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Big Half Year for the Bog Wrap-Up

July 24, 2013 Category:

FINALLY! …a gorgeous day for an event planned and scheduled by Sparky! Sunny skies, warm temps. About 20 Big Half Year participants and supporters gathered at Jay Cooke State Park for a pot luck picnic and to share stories of their own Big Half Years. We also had a drawing for the prizes donated by our business sponsors [Eagle Optics, Duluth Pack, Epicurian, Loll, Kollath-Stensaas Publishing]

The 6-month event raised over $6,600 for Friends of Sax-Zim Bog! This is even more amazing in that we only had about 16 active participants.

Here are the TOP FUNDRAISERS (Pledges as of 7-23-13):

  • Kim Eckert $1,171.50
  • Elizabeth Closmore $950.00
  • Sharon Stiteler $711.00
  • Sparky Stensaas $633.00
  • Erik Bruhnke $595.00
  • Mike Hendrickson $591.00
  • Dave Benson $431.00
  • Jessica Dexter $365.00
  • Shawn Conrad $350.75
  • Lars Benson $286.00
  • Annemarie Geniusz & Stephen Bockhold $204.00

Grill Masters! L to R: Dave Steininger, Annemarie Geniusz, Stephen Bockhold

Jessica and Kristine Dexter….Both participated in the Big Half Year. The sisters are originally from Twig, MN and have recently discovered the wonders of the Bog.

Big Half Year picnic at Jay Cooke State Park…Good food, good Friends, good stories.

A HUGE THANKS TO ALL OUR PRIZE SPONSORS! Please visit their websites

Pam Benson is excited about her Epicurian Minnesota Cutting Board (actually her son’s name was drawn—Lars Benson—but don’t tell him…Mom’s gonna keep it!)

Sarah Beaster put together a kids lesson on bird beak adaptations using household food and utensils. The kids had to match the type of ‘beak’ with the food it would be best suited to grab (e.g. pliers for hard nuts…tongs for gummy worms etc.) L to R: Grace Beaster, Birk Stensaas, Emelyn Beaster, Camilla Beaster.
The Big Winner! Jessica Dexter won the Eagle Optics 8×42 ED Ranger binoculars…a $500 value! Thanks Eagle Optics!

Prize Drawing

  • Grand Prize: Eagle Optics 8×42 Ranger ED binoculars ($500 value)—Jessica Dexter
  • 2nd Grand Prize: Duluth Pack Binocular Case ($125 value)—Sharon Stiteler
  • 3rd Grand Prize: Epicurian Cutting Board ($35 value)—Elizabeth Closmore
  • 4th Prize: Epicurian Minnesota Cutting Board ($25 value)—Lars Benson
  • 5th Prize: Loll Modern Bird House ($79 value)—Kari Meyer
  • 6th Prize: Epicurian Coaster Set ($25 value)—Shawn Conrad
  • 7th Prize: Set of 3 Kollath-Stensaas Publishing North Woods Naturalist field guides ($57 value)—Mike Hendrickson
  • 8th Prize: Set of 2 Kollath-Stensaas Publishing North Woods Naturalist field guides ($38 value)—Erik Bruhnke
  • 9th Prize: Owls of the North by Dave Benson. Stone Ridge Press ($17 value)—Annemarie Geniusz & Stephen Bockhold

Participants Tell Their Big Half Year Stories…

Dave Benson

I am doing my BHYFTB in the Mixed Laurentian Forest. One of my sons said, ” So, you’re going for the coveted Mixed Laurentian Forest Big Half Year record!” It’s always fun to have a “birding game” going, and the BRRRRDathon and Hawk Ridge Birdathons both helped me rack up the species for this longer game.

It was a great owl winter (for birders, that is), and along with several owls, I had most of the Duluth winter birds by the end of January. Then we had April, the snowiest month in Duluth history. It made it hard to get around, and I spent a lot of time shoveling snow. The migration period, at least for non-neotropical migrants, was compressed. As a result, I missed a number of ducks and shorebirds on their way through. So, while I did see a Slaty-backed Gull in January and a King Eider in February, I still have no Green-winged Teal or Greater Yellowlegs!

