Minnesota In Winter Itinerary

Day One – Tour participants arrive in Duluth. We’ll enjoy some local birding for owls, gulls or staked out rarities as time allows. Night Duluth

Days Two – Four, Duluth, Superior and Northeastern Minnesota’s Aitkin, Cook, Lake and St. Louis Counties. Our schedule is purposefully kept flexible for one reason—it allows us to travel at times and to locations that give us the best opportunities to find your target birds. 

We’ll visit secluded boreal forests bordering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness searching for Spruce Grouse, Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Boreal Chickadee and the always entertaining Gray Jay.

You’ll travel Lake Superior’s north shore and marvel at the simple beauty of ice kaleidoscopes along the rocky shoreline while we scan for ducks and gulls. Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted and Common Mergansers are the more expected waterfowl species but rarities such as Harlequin Duck and Barrow’s Goldeneye have been found in recent years.

Superior, Wisconsin offers several vantage points to scan for raptors wintering in the harbor area and its landfill usually hosts a good variety of gulls. Raptor possibilities include Snowy Owl, Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon and, if luck is with us, Gyrfalcon. A typical collection of winter gulls would include Herring, Glaucous, Thayer’s, Iceland and perhaps a rarity or two. A highlight in 2012 was a lonely ice floe with three gulls lined up one in front of one another offering unparalleled comparisons of Thayer’s, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls!

The bogs, meadows and forests of St. Louis and neighboring Aitkin Counties are reliable places to find Great Gray and Northern Hawk Owls. If snow levels are low enough, an assortment of Rough-legged Hawks and Snow Buntings are likely and these are the best areas for Ruffed and Sharp-tailed Grouse (sometimes displaying early on sunny days even in February!), Northern Shrike and Black-billed Magpie.

Duluth and other cities of the Arrowhead region are wonderful birding areas unto themselves. Large numbers of Mountain Ash and Flowering Crab Apple trees are a magnet for Bohemian Waxwings and rarities like Varied Thrush and Townsend’s Solitaire. Highlights from 2013 include finding more than 600 Bohemian Waxwings feeding voraciously on Mountain Ash trees and 2012 provided a cooperative Mountain Bluebird along Superior’s North Shore. Well established feeding stations buzz with activity, and Common and Hoary Redpoll, Pine and Evening Grosbeak and the more common winter finches are all likely to be found.

But it’s those owls that remain so highly prized by visiting birders. While numbers fluctuate from year to year, Great Gray Owl is a permanent resident of this area, Northern Hawk Owl is an annual visitor and, during an owl irruption winter, anything goes. When such an irruption takes place, Minnesota’s bogs, meadows and forests provide birding thrills that are one-of-a-kind. In 2005 we tallied more than 200 Great Gray Owls and more than 35 Northern Hawk Owls in a single county! That year proved to be the single greatest irruption ever to visit Minnesota, but even in recent years, daily totals of 10 or more owls were not unusual. Like the Great Gray, Boreal Owl is a permanent resident of Northern Minnesota, unfortunately, unlike the Great Gray Owl, they are NOT to be expected during a single visit. Our best chances are to hope for an irruption year or that one is found on a day roost during our tour. (Our leader is well connected with the region’s active birders and the local network is always in contact.)

Day Five – Tour ends near midday. Group participants should try and book return flights that depart Duluth in the mid-afternoon. This will give us one last morning to search for any species that may have eluded us thus far. Tour concludes at noon or upon your return to the Duluth airport.
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