consecutive days along the same stretch of deserted road. I even got video of him feeding on plant seeds that were peaking above the crusty snow.

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens; 1/1000 sec. at f10; ISO 320; hand-held]

Fenceline border between private and public lands adjacent to Glacial Ridge NWR.

Pair of Bald Eagles…The Bald Eagles are beginning to think about nesting in far NW Minnesota. I saw two pairs that were actually IN/AT THE NEST already…even though there was no open water anywhere around. This duo at Glacial Ridge was actually an adult and immature.

BIRD HIGHLIGHTS

NW MN trip

March 9-10, 2018

Between Crookston and St. Vincent in Kittson County along US75

441 Snow Buntings

373 Horned Larks

Glacial Ridge NWR (March 9 and 10)

15 Rough-legged Hawks

48 Sharp-tailed Grouse

28 Greater Prairie Chickens

3 Snowy Owls (CR446 mainly)…including a very white and little male

1 Pileated Woodpecker

Snowy Owl along US75 at milepost 379.5 just south of Kennedy in Kittson County (March 9)

Meadowlark sp. near Lake Bronson in Kittson County (March 9) (spring migrant)

3 Bald Eagle nests with pairs occupying nest (Polk and Kittson Counties)

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A Winter Drive through Carlton County

WHITE ON BLUE
On a sunny but very cold day in late February, I traveled out to western Carlton County in search of a Snowy Owl that had been reported there earlier in the month. I live in the NE corner of Carlton County just south of Duluth, Minnesota. I knew the odds of finding the owl were not in my favor but it was an excuse to see a part of the county I don’t usually traverse. The theme seemed to be “white on blue” with many white birds showing themselves (and a white church!), all on a backdrop of white snow, blue sky and deep blue shadows.

Rough-legged Hawk flying blue sky Finn Road Carlton Co MN IMG_5355A beautiful Rough-legged Hawk flew up from a field along Finn Road.
It was likely hunting voles, their favorite meal. Though they are nearly as large as a Red-tailed Hawk, they have much smaller talons and a relatively tiny beak for grabbing and eating small rodents. Red-tails on the other hand, can easily take large prey such as cottontail rabbits and so need the larger “equipment.”
This individual’s incomplete belly band tells me that this is an adult male…Females and immatures have a broad black belly band.
They nest in the arctic but move south in winter in search of daylight and small rodents. Minnesota is their “Arctic Riviera.”

Snow Bunting flock CR27 Carlton Co MN IMG_5442

Snow Bunting flock CR27 Carlton Co MN IMG_5430

Snow Bunting flock CR27 Carlton Co MN IMG_5460A DRIFT OF SNOW BUNTINGS
Another visitor from the arctic tundra that makes the northern states its winter home is the Snow Bunting. Flocks of these “snowbirds” feed on weed seeds along roads and railroad tracks and in farm fields. This flock was foraging actively but flew every time I tried to get close. This, unfortunately for the photographer, is the norm for this species.

Hoary Redpoll and Common Redpoll flock Carlton Co MN IMG_5410HOARY SURPRISE
Surprising was a lone Hoary Redpoll feeding with a flock of Common Redpolls along a country road. Hoaries and Commons are two more species that breed in the north of Canada and Alaska but winter in northern Minnesota. They are an irruptive species (like the Rough-leg above) which means that they move south in varying numbers from year to year depending on the supply of food in the north…Alder catkins and birch seeds for redpolls, and voles for Rough-legged Hawks. We are thrilled to have so many redpolls this year!
Hoaries are much rarer, averaging 1 for every 100 Commons. Note her (males would have a pinkish breast) very frosty white coloration and tiny cone-shaped bill (compared to the longer sharper bill on the Common behind her.)

Suomalainen Kirkko E.L.K. 1915 Autumba Carlton Co MN IMG_5330

Suomalainen Kirkko E.L.K. 1915 Autumba Carlton Co MN IMG_5335

Suomalainen Kirkko E.L.K. 1915 Autumba Carlton Co MN IMG_5352SUOMALAINEN KIRKKO
This old Finnish Lutheran church (Suomalainen Kirkko = Finnish Church) from 1915 was saved after its doors were closed. It was moved to this location near Hwy 73 and turned into a cultural center. I love the stark white and simple lines of this vernacular architectural gem.

I drove 95 miles and had a great time.
P.S. I did not find the Snowy Owl