Heading to the Cities? Got room for an owl?

The News-Tribune’s ever-curious Janna Goerdt alerted me to an injured snowy owl in Duluth that needs a ride to the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center in the Twin Cities for treatment. (The Raptor Center is in St. Paul, not far from the state Fairgrounds.) The owl apparently flew into a window.

If you’re heading that way in the next day or so and have room for a feathered passenger, call Peggy at 341-5920 or 341-5921.

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A birder’s guide to the Sax-Zim Bog

Mike Hendrickson has created a handy tool on the Web for those planning to look for birds in the Sax-Zim Bog area.

It’s part of his Colder by the Lake blog, and you can get to it here: colderbythelakebirding.blogspot.com/

In addition to his great gray owl map and his hawk owl and snowy owl map, Mike now has a Sax-Zim Bog map. The man is a Google-mapping machine.

This latest map shows where bird-feeding stations are and areas where grouse, woodpeckers, boreal chickadees, snow buntings and owls have been seen recently, all in an area bounded by U.S. Highway 53 on the east,County Road 133 on the south and the towns of Toivola and Zim on the west and north.


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Best birding of 2008?

What was your best birding moment of 2008?

  • A bird you’d never seen before?
  • Birds behaving in an unexpected way?
  • A hike you took, a drive, or a canoe trip?
  • An experience you had while watching birds?
  • A picture you took?

I’d like to hear about it. Click on the comment link below this blog, or send me an e-mail at jlundy@duluthnews.com. (You can send the picture, too; jpegs work best.) I’ll compile your answers (along with mine) and share them sometime around Jan. 1 with the small but friendly Wannabe Birder universe.

  • A personal note. Today is my dad’s 88th birthday. He grew up on a farm in Iowa, flew a bomber over the Pacific in World War II, earned a bachelor’s degree at St. Olaf College and a master’s degree in physics at the University of Wisconsin, returned home to be a dairy farmer, met and married a music teacher, earned a teaching certificate, left farming for a long career as a physics teacher at the high school and community college levels. He went for a run this morning; he shovels the snow and mows the lawn and takes in the birdfeeders every night so the deer don’t get at them. He drives from Estherville, Iowa, to Davenport, Iowa, and Duluth so he and Mom can visit the kids and grandkid. Happy birthday, Dad.


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But it’s the head that’s red

During my Christmas visit to Iowa, I saw a lot of the same birds I’ve been seeing here, and one that I never see here: a red-bellied woodpecker.A red-bellied woodpecker

This is an oddly named bird, because its belly clearly is white. It’s the head that’s red. But we already have a red-headed woodpecker, and its head is red in a more spectacular way.

What we don’t have are red-bellied woodpeckers (pictured above) and red-headed woodpeckers (illustrated below) in the Northland … or at least I’ve never seen one here. Have you?

Don’t feel bad. We get to see pileated woodpeckers. A red-headed woodpecker

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A touch of gold

Duluth’s Christmas Bird Count produced a rare find on Saturday: a golden-crowned sparrow.

According to the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union, this is only the second time a golden-crowned sparrow has been spotted on a Christmas Bird Count in the state; the first was in 1989, also in Duluth.

Golden-crowned sparrows, which the bird book says are more common in western North America, are among the larger sparrows. The golden-crowned has a band of black along its head, topped by a narrower band of yellow.

You just never know what you’re going to see out there.

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Bird counts, anyone?

If anyone participated in the Duluth Christmas Bird Count today (Saturday, Dec. 20), or any other bird counts in the area, I’d love to vicariously share in your experiences.

Did you see anything unusual? See unexpected numbers of any particular bird? Did you watch through your window or go on an excursion? Send me an e-mail at jlundy@duluthnews.com, or click on the comment button below this blog.

I didn’t participate, but here are the birds I saw through my window this morning:

  • A pileated woodpecker
  • A downy woodpecker
  • Chickadees
  • Juncos
  • A bluejay
  • Pigeons
  • A starling

All of these are pretty much everyday visitors except for the pileated woodpecker. It was the first one I had seen in a week or two, and I promptly — and inadvertently — scared it away. I continue to be surprised that the juncos have stuck around. And I still haven’t seen a cardinal this fall/winter. This has me puzzled.

Some Christmas Bird Counts still are ahead, including the one in Two Harbors on Sunday (Dec. 21). There’s another one scheduled from 7 a.m. to noon Saturday (Dec. 27) based at Fredenberg Town Hall. Information is available at 591-6076 or 721-5040.




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Zealous for Sax-Zim

OK, that’s a poor attempt at alliteration. But if anyone fits the description "zealous for Sax-Zim" — specifically, for birding the Sax-Zim Bog in St. Louis County, that person would be Duluthian Mike Hendrickson.

