Pine Grosbeak  ~  Lon Baumgardt photo (Sax-Zim Bog / January 5)

Well, even Sandy (the photographer) would admit it’s not the best photo of the Tufted Duck behind Pier B Hotel, but no one else in the first MBW group (hereafter, MBW I) apparently was able to get a better image. So, we’ll take it – not only as just the 2nd-ever Minnesota record ever (pending MOURC acceptance), but also as #364 on the all-time MBWeekends composite list! Unfortunately, though, it failed to appear for the second MBW group (MBW II), just as it has eluded others on some days since its discovery on December 11. But at least both groups were able to see the King Eider at Brighton Beach, and this time Sandy was able to get a much better photo.

Besides these two rare ducks, there really weren’t that many other  unexpected birds to highlight here. True, both groups saw all three of the northern owls during a half day’s birding in the Sax-Zim Bog – and isn’t it odd that finding Great Gray, Northern Hawk, and Snowy owls doesn’t really qualify as anything all that unusual!

And the same could be said for all the other northern Minnesota specialties we came up with on at least one of the MBWs: Sharp-tailed Grouse (but why are they displaying in winter, and not until an hour or two after sunrise?!), Iceland and Glaucous gulls (plus a relatively rare Great Black-backed on MBW II), Black-backed Woodpecker, Northern Shrike, Canada Jay, Black-billed Magpie, Boreal Chickadee, Bohemian Waxwing, both grosbeaks, and both crossbills (somewhat unexpectedly). Yawn...

Even the weather mercifully failed to be newsworthy, as both MBWs experienced tolerable conditions for the most part. (Although we would have had a rough day on January 7 if I had not decided to cancel that post-MBW day.) Accordingly, MBW II was a day longer, resulting in more time to come up with more species (41) than MBW I (37) –  with a composite total of 48 for both MBWs combined. However, those on MBW I also listed a River Otter at Brighton Beach, a Porcupine on Admiral Rd, and a few of us even got a brief view of a Pine Marten on Admiral. And a few in the group can even boast they saw a House Sparrow by the Welcome Center in the Bog – a new addition to the Center’s yard list!               

Bird List

I = seen only on the first MBW, January 5-6

II = see only on the second MBW, January 11-12-13

(species not annotated with I or II were seen on both MBWs)



American Black Duck

Tufted Duck          I

Lesser Scaup          II

King Eider

Common Goldeneye

Red-breasted Merganser          II

Common Merganser         I

(Ring-necked Pheasant / escape)

Ruffed Grouse          II

Sharp-tailed Grouse

Wild Turkey

Rock Pigeon

Mourning Dove          II

Herring Gull

Iceland (Thayer’s) Gull          II

Glaucous Gull         I

Great Black-backed Gull          II

Bald Eagle

Snowy Owl

Northern Hawk Owl

Great Gray Owl

Black-backed Woodpecker (seen on II; heard-only on I)

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Northern Shrike

Canada Jay

Blue Jay

Black-billed Magpie          II

American Crow

Common Raven

Black-capped Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch          II

American Robin          II

European Starling

Bohemian Waxwing          II

House Sparrow

Evening Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

Common Redpoll

Red Crossbill         I

White-winged Crossbill

Pine Siskin          II

American Goldfinch         I

White-throated Sparrow         I

Red-winged Blackbird         I

*          *          *


January 5-6, 2019 and January 11-12-13, 2019

Tufted Duck  ~  Sandy Aubol photo (Pier B Hotel / January 6)

King Eider  ~  Sandy Aubol photo (Brighton Beach / January 5)

Glaucous Gull  ~  Lon Baumgardt photo (Canal Park / January 6)

Northern Hawk Owl  ~  Robert Decandido photo (Sax-Zim Bog / January 11)

Boreal Chickadee  ~  Lon Baumgardt photo (Sax-Zim Bog / January 6)

Photo by Heidi Novak

Photo by Clinton Nienhaus

*          *          *


January 10 - 11 - 12, 2020

*          *          *


January 5-6, 2019 and January 11-12-13, 2019

Tufted Duck  ~  Sandy Aubol photo (Pier B Hotel / January 6)

King Eider  ~  Sandy Aubol photo (Brighton Beach / January 5)

Glaucous Gull  ~  Lon Baumgardt photo (Canal Park / January 6)

