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Clinton Nienhaus—2018 Big Half Year


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Great Gray Owl from Lake Nichols Road by Clinton Nienhaus

My Big Half Year:
Because the rules of the Big Half Year are that your targets must be bird related, my Big Half Year is going to include birds, butterflies, and dragonflies. All of these species are related, whether it is the birds that eat caterpillars, or the dragonflies that eat butterflies, or the need of specific habitats for all of the above. To make this challenge more interesting, I am going to do my Big Half Year on Birds, Odonates, and Butterflies on Lake Nichols Road only!! Lake Nichols Road is one of my favorites in the entire bog. There is access to a diverse set of habitats (black spruce/tamarack/cedar bog, a lake, a stream, and deciduous forest) which makes this road one of the best if you are interested in a little bit of everything when you visit the Sax-Zim Bog! The impetus for this Big Half Year is to add to the “bogdiversity” of the Sax-Zim Bog and find “the one that got away,” a hairstreak (butterfly) that I saw along the road, but could not ID!
About Me:

I am the Head Naturalist for the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog and Education Director for Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory. This is my third season working for FOSZB. I am originally from southern Minnesota, but have been in the northland for 5 years now. I have been interested in a myriad of things over my time in the field, starting with fish and reptiles and moving to plants, birds, and odonates. Butterflies are not new to me, but I have spent very little time in the field with them! I am excited to participate in the Big Half-Year this year!

Big Half Year Totals

Birds: 102

Butterflies: 28

Odonates: 23

Total: 153


Big Half Year Update 7/1/2018

And that’s all folks!

The Big Half Year is done and time has run down for the final species push for my site on this Half Year! I was not able to add any further species on my last hurrah. I feel pretty good about the showing I made with this Big Half Year effort. I observed a total of 153 species, with 102 species of bird, 28 species of butterfly, and 23 species of odonates! Here are some of my highlights and stats from the season:

Bird Notes

The bulk of my birding along Lake Nichols Road was done during the day, but I did manage to make use of a few nighttime visits to Lake Nichols Road, following owl surveys in the Bog, or during Frog and Toad Surveys along the road. I did expect a few regular nocturnal species (American Woodcock, owls etc.), however, I was not expecting Wilson’s Snipe! This is a species that is regularly found in more open areas when it is displaying, and yet, early on in April, I was able to hear a number of these birds displaying along the margins of mixed woodlands on Lake Nichols Road. Owls were really remarkable this season. I was able to see and/or hear Great Horned, Great Gray, Barred, and Northern Saw-whet Owls along Lake Nichols Road during the Big Half year! Interestingly enough, I had a chance at two(!) other owl species along the road (Long-eared and Boreal!), but was not in the right place at the right time. Kristina and I even had an amazing 10 different Barred Owls along a 3 mile stretch of Lake Nichols Road one night!

During the day time visits, breeding birds were fun to find and chase around, but it was great to see what migration was like along this road. Lake Nichols is a neat lake, surrounded nearly entirely by homes (full time or part time), which could influence the presence (feeders) or absence (too many homes not enough habitat). I was very interested to see what migration could look like in an area like this. There were some expectations for waterfowl, but nothing like I got to see this year. Waterfowls numbers might not have been crazy, but the diversity was impressive. I was able to see all of the expected diving ducks, except Greater Scaup, and including the rare (in this area and away from Lake Superior) and first bog record of Ruddy Duck! Dabbling ducks were a little disappointing. I had higher hopes for these species, seeing expected things (Mallards and teal), but no Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, or Gadwall. It is interesting what turns up and what does not in a season. Raptors were great, with diversity adding up to what I had expected for the area. Northern Goshawk is expected along that road, but you never know when you will see one! I was actually guiding a client looking for Great Gray Owls and we happened upon a beautiful adult female perched very nicely over the road. No Rough-legged Hawk was a slight disappointment, however.

Big misses for the road include Black-billed Cuckoo, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and both Magnolia and Canada Warbler. Planning to bird on one stretch of road for 6 months has its ups and downs and I am pleasantly surprised that I still want to traverse Lake Nichols Road looking for birds and am not too tired of it at this point in the year.

Dragonfly and Damselfly Notes

I love the diversity of odes along Lake Nichols Road. I always have and I always will. There is something to be said about searching out habitat diversity when looking for birds, but it is another thing to search out water body diversity when looking for dragonflies and damselflies. Not all water bodies have the same components!! Ok. Water is a similar component…. But substrate, plant communities, potential predators, and subtle changes in water chemistry are not easily seen by just looking at one stretch of water versus another. All of these parts matter to the odonates you might find occupying one system versus another. This road has access to a pretty nice lake, with clean water and sparse to full vegetation, and a sandy bottom. It has access to ditches that more similar to streams at this stage, than just a regular old ditch. These ditches run through shaded woodlands (important for some species), run along open roadways (important for other species), as well as run through some nice bog habitat (ensuring fair water quality). All of these points are important to consider when looking into odonate diversity. I was able to find 23 species of odonate along this road, which is a full THIRD of the species we have found in the Sax-Zim Bog! There were a couple of hard misses, namely Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Widow Skimmer, and Common Whitetail (just a little too early), as well as Ski-tipped Emerald (only location I have found them in the Bog). However, even without those species one third of the full list is pretty remarkable. I did manage to find nearly every expected species along that road, sans Vesper Bluet, Orange Bluet, or Skimming Bluet. I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked sorting through bluets and I think I was just a little too early to find these species. All in all, the flight of Delicate Emeralds was a major highlight, as was the continuing success of Dot-tailed Whiteface on the lake, and getting to practice IDing odes on the wing were all neat parts of having odes as part of my Big Half Year!