The rest of the spring migration made up for April. We had several foggy fallouts at Park Point in May. The first few years we were in Duluth, this happened every spring, but in recent years, springs have been sunny and warm, and the migrants have sailed past at night on their way to Canada.

One of the best fallouts this spring was on May 19th, the day of the Hawk Ridge Birdathon. This was my 25th consecutive birdathon, and it ended up being one of the best. After looking at the weather on Friday night, my team members (Lars Benson and John Ellis) and I almost decided to sleep in—rain, rain, rain. We did get up, but we jettisoned our tried-and-true route and headed to the Bog first. That turned out to be a good move (no rain when we were there), as did returning to Duluth before a very thick fog enveloped the city. We ended up with 167 species, many of which also were new birds for the BHYFTB.

As usually seems to be the case, work really hampered my birding, but I did get out here-and-there in May. Some highlights included a Piping Plover, a Red Knot, a Connecticut Warbler in the fog, and Whimbrels (I tried twice for the Wilson’s Plover found on Minnesota Point, was bridged by the Aerial Lift Bridge twice, and twice arrived to find other birders who had watched it fly into the distance.) I did have luck with the Lazuli Bunting coming to a feeder in Duluth on June 6th–a MN lifer, St. Louis County lifer, and an unexpected bird for the BHYFTB. I have had a few productive forays south of here in search of breeding birds too.

As of late June, I am at 252 species. Thanks to those of you who pledged support to the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog,

Shawn Conrad

My Big Half Year was entirely within Itasca County and I hoped to find many of the species on foot or by bicycle–but Itasca is a big county!  My goal was VERY ambitious…to find at least 200 species in the county between January 1st and June 30th!  After 10 years of intensive birding here, my previous best for that date range was 196 species in 2009 and I’ve exceeded 190 species by June 30th three times, so I went for a personal record.

I found many of these species while surveying as a volunteer for the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, so the birding benefited a second conservation objective simultaneously.

I exceeded my goal on May 21st and ended day at 203 species. I managed to smash my previous records and tallied 223 species. Thanks!

[Shawn’s  exceptional species included—Boreal Chickadee, Varied Thrush, Hoary Redpoll, Eurasian Collared-Dove, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Boreal Owl, Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Spruce Grouse, Eared Grebe, Northern Saw-Whet Owl, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, Whimbrel, Blue Grosbeak(!)—Sparky]

Erik Bruhnke

This year’s Big Half-Year was the first half-year I’ve ever done, and it was an awesome time. Duluth’s spring was rough on the birds migrating north, and many birds were seen later than usual.

Throughout the spring and summer months, I led trips and spoke at four birding festivals; including The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival (Ohio), the Horicon Marsh Birding Festival (Wisconsin), the Detroit Lakes Birding Festival (Minnesota) and the Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival (North Dakota). Each of these festivals were located in considerably different habitat found throughout the upper Midwest. From seeing 24 species of warblers in a single hour at the Biggest Week in American Birding, to witnessing Sprague’s Pipits, Baird’s Sparrows, a colony of nesting Western Grebes (and so much more) in North Dakota, these festivals helped my big half-year’s totals.

By the end of June, my big half-year list hit 276 species.  Regular visits to the amazing Sax-Zim Bog hosted great views of boreal-breeding warblers, Great Gray Owls, Black-billed Cuckoos and more! In mid-spring I found a family of Gray Jays with a young, sooty-colored juvenile along with them.

One of the most memorable highlights was earlier on in early spring, when I stumbled upon 83 Red-necked Grebes just up the North Shore from Duluth.

Birding for a good cause is thrilling, and it’s fun to go on an adventure like this, knowing that having fun is helping out a beautiful place such as Sax-Zim Bog.

Good birding,

Annemarie Geniusz/Stephen Bockhold

We have completed our Big 1/14th Year!….Big 1/14 Year since we only counted birds we saw on Tuesdays!