Northern Hawk Owl  ~  Robert Decandido photo (Sax-Zim Bog / January 11)

Boreal Chickadee  ~  Lon Baumgardt photo (Sax-Zim Bog / January 6)

Well, given the two nice pictures above, this MBW summary might just as well end here! Needless to say, this completely unexpected Barn Owl was something pretty special. It represents only the 7th record for northern MN – two of these were also in winter in or near Duluth, the others were in Polk, Beltrami, Hubbard, and Cook counties, and the most “recent” of these was back in 1986. It’s also #366 on the all-time MBWeekends list, and only the second one I’ve ever seen in MN. (Note as well the recent report that the property owners had been seeing this owl there for about a month, and that some birders apparently had a brief and tentative ID there on January 1.)

But, of course, there are some other things worth mentioning from this final MBWeekend of our 34th season. Our composite list for the three days managed to reach 35 species, which is probably about average for this MBW, but it would have only been about 30 if an impromptu stop Sunday afternoon at the Lester River hadn’t added 3 duck species (plus a goldeneye; already seen Friday) and a single gull (finally!) to the list. Our more significant highlights – all from The Bog, of course – included Sharp-tailed Grouse, an unexpected Snowy Owl (plus another Friday in Superior, WI), two N. Hawk Owls (the one on McDavitt Rd was unexpected), a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers (but, alas, we missed the Am. Three-toed), Evening Grosbeak, plus some shrikes, magpies, and Canada Jays. And, yes, we did see a Great Gray Owl, Minnesota’s #1 sought-after specialty, but it was much farther away than we would have liked.

I suppose you could say the weather was one of our highlights, too, since 2 of our 3 days had no wind to deal with, and two of the days were clear – and you have to admit that snow squall early Sunday as we approached Two Harbors was pretty impressive. In a way, then, the weather was more cooperative than some of the birds, as this has been a very slow winter for some winter specialties – especially gulls, Boreal Chickadees, Bohemian Waxwings, and just about all the finches.

Bird List

Mallard (Sunday-only; Lester R)

American Black Duck (ditto)

Common Goldeneye

Red-breasted Merganser (ditto)

Ruffed Grouse

Sharp-tailed Grouse

Wild Turkey

Rock Pigeon

Herring Gull (Sunday-only)

Bald Eagle

Rough-legged Hawk

Barn Owl

Snowy Owl

Northern Hawk Owl

Great Gray Owl

Black-backed Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Northern Shrike

Canada Jay

Blue Jay

Black-billed Magpie

American Crow

Common Raven

Black-capped Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Brown Creeper

European Starling

House Sparrow

Evening Grosbeak

Pine Siskin (Sunday-only; Lake CR 2)

American Goldfinch

White-throated Sparrow (Friday-only; Canal Park)


(photos by Leslie Gillette)

*          *          *


January 8 - 9 - 10, 2021

Bird List:

• FRI = January 8: Sax-Zim Bog (with Dave Benson and Frank Nicoletti)

• SAT = January 9: North Shore, mostly Grand Marais & Two Harbors (with Dave and Frank)

• SUN = January 10: Lake CR 2 / Hwy 1 / Tomahawk Tr, and Canal Park (with Frank); Homestead Rd / Barrs Lake area, and Sax-Zim (with KRE)  

Canada Goose     FRI, SAT (rare in winter in northern MN)

Mallard     SAT, SUN

Ring-necked Duck     SAT (Two Harbors stake-out)

Harlequin Duck     SAT (Two Harbors stake-out)

Long-tailed Duck     SAT (Grand Marais)

King Eider     SAT (Grand Marais stake-out)

Bufflehead     SAT

Common Goldeneye     SAT, SUN

Common Merganser     SAT

Red-breasted Merganser     SAT

Sharp-tailed Grouse     FRI, SUN (two in Sax-Zim at the “usual spot”)

Wild Turkey     FRI

Rock Pigeon     FRI, SAT, SUN

Herring Gull     SAT, SUN

Iceland Gull     SAT, SUN (Two Harbors and Canal Park)

Glaucous Gull     SUN (Canal Park)

Great Black-backed Gull     SUN (adult at Canal Park)

Bald Eagle     FRI, SAT, SUN

Northern Hawk Owl     FRI (on CR 7 in Sax-Zim)

