Thursday, December 16, 2010


When the first snow flake falls on the north shore of Lake Superior, "the question" is inevitably asked me, "Do you stay here for the winter?" More often than not, the hope of an affirmative yes can be seen in the eyes of the questioner.... I always have the feeling my yes answer, validates their sanity.

First of all, there are many reasons Mary and I choose to winter on Cedar Ridge. A few I have alluded to in past posts, but the main reason is we enjoy all the wildlife seasons here on the north shore. Each season spotlights varieties of different birds and animals and we would greatly miss these events.

One of these events is the winter return of the Gray Jay, aka Canada Jay, Whiskey Jack, Camp Robber or Chickadee on Steroids. The winters of 2008 and 2009 were void of this gregarious bird of the north and we greatly missed his presence. This fall on November 5th our "reason not to go south" flew in to our yard. A beautiful immature Gray Jay landed in our front yard cedar tree. I immediately cut some small pieces of beef summer sausage our Gray Fox enjoys and tossed it on our patio. Without hesitation, the gray one dove in and helped himself. I added a few cubes of bread and he flew back and forth from the forest gathering up his new found booty.

Usually when you begin feeding a Gray Jay, they hang around for the duration, that being the winter and then departing in the spring to their breeding areas. This guy stayed for the remainder of the day and then disappeared for the next day or so. I thought my theory of "feed and stay" did not apply to this bird... but about the time I thought he had continued on his way, he returned. Now I was prepared with all the jay's favorites: white wieners (the cheapest and worst looking), hamburger morsels and white bread cubes. The gray one will pretty much eat any meat scrap you throw out the door. I do know that they have an affinity for baked beans... and I have friends that have watched them steal hot dogs off a grill and chips off a picnic table. Thus the appropriate handle, "Camp Robber."

The Gray Jay is arguably the most social of the birds of the northland. They thrive on contact with humans; obviously because we return their affection and bravery with the food they love. This new arrival took food out of my hand on the second day he was here. He comes every morning at sunrise and returns intermittently during the day. Every afternoon at sunset, which is now around 4:15 pm, he flies in to "pork down" for the long, cold night.

We received a surprise soon after his arrival, when another Gray Jay accompanied him into the yard. At first he was not too enamored with the new arrival, but soon they were both flying in together. The new guy would not land in my hand to grab his scraps, he would perch in a cedar or on my suet post and watch his friend land in my hand. He always waits for the original jay to eat first, then he flutters in and waits for me to toss his scraps on the ground. I am wondering if he will someday eat out of my hand before he leaves in the spring.

Mary and I love to watch them flutter from long distances into the yard. They have the longest and most beautiful glide to my outstretched hand. Yesterday I placed a slice of hot dog, piece of hamburger and bread cube in my hand. I was curious to see which one he would choose. He landed in my hand, perused the buffet and proceeded to scarf up the hamburger, hot dog and bread cube in that order... leaving none behind.

The Gray Jay's range is extensive throughout Alaska and Canada; in the U.S.A. he flies the northern border states from Minnesota, east to Maine... the northwestern states of Washington, Oregon and a finger extends throughout the Rocky Mountain range south into New Mexico.

Where ever he is seen, he provides endless delight and entertainment for the birder, hiker and camper... as the book "Birds of America" states: "He is about the cheekiest thing that wears feathers."

Saturday, October 30, 2010


The past couple weeks I have been fortunate to photograph Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings. They have been passing through here each day and landing in an old gravel area next a road that leads into my driveway. Each morning I have been staked out by some small spruce trees, waiting for them to land and feed on weeds and seeds.

Lapland Longspur

Snow Bunting

Lapland Longspur

Lapland Longspur

I have spent many hours watching the longspurs and buntings... and have begun to understand their quirky flight habits. It seems that each flock closely resembles a kindergarten class. I see the "line leader" swoop in and perch on a taller weed or rock. He almost always is the most colorful male of the flock and peruses the area and may peck a few seeds. He then either flies off and brings back the rest of the flock or the flock joins him in his newly found area.

Snow Bunting

I slowly move towards them taking a few steps and then waiting five minutes or so... then repeat until they are used to my presence. This goes on until the "line leader" cheeps and they are off with their flashing, white wings. More often than not, the flock will fly in a large circle and land almost in the same spot or a short distance away. Once, they flew in the circle and I had them land a few feet from me... to close to focus with the 400.

Snow Bunting

John Burroughs rises to his best literature as he speaks of the Snow Buntings ("Far and Near"): "The only one of our winter birds that really seems a part of the winter, that seems to be born of the whirling snow, and to be happiest when storms drive thickest and coldest, is the Snow Bunting. The real snowbird, with plumage copied from the fields where the drifts hide all but the tops of the tallest weeds, large spaces of pure white touched here and there with black and gray and brown. Its twittering call and chirrup coming out of the white obscurity is the sweetest and happiest of all winter bird sounds. It is like the laughter of children. The fox-hunter hears it on the snowy hills, the farmer hears it when he goes to fodder his cattle from the distant stack, the country schoolboy hears it as he breaks his way through the drifts toward the school. It is ever a voice of good cheer and contentment."

Snow Bunting

It is a celebration for me, to have the opportunity to observe these beautiful tundra birds at close range. I think they are the most uniquely marked birds I see in the late fall and arguably the most docile along with the Lapland Longspurs. I look forward to the return of these beautiful birds in the spring... adorning their gorgeous breeding plumage.

