Readers’ wildlife photos

April 4, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s batch of photos comes from ecologist Susan Harrison, who works at UC Davis. Her captions and narrative are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Birds of the Snowy North Woods

In late February 2023, as headlines warned of a massive snowstorm in the Upper Midwest, I took a long-awaited trip to the boreal forest. The main destination was Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog, a mecca for seeing owls and Arctic-breeding songbirds in winter. Despite the storm and the ensuing cold snap – it was minus 25°F at 7:00 am one day – the trip was a success thanks to expert guides Alex Lamoreaux and Chris Brown.  It also helped that bird feeding stations have been set up in the bog, creating hubs of animal activity in the frozen landscape.

First, some owls….

Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula), a “unique and badass bird” (Alex’s words) that hunts in the daytime, and is a true boreal species ranging only as far south as northern Minnesota:

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), everyone’s favorite ghostly flier, huddled on a roof:

Barred Owl (Strix varia), waiting at a bird feeder for Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), one of which we saw it chase:

We also watched a Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) hunting at dusk, too far away for photos.

Second, the lovely songbirds…

Pine Grosbeaks (Pinicola enucleator; pink and gray) and Evening Grosbeaks (Coccothraustes vespertinus; orange, black and white) on a pile of sunflower seeds:

Pine Grosbeak male:

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), an Arctic-breeding sparrow with spurred feet that overwinters farther north than any other songbird:

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea), an Arctic-breeding finch; we watched a flock of them mobbing the Hawk Owl, which did not budge in response:

Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) in front of a Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum), foraging for Mountain-Ash (Sorbus) berries during the snowstorm:

Canada Jay (Perisoreus canadensis), a bird that survives winter by storing food high in trees, gluing seeds to the bark with its saliva:

Third, the fowl….

Spruce Grouse (Canachites canadensis), another boreal species near its southern limit:

Spruce Grouse female:

Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus), showing the beginnings of its magnificent black ruff:

We witnessed the courtship dances of eight Sharp-Tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus), again too distant for good photos.

American Black Duck (Anas rubripes: center of photo; female with green bill facing left, male with yellow bill facing right), a species at risk from hybridization with Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos). This Black Duck pair was waiting out the storm in a tiny Mallard-packed pond:

And finally, the scene of a death in the snow. See if you can identify the perpetrator and victim!

JAC: I’ve put the answer below the fold.

Click on read more for the answer to the last photo:

ANSWER:   A Great Horned Owl killed a muskrat.   The owl’s wings got wet in the process and made “snow angels” as the owl dragged its prey up the embankment.    Another group of birdwatchers saw it happen, which is how we know the species of owl.

14 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. What a great set of boreal birds in winter! I grew up in Wisconsin and in spite of decades of local birding I never saw the hawk-owl and many others that you saw on that short trip. An amazing place, and amazing that you were able to photograph most of them.

  2. How exciting to visit a boreal birding Mecca, and to get such great pictures of its varied avian denizens! Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos of very hard-to-get species.

    1. Funny you should ask! I had to carry my Sony RX10 under my coat, because when the batteries get cold they cannot supply enough juice to the motor that extends the lens, and they wear themselves out trying.
      Fingerless gloves and those chemical hand-warming pouches are also helpful 🙂

  3. These beautiful photos are worth the freezing temperatures, at least for me, since I wasn’t there. 🙂 I’ve never heard of a bird that stows seeds high in trees affixing them with their own spit. Neat! And what a great variety of owls.
    I’d say the predator was a felid (lynx?) and the prey a rabbit. (Total guess, there wasn’t a lot of blood, and it’s just one of those stereotypical and ubiquitous wildlife scenarios of predator and prey.)

  4. We had a spruce grouse (known as a ‘fool hen’ up here as they are not very bright or speedy to get out of the way when approached) fly into the glass screen door last week. What a noise! It was stunned, so I picked it up and placed it on top of my truck so as to be safe from foxes. Gone the next morning (and no pile of feathers!) so it must have decided to wander off. It often roosts in a tree just across the yard from my front door.

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