We spent our Big Half Year birding where ever we happened to be on Tuesday. This included the Sax Zim Bog, Roseau area, Duluth, S.E. Wisconsin, Memphis, Las Vegas, Zion National Park, Sedona, AZ, Volcano National Park and O’ahu, Hawaii. We ended the season with 208 species! A few bird highlights were:

  • White-Tailed Tropicbird—Flying over the lava fields of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
  • Mexican Whip-poor-will—Calling in the darkness of morning in Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona.
  • Black Tern—Flying over Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
  • White-face Ibis—Hunting the water’s edge in Sedona’s sewage ponds.
  • Various sparrow & warbler fallouts- Week after week after week!
  • Great Gray Owls—Large number of them hunting the farm fields of Roseau, Minnesota.
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker—Drumming on a friend’s metal roofed woodshed for most of the spring.
  • Common Loon—Hundreds of them on Lake Superior on a tuesday!
  • Wild Turkey—After seeing a flock of around 80 near Cedarburg, WI on every day except tuesday… Very happy to finally see 2 on a tuesday in June there! Finally!
  • Great Horned Owl—Waking us up on a tuesday morning, calling somewhere near our house.
  • Red-winged Blackbird—Aggressively chasing our car away from his territory in the Bog.

Mike Hendrickson

St. Louis County total of 183 species (goal was 170 species)

Jessica Dexter

Welcome to my Big Half Year!  I grew up outside of Duluth, about 30 miles from Sax-Zim Bog.  Although I only discovered it a few months ago, the Bog has really captivated me.  I am really excited to do anything I can to help Friends of Sax-Zim Bog protect and promote this magical place.

My biggest personal goal for my Big Half Year was to become a better birder, and a better naturalist generally.  I have watched birds my whole life, but only really seriously started birding with my sister last fall (Kristina’s did the Big Half Year, too!). Now I am hopelessly hooked, and very much looking forward to building skills I’ve always wanted to learn!

I live in Chicago, so most of my birding will happen in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota.  I also picked up a few birds incidentally during work trips to Phoenix, Louisville, St. Louis and Portland.

I am especially enthralled by owls and got to see a Great Gray Owl at Sax-Zim.

I ended up surpassing my goal and finished with 178 species.

Elizabeth Closmore

It was love at first sight. During February of 2011 on a MOU sponsored trip with Eric Bruhnke, guide extraordinaire, we saw or heard everything! No one even asked about a port-a-potty and we birded into the dusk after 8 hours in biting cold. Then a year later with Sparky Stensaas , another fantastic guide, we saw more than we hoped for but were treated to purple port-a-potties at a favored bird feeding station.  I jumped at the opportunity to raise funds for a modest visitor center to highlight the bog’s natural wonders.

My Big Half Year was restricted to all the birds I could see on foot or by ski from my door in Hugo, MN. The habitat is varied – many swamps, good sized ponds, fields, and mature woods. I was astonished to see 144 species!  Bonapart’s Gulls, Redheads, Winter Wren, Least Bittern, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and so many warblers delighted me. Migration was spectacular- a wave of Hermit Thrushes or Tundra Swans to admire. I could hardly sleep at night dreaming about what I might find the next day.

As the season progressed I also learned the addresses of my resident birds—where the Yellow throated Vireos or Orchard Orioles lived. With these neighbors, I recognized I had a special address too.

My sponsors surprised me as well! Their generosity and support is more appreciated than they know.  Thank you all!  Come birding with me. Let’s go to THE bog.

Sharon Stiteler

My goal was to see how many different species of birds I could digiscope between January 1 – June 30, 2013.  I ended up with 188 species from trips that took me to New York, Missouri, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Florida, South Texas and Ohio (and Austria, France, Canada and the Netherlands).

Boreal Owl—Duluth: I don’t often get a chance to celebrate a life bird–especially in Minnesota, but when I do, I do it with 16 year old scotch! What a treat to watch it fly, bob it’s head trying to listen for something small an furry tunneling beneath the fluffy snow, posing in fabulous light, I felt 15 years of searching ease right off my shoulders.