Mike organized the first Sax-Zim Bog Winter Bird Festival last winter, and he’s doing it again. The dates are Feb. 13-15, and it’s based at the Meadowlands Community Center, but of course activities will range far beyond the community center. Field trips are being offered in the bog, of course, and also in the Duluth/Superior area and Aitkin County … and there’s going to be a Great Gray Owl Search Trip. Catered dinners and programs are scheduled for Friday and Saturday evenings, the 13th and 14th. (You can tell it’s a true Northland event because pasties are on the menu on Friday.)

The Sax-Zim Festival has its own Web site, of course. Go to: moumn.org/sax-zim/


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Reader participation: Christmas special

This morning, while lying in bed, not eager to get out from under the covers to deal with a reluctant furnace, I thought of some new lyrics to an old Christmas song.

But I’m stuck, and I need your help to finish it.

It’s called "Silver Bay" — I think you can guess the tune.

This is what I have for the chorus:

Silver Bay, Silver Bay

It’s Christmastime on the North Shore;

Beaver Bay, Thunder Bay …

Soon it will be Christmas Day

And this is what I have so far for the first stanza:

Temp’rance River, Lester River,

People fishing on ice;

In the air there’s a feeling of frostbite.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to offer improvements, suggestions, additions, even entire stanzas. Bonus points if you can work "chickadees" and/or "pileated woodpeckers" into the song.

You can participate by clicking on the comments button below, or send me an e-mail at jlundy@duluthnews.com.

If I get anything, or maybe even if I think of more myself, I’ll post the results in a few days.



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Christmas bird counts

Here’s an update for Christmas bird counts in the area. My sources are the Outdoors pages of Sunday’s Duluth News Tribune and the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s listserv.

  • Duluth — The count will be this Saturday (Dec. 20) in a 15-mile-diameter circle centered at Hawk Ridge. The contact person is Jim Lind, who can be reached at 834-3199. If you live within that area,  you can participate even by simply counting the birds are your feeders. This might be an attractive option if cold conditions persist. The National Weather Service’s predicted high for Duluth on Saturday is 7F. If you do the backyard count, you’re asked to call (218) 269-7603 with your results on Saturday, preferably between 5 to 7 p.m.
  • Two Harbors — As reported in a previous blog, the Two Harbors count had been scheduled for this past Sunday. Organizers wisely postponed it to this Sunday (Dec. 21) as the weekend storm approached. Again, the contact person is Jim Lind.
  • Ely — The Ely Christmas Bird County will take place on Saturday, Dec. 27. The contact person is Bill Tefft, who can be reached by e-mail at b.tefft@vcc.edu or by phone (evenings) at (218) 235-2197.
  • Isabella — Contact Steve Wilson at (218) 753-6110 for information about the Isabella count, which will be Jan. 3.

Christmas bird counts are sponsored by the Audubon Society. More information is available at the Audubon Society’s Website here: www.audubon.org


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Where blizzards come from

Yes, yes, I know. Blizzards come when warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico collides with arctic air plunging down from Canada and with wind surging off Lake Superior, and they all converge over my house in West Duluth.

I speak of the term "blizzard." How did we come to call a particularly bad snowstorm by that name?

It comes from my hometown: Estherville, Iowa.

Proof is from the Des Moines Register, which used to be the newspaper Iowa depends upon. Here’s the story, as told in the Feb. 18, 1978, edition of the Register:

Lephe Wells Coates, the wife of Rev. Romanzao A. Coates of Spencer (Iowa), taught several children, including those of Esther Ridley — the Esther for whom Estherville was named.

In 1868 Mrs. Coates read in a Free Baptist newspaper about an ill-tempered man named Mr. Blizzard, who was so mean he once drove his wife and children from their home because he did not get hot bread for supper.

One day during a snowstorm, Mrs. Coates mentioned that "This is a regular Old Man Blizzard of a storm."

The analogy became a family joke and the word was carried to Estherville by the Ridley children.

One day in 1870 a snowstorm was raging across Iowa when a man came into the office of George Nichols, editor of the Estherville Northern Vindicator.

Brushing snow from his clothing, the man remarked, "It’s really a bad storm outside. It’s a regular blizzard."

Nichols apparently liked the word and commented on it in his newspaper. The story was picked up by other papers and today the word blizzard is as common as the storm it’s named after.

So there you have it. What, you thought the storm was named after a Dairy Queen treat?

Two more comments:

  1. No such thing as the Estherville Northern Vindicator has existed during my lifetime. Too bad — it’s a great name for a newspaper.
  2. The juncos that have stuck around my place are having a tough time with this blizzard. They resorted to finding food on the platform feeder, which juncos are loathe to do. I scooped off a patch of the deck twice before I came to work, and scattered some millet on the clean patch each time, but it didn’t stay clean for long. I sprinkled a little millet in the platform feeder, but not much. I’m running out of millet, and I’m probably not going to be able to get to the millet store until Wednesday. I never thought the juncos would stay around this long.
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