Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sax Zim Area, AWESOME Number 2!, February 2

At continental breakfast in the morning at Super 8, I meet Scott Meyer and his birding companion.  They had not found a Boreal Owl yesterday and were heading out to try again with a possible visit later to Sax Zim.  Because the person at the desk had already told someone that they could not print digital files, I asked Scott if we could try to get a paper copy of his Sax Zim map.  That was successful.  After breakfast and stopping for gas, I headed to Sax Zim.  I intended to first try for Great Gray Owl along McDavitt Road.  As I headed west on Sax Road, I saw a group of cars stopped on Cranberry Road.  I pulled up behind them to inquire what they had found.  I asked the last person in the line of cars but what I heard was little jumbled, so I decided to leave and look for Great Gray Owl.  I drove up McDavitt and checked all the likely perch locations north of the railroad track.  I continued well north of the designed area where the bird was being seen.  No luck.  I turned around and met a man from Wisconsin at a parking area on the west side of the road, who was looking for his life bird Great Gray Owl.  He had information indicating the Great Grey Owl was being seen by walking the tramped snow trail west about 15 minutes off the road.   I joined him and we walked back following the previous tramped snow trail to a large cleared area, but we were unsuccessful.  We walked back to our cars to warm up.  Another vehicle of birders arrived, and we walked back again.  One of the ladies knew a tour leader who had texted her this morning early after seeing the Great Gray Owl in the open area.  We were again unsuccessful, and she indicated that early morning and later afternoon/evenings are best.  We knew that but were hoping for the best anyway.  I had seen Great Gray Owls during the day previously at several locations around the US.  The man from Wisconsin indicated that he also stopped on Cranberry Road in the morning.  The leader had Sharp-tailed Grouse feeding on buds in the bushes at great distance,  which the man from Wisconsin was unable to identify.  The debate when I stopped was between Ruffed and Sharp-tailed Grouse, but I misheard that.  I left McDavitt Road and stopped by the Cranberry Road location on my way to Admiral Road.  No grouse were visible from Cranberry.  I went to the Admiral Road feeders where I saw Boreal Chickadee and Gray Jay.  I met the man from Wisconsin again and later Scott Meyer and his birding friend Ben showed up.  Then we all left to go to the Owl Avenue feeders where there are Pine Grosbeaks, Evening Grosbeaks and Hoary Redpolls.    

  Boreal Chickadee
At the Owl Avenue feeders there were Pine Grosbeaks, including one gorgeous pink full breeding male and at least one Hoary Redpoll.

Gray Jay
Hoary Redpoll:  Note the pushed in appearance of the face due to the steeper forehead and shorter bill as well as little to no streaking on the flanks and no streaking on the under tail coverts.

Common Redpoll: Top.  More heavily streaked and darker overall.  More sloping forehead and longer bill.

Hoary Redpoll: bottom.  More frosty overall and on the back as well as the previously noted field marks.  Note the seed in the background of the bill making it look larger than it really is. 

Pine Grosbeak

I left the Owl Avenue feeders and followed Scott Meyer and Ben driving around for a while looking for Great Gray Owls.  However, as the sun began to set, I split off from them after they stopped to look at a Ruffed Grouse in a tree along the road.  I returned to the parking area on McDavitt Road, which I considered the best shot for Great Gray Owl.  When I arrived the man from Wisconsin and another person were walking out the trail, not successful, and to warm up.  I bundled up in my very warm down lined coat with insulated hood, insulated ski pants, and warm waterproof boots with felt liners.   I was prepared to stay the course until dark.  I left the parking area between 3:45 and 4:00 pm.  I walked back to the opening and started scanning when I reached a large tramped down area in the snow near a dirt pile.   I continued to walk the path beyond the pile, stopping to scan until I reached the end of the tramped trail.  I continued to scan.  I did the same walking back toward the pile.  I reached a point where I could see the sky in the background beyond the fifth spruce tree from the visible end of the north line of spruce that bordered the open area.  I suddenly realized that there was a large bird with a huge rounded head sitting on top of the stub of a broken off spruce tree.  It was a Great Grey Owl!  The time was 4:42 pm.  I watched the bird through binoculars and attempted a few very distant photos.  The best of them is below.  I realized that I needed to contact the man from Wisconsin.  But soon enough Rory Cameron and Anne Geraghty appeared walking into the clearing.  I started waving my arms and motioning them to come.  They saw me and started walking more rapidly.  Well, Rory got his lifer!  Anne got to see it too, but not a lifer for her.  It was icing on the cake to help Rory get his lifer!  That was almost better than finding the bird for my Big Year list!  Unfortunately, this owl flew from the stub to the east and landed on top of a spruce against the sky line, apparently because another Great Gray Owl appeared in the clearing to the east.  They both flow to the north and disappeared.  Anne had called many people.  Unfortunately, none of them got to see this bird.  Only Rory, Anne and I in the late evening at this site today.  The total is now 122.

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