Athena in The Bog Part 2: Hanging with Erik Bruhnke

Athena out of focus, but check out the top of that deciduous tree! Northern Hawk Owl, baby!!!!

Athena out of focus, but check out the top of that deciduous tree! Northern Hawk Owl, baby!!!!

For Part 1, head here.

Photos and words by Erik Bruhnke

The trifecta of northern owls was seen many times through the sharp-views of Athena, the Wandering Ultravid. In mid-February, Athena made a visit to northern Minnesota where she birded throughout the brisk winter conditions in search of bog-dwelling birds, and had great success!

Northern Hawk Owl don't care... no, seriously, he don't care one bit.

Northern Hawk Owl don’t care… no, seriously, he don’t care one bit.

From the most common Black-capped Chickadees which were seen foraging throughout the mixed forests, to the uncommon birds like Great Gray Owls and Boreal Chickadees that patrolled the black spruces, the birding in Sax-Zim Bog during the month of February is a treat to be experienced. Athena really aided me in my birding tours that I was leading in the bog this past February. Sax-Zim Bog is a nationally-recognized winter birding hotspot, about an hour’s drive northwest of Duluth.

Black-capped Chickadees rule the bog

Black-capped Chickadees rule the bog

Handsome Northern Hawk Owls can be found here nearly every winter. The tall-yet-lightweight Great Gray Owls are year-round residents, sometimes accompanied by irruptions of other Great Gray Owls that hunt along their local territories. Sax-Zim Bog is home to the spectrum of winter specialties when specific seed crops become scarce throughout Canada. Pine Grosbeaks and Pine Siskins were seen with Athena, however redpolls and crossbills were not found as the bulk of these latter species have been residing in Canada during the current winter months.

Pine Grosbeaks

Pine Grosbeaks

One of the target birds that was aimed for was the Black-backed Woodpecker. From hearing drumming as well as the classic “chuck” call note that this species gives, it was awesome to know that this bird was around; but alas, this secretive species never showed itself to be viewed by the one and only Athena. I was treated to the sharpest and most vibrant views of Boreal Chickadees I have ever witnessed while using the 7×42 Ultravids, hands-down.

Snowy Owl preening for the camera

Snowy Owl preening for the camera

Although typically thought of as a western mountainous/plains species, Black-billed Magpies are a year-round species in Sax-Zim Bog. This birding hotspot also happens to be where the easternmost breeding population of Black-billed Magpies can be found within their typical range in North America. Athena provided great looks at the magpies, which included seeing the soft deep-blue sheen on their wings and tail. Common Ravens, American Crows, Gray Jays and Blue Jays were all seen in addition to the Black-billed Magpies. Outside of the corvids were fantastic views of Northern Shrikes, seen both perched and actively hunting across their snow-covered territories.

Gray Jays, Whisky Jacks, Camp Robbers... whatever you call them, they'll kill you with cuteness (© David La Puma; Leica X-Vario through the Leica Televid APO 65 via Paul Sayegh's Digidapter)

Gray Jays, Whisky Jacks, Camp Robbers… whatever you call them, they’ll kill you with cuteness (© David La Puma; Leica X-Vario through the Leica Televid APO 65 via Paul Sayegh’s Digidapter)

Athena held up great throughout the sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall. Even during the snowiest of days, the AquaDura coatings on the lenses kept the view through the binoculars clean and sharp, all with the flick of a wrist to get the water off of the lenses, and a touch of light buffing with a microfiber cloth. Without a doubt, the Leica 7×42 Ultravids are the brightest and sharpest binoculars I have ever used. Their large-barreled feel plus lightweight profile and ergonomic focusing knob made the birding experience a truly memorable one.

The ghostly yet majestic Great Gray Owl

The ghostly yet majestic Great Gray Owl

A Great Gray Owl phonescoped through Athena the Wandering Ultravid! Now that's an EPIC lifer!

A Great Gray Owl phonescoped through Athena the Wandering Ultravid! Now that’s an EPIC lifer!

 

For those of you interested in seeing the checklists from this adventure, look no further!

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S17088599

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S17238729

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S17188213