Great Gray Owl     FRI, SUN (CR 7 on Fri; Homestead Rd on Sun; 4 in Lake Co on Sun)

Black-backed Woodpecker     FRI (Bob Russell bogwalk)

Downy Woodpecker     FRI, SAT, SUN

Hairy Woodpecker     FRI, SAT, SUN

Pileated Woodpecker     FRI, SAT

Northern Shrike     FRI

Canada Jay     FRI, SUN

Blue Jay     FRI, SAT, SUN

Black-billed Magpie     SUN (2 on CR 229 in Sax-Zim)

American Crow     FRI, SAT, SUN

Common Raven     FRI, SAT, SUN

Black-capped Chickadee     FRI, SAT, SUN

Boreal Chickadee     FRI (as close as 2-3 feet away at Warren Nelson Bog)

Red-breasted Nuthatch     FRI, SAT, SUN

White-breasted Nuthatch     FRI, SUN

Brown Creeper     FRI (seen by some)

Golden-crowned Kinglet     FRI (mostly heard-only)

European Starling     FRI, SAT, SUN

Bohemian Waxwing     SAT, SUN (distant fly-bys in Grand Marais; brief fly-bys near Homestead Rd)

House Sparrow     FRI, SUN

Evening Grosbeak     FRI

Pine Grosbeak     FRI, SUN

(Purple Finch - SUN in Lake Co?)

Common Redpoll     FRI, SUN

Hoary Redpoll     FRI (seen by some at Bob Russell bogwalk and at the S-t Grouse site)

White-winged Crossbill     SAT, SUN (seen by some in Grand Marais; 1 in Lake Co on Sun)

Pine Siskin     FRI (seen by some)


Comments from Dave Benson on Friday & Saturday...

A deer dinged Nancy’s car, and Frank went down hard on the ice in Grand Marais. So, in some respects, it was a typical 2020-2021 MBWeekend experience.

On the other hand, we had gorgeous weather all weekend, and on Friday in the Bog the hoarfrost was more extensive than I have ever seen. We worked hard for the species we saw, but we saw some good ones: a Boreal Chickadee at face level in the Warren Nelson Bog, a close look at a female Black-backed Woodpecker on the Bob Russell Bogwalk, spectacular looks at two Sharp-tailed Grouse at the feeders near their CR 29 lek, and at the end of the day, a Great Gray Owl in the waning sun, and a Northern Hawk Owl at dusk.

Saturday was just ducky—literally. It was very quiet overall, but we had nine species of duck! The highlights were the King Eider in Grand Marais, close looks at the Harlequin Duck in Two Harbors, Long-tailed Ducks off the rocks in Grand Marais, and, hey, seeing any duck in unfrozen water in January is good!

I haven’t even mentioned that we had Canada Goose both days. Or that it was a pleasure to guide again with my old friend Frank Nicoletti. In the late 1990s, Frank, Kim, and I were the entire overlook staff at Hawk Ridge (not like now, when it takes dozens to run the overlook). Kim, of course, had been running things there all by himself for two decades by then, and Frank is still holding down the fort at the banding station. You’d think with all that experience, we might have found a raptor besides Bald Eagle, but we didn’t.

Comments from Frank Nicoletti’s eBird report on Friday...

Nice day with temperatures starting at about 12 degrees getting up to about 20. Hoar frost was spectacular as it has been all week. Foggy in the early morning with sun late morning until end of day. Great views of GGOW, NHOW, BBWO, BOCH, winter finches including lots of male PIGR, plenty of EVGR, redpolls including one HORE. We missed BBMA and both crossbills. Overall nice day of birding with good birds, folks, and nice weather.

And from his eBird report on Sunday morning in Superior National Forest...

Checked Sand River multiple times, went up Tomahawk Trail. Very slow, tried stopping a dozen times and listening and using playback. 5-18 degrees with overcast skies, light winds and heavy hoar frost. Four Great Gray Owls – surprisingly 3 on the Tomahawk Trail, including a male and female calling to each other; plus one on CR 2.

Additional comments from KRE...

Sax-Zim was as productive as usual, ten species of waterfowl on Saturday was unprecedented (a Canadian Honker and 9 ducks, including the eider and a Harlequin; normally this MBW has only 2-3 ducks), and a flourish of gulls at Canal Park was a nice way to end the weekend. The weather was about as good as you can expect in January, and the hoar frost was amazing and almost everywhere we went (though it may be more accurate to call it rime icing).