Lapland Longspur... spring breeding plumage

Snow Bunting... spring breeding plumage

"One bleak March day,...a flock of snow-buntings came...Every few moments one of them would mount into the air, hovering about with quivering wings and warbling a loud, merry song with some very sweet notes. They were a most welcome little group of guests, and we were sorry when, after loitering around a day or two, they disappeared toward their breeding haunts." Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, October 14, 2010


October on the ridge is usually a month of transition. Last year at this time we had snow on the 10th of October and lows the last half of the month in the 30's and 20's. Then November and deer hunting arrived and we ended up with warm temps and golfing weather.

Now in mid October, we have enjoyed warm temperatures with highs reaching the 60's and 72 on October 9th. The fact of the matter is, so far, the whole 2010 year has been incredibly warm and pleasant.

We had a half dozen or so deer we fed in our yard this past winter. Usually they stay until the middle or end of April and sometimes the first week of May. This year, they exited in mid March because of the exceptionally warm temps. Here on our ridge we had a grand total of 18 inches of snow for the entire 2010 winter. Inland there was "thigh high" snow at mid winter, but all we got was rain off the Big Lake. I took photos of drumming Ruffed Grouse in a light Gore-tex jacket the whole month of April.

The spring advent of the wood warblers was quite disappointing, as mentioned in a previous post. A number of species either by passed our ridge, flying at night or completely blew us off, missing us for the entire nesting season. In the breeding and nesting season of 2009 we identified 21 species of warblers. This year we spotted 16 species and in 2008 we saw a grand total of 23 species. I had hoped because of the wonderful weather the warblers would have a banner year. It ended up being the opposite, with an added negative, full blown leaves... two weeks early.... making warbler observation and photographing, difficult at best.

Each fall, the media weather prognosticators, gaze into their crystal balls and make an educated guess about the impending winter wrath. If their predictions are anything like the year of 2010, they will be dead wrong.

I always used two scenarios in my winter prediction: 1. the width of the band of the "Wooly Caterpillar." 2. An elderly Native American gentleman used to fish on the banks of a creek that flowed behind my house. I would sit and listen to his historic stories about past Native American encampments in the area of my house. The topic of winter came up. I thought that certainly, this wise old sage would enlighten me with a similar wise prediction. Not missing a beat, with a twinkle in his eye, he said.... "By the the size of the white man's wood pile, it is going to be a bad one." .... This year the 40 pound bags of wood pellets, for our pellet stove are piled quite high. We will see if the snow matches their height....

The first 14 days of October had interesting birds stopping by. Some are my "usual suspects" that remain here with me all winter, such as the Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Jays, Bald Eagle and the Downy Woodpecker.

Bald Eagle

Blue Jay

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Downy Woodpecker

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Others such as the Winter Wren, Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and Lapland Longspur are passing through.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

Fox Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco Juvenile

Lapland Longspur

The Purple Finch seems to be here at various times throughout the winter months.

Purple Finch

A couple more of my friends that flew in...

American Tree Sparrow

White-breasted Nuthatch

And one that trots in each night...

Gray Fox

"Entering Winter" can be like a slamming storm door or a slow progression of "Indian Summer Days." I have discussed this proposition with my chickadees and nuthatches and we all hope it is the latter.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


In the Minnesota arrowhead, September is the key month for migrating hawks.
Also, impressive numbers of migrating Blue Jays are being seen all along the North Shore, including a record-high count of 7,612 on the 14th at Hawk Ridge in Duluth.

Broad-winged Hawk

American Kestrel

Red-tailed Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

The migrating Blue Jays are not only impressive in numbers, but impressive in their degree of handsomeness. I enjoy photographing "His Blueness" this time of the year, as each jay has perfect feathers. These long distant, deep woods jays are in flocks numbering in the teens, to the hundreds... it is quite a sight to see as they pass over my ridge.

Blue Jay

I am entertained by their antics around the invading, small Accipiter hawks. Unlike my little birds, the chickadees and RbNuthatches who chant their robotic chirps and then hide in the trees... the robust Blue Jays taunt the Sharpies and Cooper's. The hawks dive at the jays and they hop or fly out of the way... at times, they sit above or around the hawks in the trees and pretty much drive them nuts. The one pictured in this series was worn out by a morning of chasing the elusive Blue Jay.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

At this date, 35,396 hawks, Merlins, falcons, eagles and Turkey Vultures have flown over Duluth and Hawk Ridge.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Mid August brings waves of warblers and other song birds to my ridge overlooking Lake Superior. These returnees do not have the blaze of color I see in the spring, but a more subdued smattering of golds and olive greens. Although, some of the youngsters are showing some bright color.

The juveniles seem to make up the most numbers, flitting through the spruce, birch and hazelnut shrubs. I enjoy watching these flocks of subdued beauties, as they feed for their long trip south.

Here are some images of birds that are here this month of August.

Alder Flycatcher

American Redstart

Bay-breasted Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black and white Warbler

Blue-headed Vireo

Canada Warbler

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Thankfully the little Black-capped Chickadee is with me year around.

Golden-winged Warbler

Least Flycatcher

These next three photos are birds that arrive in my Jonvick Creek each year.

Least Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Northern Waterthrush

A pretty little Nashville through filtered leaf light.

Nashville Warbler

Philadelphia Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

The White-throated Sparrow is one of my favorite birds that follows me each day and eats sunflower seeds by my feet.

The Wilson's Warbler is a rare sighting each year.

I will see many of these birds into September. I always hope for a long, extended fall every year; for it is a long time until they return in April.

Use the talents you possess - for the woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except for the best. ~Henry Van Dyke