See my digiscoped favorites here:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/birdchick/sets/72157632416316853/

[Especially check out her Wood Pigeon, Ring-necked Parakeet, Tricolored Heron, Piping Plover, Pauraque, and Black Skimmer photos. Sharon is probably one of the only people who’s ever digiscoped a Bay-breasted Warbler too!—Sparky]

Kim Eckert

On behalf of Friends of Sax-Zim, my Big Half-Year goal was a composite total of 450 species, which I considered a reasonable estimate of the number of different birds we hoped to find during the Minnesota Birding Weeks and Weekends (http://mbwbirds.com) scheduled from January through June in 2013.

These MBWs included out-of-state trips this winter to Florida, southern California, and South Texas, plus spring trips to Nebraska’s Platte River and Colorado. In addition, there will be a winter MBWeekend in Duluth; spring trips to southwestern Minnesota, Rothsay W.M.A., Felton Prairie, and southeastern Minnesota; and two June weekends in the remote boglands of Koochiching County.

The combined species totals of these 12 MBWs was over 1,400, but our goal and your pledges is based on the number of different species we came up with during this half-year: 460 species, or 10 more than expected. Here is a list of the MBWs which have now been completed, along with a link to a complete summary of each one:

This represents an overall total of 1,452 species, and, after subtracting the duplicates seen on more than one MBW, our final MBW’s Big Half Year total is 460 species.

[Kim’s trips tallied some amazing birds including Mottled Duck, Black Rail, Wandering Tattler, Curlew Sandpiper, Flammulated Owl, Aplomodo Falcon, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Le Conte’s Thrasher, Crimson-collared Grosbeak—Sparky]

Lori Williams/Dave Steininger

Our BIG HALF YEAR was spent  tallying species in two of our favorite places:  our yard at our house in Duluth and  our cabin (Kozy Wildernest) on Little Pequaywan Lake.  We hope to capture between 75 to 100 species.  We cannot guarantee that some of the species may be roosted on the neighbors tree!

The first yard bird of the year was a cardinal…a great bird for Duluth.  (Lori will not let me count the gray squirrel that flies from the tree to alight atop our feeders!).

Frank Berdan

187 species statewide. Picked up several good species while on a BirdingPal visit to Sax-Zim in early June with a grad student from North Carolina.  He referred to Sax-Zim as “world famous.”

Sparky Stensaas

As executive director of Friends of Sax-Zim Bog, I want to thank all who participated or pledged to our Big Half Year for the Bog. The money raised will help protect, promote and preserve this unique corner of the world. A very important corner to birders and photographers visiting from all corners of the continent and world. Also important to the nesting boreal birds, resident mammals, rare orchids, and our beloved wintering northern owls.

My personal goal for the first half of 2013 was to photograph 100 species of birds.I ended January with 44 species of birds. Highlights included MANY photos of Boreal Owls (we had an irruption in N Minnesota this year), a diving Great Gray Owl, backlit flying Trumpeter Swans, and a sunrise backlit chickadee (even common birds can make great subjects!)

Despite the record-breaking 48 inches of snow we had in April (!), I managed to surpass the 100-mark easily and ended May with 177 species photographed. A major fallout of warblers on Duluth’s Park Point helped greatly and I ended up adding 20 species of warblers. I only needed 23 to reach 200 but was lacking many shorebirds and southern MN species.

The shorebirds never materialized in good numbers in Duluth, partly due to high water and lack of mudflats, and I was unable to “migrate” to southern Minnesota to add some southern birds.

I thought photographing 100 bird species would be challenging, but I ended June with 198 species photographed. Another exciting facet for me was that I improved on photos I already had for 83 species…and got images of 21 species that I’d never photographed!

You can see a gallery of my favorites PHOTOS from the Big Half Year here:  https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/111907221964958833473/albums/5835494865426053457