Fortunately, Nancy was not hurt in that deer collision in Two Harbors, and she was accommodated by the Baumtrogs and the Polesaks so she could continue birding and get home on Sunday. And my thanks to all the participants for coming, for your patience during the less birdy parts of the days, and for making this final MBW of the season possible – our 35th year in 2020-21 has been a challenging one.


(photos by Tom Burns)

Harlequin Duck  ~  Two Harbors

Sharp-tailed Grouse  ~  County Road 29, Sax-Zim Bog

Black-backed Woodpecker  ~  Bob Russell Bogwalk, Sax-Zim Bog


January 6-7 & January 8-9, 2022

MBW I (Jay Vancura photo)

As many of you know, “lily-livered, lollygagging listers” has long been my pet name for all of you MBWers, but I might have to amend that. Indeed, too many of you still county list to a fault (and I suspect some even keep calendar-day lists, for reasons unknown), and all of us lollygag at times – it’s especially hard to move when it’s 20 below and the windchill readings fall into the minus 30s. But in all fairness, I can’t call anyone lily-livered if you braved the elements on this MBW!

It was especially challenging on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday when the warmest it got was around zero, the lows were between -10 and -20, and sustained winds in the 10-20 mph range prevailed. Even Saturday, when temperatures rose into the 20s above zero in Duluth, it was still tough going with 15-20 mph winds. And it had to be even colder when we birded up in Sax-Zim and along Lake CR 2.

But the birding made it all worthwhile, especially if you managed to see that wide-ranging and elusive Ivory Gull when it cooperated for several MBWers on Friday afternoon, for a lucky few on Saturday, and for those who stayed in town Sunday morning (see Matthew’s photo). However, there were unfortunately a few who missed it entirely, although I think they had seen this species before.

Those on both MBWs also had nice looks at a cooperative Snowy Owl in The Bog, and everyone saw Canada Jays, magpies, a Boreal Chickadee, both grosbeaks, and Common Redpolls there, too. Less cooperative, though, were Great Gray Owl (see Jay’s photo), Bohemian Waxwing, and White-winged Crossbill – while these were seen on MBW I, they did not cooperate for anyone on MBW II. Northern Shrike was curiously elusive, since no one saw any on MBW I, and it was missed by some on MBW II. But some in both groups saw both Iceland and Glaucous gulls, a few managed brief looks at Hoary Redpoll, and two Fox Sparrows were unexpected at a Duluth feeder on Sunday morning.

In all, we came up with a composite list of 43 species, not including the pheasant which tried to join MBW II’s car caravan. (Count it if you must for whatever lists you keep, but this species is farm-raised in and around Sax-Zim.) Each MBW separately came up with 38 species.

So, thanks to all for not complaining too much about the weather (I think I whined more than anyone), and we all owe special thanks to co-leader Frank Nicoletti who helped out significantly with his contributions on both MBWs.  –KRE

Park Point Recreation Area (Matthew Schaut photo)

Bird List

I = seen on Duluth !, January 6-7

II = seen on Duluth II, January 8-9

Mallard          I  II                         

American Black Duck          I  II

Common Goldeneye          I  II

Common Merganser          I

Red-breasted Merganser          I  II

Wild Turkey          I  II

Ruffed Grouse          I  II

(Ring-necked Pheasant          II)

Rock Pigeon          I  II

Mourning Dove          II

Ivory Gull               I  II

Herring Gull          I  II

Iceland Gull          I  II

Glaucous Gull          I  II

Bald Eagle          I  II

Red-tailed Hawk          I  II

Snowy Owl               I  II

Great Gray Owl          I

Downy Woodpecker          I  II

Hairy Woodpecker          I  II

Pileated Woodpecker          I

Northern Shrike          II

Canada Jay          I  II

Blue Jay          I  II

Black-billed Magpie          I  II

American Crow               I  II

Common Raven               I  II

Black-capped Chickadee          I  II

Boreal Chickadee          I  II

Bohemian Waxwing          I

Red-breasted Nuthatch          I  II

White-breasted Nuthatch          I  II

European Starling          I  II

House Sparrow          I  II

Evening Grosbeak          I  II

Pine Grosbeak          I  II

Common Redpoll          I  II

Hoary Redpoll          I  II

White-winged Crossbill          I

Pine Siskin          I  II

American Goldfinch          II

Fox Sparrow          II

Dark-eyed Junco               II

Northern Cardinal          I  II

CR 7, Sax-Zim Bog (Jay Vancura photo)

The summaries of the 2019 through 2022 MBWs

follow the 2023 summary.


