Minnesota Owls and More Photo Tour Itinerary

Intro Itinerary Pricing & Information Gallery Birdlist Registration

February 18 – 24, 2018

Day One, February 18 – Tour participants arrive in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We’ll enjoy some local photography for owls (hoping for wintering Northern Saw-whet or Long-eared Owls), gulls or staked out rarities as time allows. We’ll begin our journey northward, enjoying dinner along the way, after light has faded. Night Duluth.

Day Two, February 19 – Duluth, Lake Superior and Two Harbors. 2018 is quickly becoming a Booming Owl Winter. Great Gray, Northern Hawk and Snowy Owls are all present in numbers that greatly exceed numbers from the previous five winters. Most exciting are the number of Boreal Owls that are now being found across Duluth, the North Shore and NE Minnesota! We will take advantage of current conditions to spend the entire day photographing owls. Night Duluth.

Northern Hawk-Owl. Photo by tour participant Josh Galicki ©

Day Three, February 20 – Minneapolis to Duluth, Lake Superior and Two Harbors. The luxury of a second morning to search for owls, hardy waterfowl or wintering rarity before turning northward along Lake Superior’s shore to Two Harbors. If there is open water in the Western tip of Lake Superior, we plan to visit Duluth’s Canal Park at some point to look for wintering gulls. Glaucous, Iceland, “Thayer’s” and assorted rarities are to be hoped for. The late afternoon hours should see us searching for Boreal Owls, hunting Great Gray Owls, fruit trees and open water areas in and around Two Harbors. Targets would include intimate experiences with the owls, Bohemian Waxwing, Townsend’s Solitaire in fruiting trees and wintering sea ducks in the open harbor areas. Night Two Harbors.

Day Four, February 21 – Superior National Forest, northern Lake and St. Louis Counties. 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. Another late afternoon search for hunting Great Gray and Northern Hawk Owls is planned, and it’s likely that sunset will find us admiring one of these enigmatic northern owls. Night Two Harbors.

Black-backed Woodpecker. Photo by Kim & Cindy Risen ©

Day Five – Six, February 22 – 23 – Duluth, Superior and Northeastern Minnesota’s Aitkin, Cook, Lake and St. Louis Counties. We’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 from 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, 2015 had a Common Eider—first live record since the mid-1960’s! and 2016 began with a BANG! when an Ivory Gull elected to spend nearly the entire month of January in the harbor.

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. Rarity highlights from recent years: 2013 included finding more than 600 Bohemian Waxwings feeding voraciously on Mountain Ash trees; 2012 provided a cooperative Mountain Bluebird along Superior’s North Shore; 2016 had that amazingly cooperative Ivory Gull; and this year’s highlights would certainly be any one of the many Boreal Owls encountered. Well visit 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.


Bohemian Waxwing. Photo by Kim & Cindy Risen ©

But it’s those owls that remain so highly prized by visiting photographers. 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…IN A SINGLE DAY! 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. HOWEVER, our best chances are during an irruption winter like what we are currently experiencing when hungry birds are forced to hunt into daylight hours, often feeding around homes and bird feeding stations! Our leader is well connected with the region’s active birders and the local network is always in contact when something exciting is located. Nights Duluth.

Day Seven, February 24 – Morning photo shoot. Drive to Minneapolis where tour ends upon arrival at the Minneapolis Airport. Group participants should try and book return flights that depart Minneapolis in the mid-afternoon, certainly after 1:00 PM. This will give us one last morning in the field with our cameras. Tour concludes upon return to the Minneapolis airport.

Intro Itinerary Pricing & Information Gallery Birdlist Registration