Home beckons most everyone on Thanksgiving. And when you are a birder and that home is the northwoods of Minnesota, the call is even louder. The quiet, Black Spruce bogs covered in a recent, two-foot dumping of snow compelled me to go exploring. I did just that, and this year the cornucopia of good birds was overflowing. It was a feast of feasts. There is much to be thankful for, not the least of which were three gift Spruce Grouse sitting on the highway just a couple miles from Melissa’s family’s place.
I couldn’t believe my luck. This happened once two years ago in this same spot but with just one bird. The female (lifer gender) above and the male below stood motionless on the road as I crept the vehicle closer and closer to them.
As I watched, I spotted a second male just on the edge of the woods who wanted nothing to do with me.
I wanted to creep by the birds and get around them by driving on the shoulder so that I could view these dark, male statues from the front, their better side. As I did so, another car came down the highway and now I was worried these dumb things would get killed. I wasn’t going to let that happen, so I planned to shoo them off the road. But I didn’t have to because my close presence at this point and the approaching car thankfully activated them. I was able to snap another pic of the male on the road before he flew off. The birds barely flew into the edge of the woods and never re-flushed, yet try as I might, I could not pick them out of the Spruce trees. Their camouflage and ability to sit motionless are amazing.
Not to be outdone by their cousins this Thanksgiving, the Ruffed Grouse put on quite a good show and were seemingly ubiquitous. Even while feasting at Grandma’s house a couple even flew in to have their own feast of Aspen buds…
and Birch catkins…
Everyone eats well at Grandma’s house and goes home stuffed.
The day after Thanksgiving, I had the pleasure of birding with Julie Grahn, a local birding friend who often keeps me up to date on the latest bird happenings back home. As if the Grouse weren’t enough birding excitement for one trip, little did I know the good birding was just getting started. Julie and I had some solid finds early on of Black-billed Magpie, Northern Shrike, and Rough-legged Hawk, but the real excitement came when we walked a stretch of road in a mature Black Spruce bog. Our target was a Boreal Chickadee–I had heard one two days prior, which was another exciting first for this little patch of mine. However, as we started walking we heard the rapid “chiff-chiff-chiff-chiff” of two White-winged Crossbills flying overhead! This is a bird I have only ever seen in quick glimpses in the past. I certainly had no photo of one. That finally changed and may have made this the best sighting of the trip.
A little while later, Julie asked me to stop the car to check out a bird I had dismissed as a Raven. This instance is proof of why two birders are better than one because Julie had spotted a juvenile Northern Goshawk! Like the Crossbill, this was another photographic first for me. I have had several probable NOGOs in the area but had never had one sit still before to know for sure.
To end my birding for this trip, I later went into the town of Cook and found the Bohemian Waxwing flock Julie had told me about.
This holiday’s birds were off the charts. It ended up being some of the best birding I’ve ever had at home up north and certainly gives the birder in me much to be thankful for. Unfortunately gratitude has a time limit before greed kicks in…how many more days until we go home for Christmas?