Winter Duluth MBWeekends Summary

January 5-6 and January 7-8, 2023

Despite relatively warm temperatures and light winds for most of the time, the weather on these final MBWeekends of the 2022-23 MBW season was far from ideal. A moderate snowfall just before MBW I mixed with freezing rain made Wednesday’s and Thursday morning’s driving difficult enough so that the option was given to start birding at noon on Day One. The smart ones in the group (Craig included!) took advantage of that offer and actually had a pleasant sunny afternoon up in The Bog. Meanwhile, the most eager and foolhardy participants (myself included!) showed up at dawn despite the road conditions and were treated to a seriously ice-covered Highway 61 as we made our way up to Stony Point, Knife River, and Two Harbors.

The decent weather on Friday for the rest of MBW I was then followed by dense fog on Saturday morning for the start of MBW II, so that it became almost impossible to see anything until mid-morning. After the sun emerged, the rest of the day up in Sax-Zim had clear skies which lasted through Sunday, though by Sunday a moderate wind developed to create a noticeable windchill.

In all, our combined list over the four days reached 40 species, which seems about average for this annual MBW – 33 were recorded on MBW I, while MBW II had 32 species. The leading highlight on both trips was (as always) finding Great Gray Owl up in The Bog, though it was characteristically elusive and frustrating at first. The MBW I group saw two of them on Friday morning (one on CR 7 and the other on McDavitt Rd.), but that was after they couldn’t find any on late Thursday afternoon. Then, those on MBW II had almost no chance of seeing anything on that foggy Saturday morning, much better visibility that afternoon didn’t produce any sightings, but finally one nicely cooperated for us along CR 7 at our first stop on Sunday.

The best birds on MBW I that MBW II missed were probably Boreal Chickadee and White-winged Crossbill, a surprising assortment of waterfowl on the lake, and those in Jodi’s car added a Great Horned Owl just after they left The Bog to head home on Friday. Conversely, MBW II somehow turned up both waxwings in Sax-Zim (the Bohemians emerging from the fog on McDavitt Saturday), and on Sunday a small flock of Snow Buntings was spotted in The Bog, a stake-out Townsend’s Solitaire was briefly seen, and the gull-watching was better than on MBW I.          

But most birds seem to be in short supply this winter. No Northern Hawk Owls and very few Snowies are around, hardly any Spruce Grouse or Boreal Chickadees are being found in the Superior National Forest, and the winter finches (except for Evening Grosbeaks, which are unusually widespread) are mostly disappointing: Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls are in low numbers, and both crossbills are generally scarce to nonexistent.

Bird List

• I = seen on MBW I, Jan. 5-6

• II = seen on MBW II, Jan. 7-8

Canada Goose          I

Trumpeter Swan          I

Mallard          I

Redhead          I

Common Goldeneye          I, II

Red-breasted Merganser          I

Ruffed Grouse          I, II

Rock Pigeon          I, II

Herring Gull          I, II

Iceland Gull          II

Glaucous Gull          II

Bald Eagle          I, II

Great Horned Owl          I

Great Gray Owl          I, II

Downy Woodpecker          I, II

Hairy Woodpecker          I, II

Pileated Woodpecker          I, II

Northern Shrike          I, II

Canada Jay          I, II

Blue Jay          I, II

Black-billed Magpie          I, II

American Crow          I, II

Common Raven          I, II

Black-capped Chickadee          I, II

Boreal Chickadee          I

Bohemian Waxwing          II

Cedar Waxwing          II

Red-breasted Nuthatch          I, II

White-breasted Nuthatch          I, II

European Starling          I, II

Townsend’s Solitaire          II

American Robin          I, II

House Sparrow          I, II

Evening Grosbeak          I, II

Pine Grosbeak          I, II

Purple Finch          II

Common Redpoll          I, II

White-winged Crossbill          I

American Goldfinch          I, II

Snow Bunting          II

*          *          *