Winter Birds: A Chilly Thrill

Posted By Wolf Ridge Naturalist
February 6, 2016

Long before the first curls of sunlight hit the frosty trees this Friday, a group of Wolf Ridge naturalists hopped in a van to visit a nearby birding hotspot- the Sax Zim Bog. The Sax Zim Bog is a beautiful winter habitat for birds, moose, wolves, and lots of other wildlife, and the bog draws birders from near and far for a chance to spot species not often seen in other parts of our state. We arrived just as the sun was rising, casting a delightful pink and orange glow across the sky. Our first goal was to look for a Great Gray Owl, the tallest of the owls in North America, with the largest wing span as well. We walked along morning roadsides and drove where we had been told an owl might be found sitting in the treetops. Soon, we saw one! Huge and silent sitting in a spruce tree. It’s large facial disks and eyes were alert to everything happening in the bog below. We got out of the van and watched as it moved from tree to tree for a while, its amazing size and power leaving us awestruck.

After spotting the owl we moved in a big circle around various parts of the bog birding area. At one point we were able to watch a Northern Shrike sitting at the top of a tree. Shrikes are famous for their unusual feeding habit of sometimes using thorns or spikes to impale their prey. They eat smaller birds and mammals and insects too. It had a dark eye mask and a brilliant gray body. It is a larger songbird, which made us almost pass it up as a Gray Jay at first. On closer look through the binoculars though, its body and bill shape as well as its coloration made it distinctively a shrike.

The rest of the day held many enjoyable sightings, including Common Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, Borreal Chickadees, Pine Siskins, Gray Jays, a Ring Necked Duck, and plenty of Black Capped Chickadees. As naturalists, it was exciting to experience a bog environment in winter and to be lucky enough to spot so many interesting birds! What birds have found their way into your adventures lately?

– Sarah Waddle