Butterfly Notes

With the hopes of being able to study a new-ish group of insects heading in to the Big Half Year, I was expecting a little more from the butterfly diversity of the road. Certainly, July is the better month for finding butterflies in this area, but I was hopeful of more than what I did find. There were some very good things seen, as well as some very big misses, but this road just didn’t quite deliver what I had hoped or had seen from years prior. I was able to see almost all of the early season butterflies (except Compton’s Tortoiseshell) and I was able to sort out learning the Crescents, but I was not able to find a hairstreak (or really any other copper or blue) along this road, outside of Spring Azure. Habitat varies from year to year and from season to season, but I was not expecting a wet spring to influence the blooming time of many of the plant species along the road. My language here should not portray as sullen of an emotion, however. 28 species of butterfly along this one road (and I do mean along the road, no traversing fields of flowers here!) is respectable. To put that in to context, 66 species of butterfly have been found in the Sax-Zim Bog… so… I was able to find a solid 42% of the butterfly species identified in the Sax-Zim Bog along this one road. That is pretty remarkable. The best finds were Hoary Comma (the second time I have seen this species, and ONLY! along Lake Nichols Road), a bog record Green Comma, and lots of Monarchs (eggs, caterpillars, adults, the whole lot!). I did miss Viceroy, which was a surprise, as they usually like wetland type areas which can be found along much of this road. I am pretty happy with the butterfly finds along this road, even if it didn’t quite turn out like I had expected!

So, now what?

With the half year over, what did I learn? What was the big takeaway of doing this Big Half Year anyways? I think the ease of this Big Half Year was the biggest takeaway. I was able to use my experiences from three years of observing this road to guide my approach at this Big Half Year. Initially, I was worried that I would need to maximize every single visit to the road to find as many species as possible, and that I would not be able to see everything I had hoped or wished due to the distance. But, I was very economical in my approach to visiting the road (picking up a few species here and there and not making any extraneous visits) and I did not catch any “Big Year Mania.” This is a feeling that I have observed a number of folks get while doing a Big Year, where they “need” to find a species and if they don’t the world will end. I was worried I would get to that level!

The nice thing about this format (a fundraising Big Half Year) means that I am really relying on the support of folks who are following along. I don’t need to compete against anyone, just have fun! And detail the event and hopefully one or more folks will feel moved to donate, or to pay attention to the diversity around them, or to challenge themselves to learn a new species or two! Really. It has been a blast to test myself and Lake Nichols Road all the same. There are some exciting nooks and crannies along this road, that I have only begun to explore and this Big Half Year was the perfect way to build on my knowledge of this cool road in the Sax-Zim Bog!

Thanks to everyone who has donated, or who has followed along! It has been exciting to share this journey with you all!


Big Half Year Update 6/29/2018


My Big Half Year for the Sax-Zim Bog is nearly over and the month of June has been very kind. The weather has been pleasant, visits have been productive, and goals have been met!

First, if you have noticed…. I BROKE 100 SPECIES OF BIRD!!! In my last post, I noted the very small list of species that I had pegged as possible for Lake Nichols Road at this time of the year and according to habitat types. Boy. Did I have a few surprises! Some were expected and on my list (Gray Catbird, Alder Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Cliff Swallow, Osprey), but 4 of the 9 new species I added were not even close to being on my radar. That is the main reason birding is so darn fun: You may know what you are going to expect, but never is that expectation exactly correct.

The first surprise addition to the list was Northern Rough-winged Swallow. This is a species that can be very hard to find in St. Louis County outside of migration, though it is one that can be found reliably in the right spots. To get this bird, however, took a lot, and I mean a lot, of work. Excitingly, the day I saw this bird, swallows were swarming over Lake Nichols! This spectacle is exactly what birders (especially those doing Big Years/Days/Half Years) want! In foraging swarms, you have a legitimate shot (especially during migration, less so in the summer) at getting all the swallow species in one go. For summer birding, foraging swarms are nice, as they will attract other swallows and that is exactly how I was able to get Northern Rough-winged Swallow. The “perfect storm” if you will, as I was able to add other insect eaters, with a surprise Eastern Wood-Pewee joining in on the insect hatch the swallows were enjoying.

Next surprise, MERLIN!! Merlins may be fairly common “in town,” but they can be a devil to find in the Sax-Zim Bog during the summer months. Usually Merlins are very loud when harrying songbirds and neighborhood pigeons, but this Merlin would have been missed, if not for a look in the right direction at the right time, as it flew by silently in the near dusk din. However, much more of a surprise than a silent Merlin… a vocal INDIGO BUNTING! WHAT?!? This bird was heard while looking for odonates, and was signing from a cedar swamp/aspen forest mix. I don’t encounter very many Indigo Buntings while tooling around the Bog, so it was great to hear one from a weird place… and it was SPECIES 100 for the road list!!!

The last surprise bird was a vocal Northern Parula, calling in nearly the same location as the Indigo Bunting. I figure it must be post-breeding movement time for these birds, as there is no habitat along Lake Nichols Road that I would call good nesting habitat for Northern Parula (though, there is a lot of water and running water to boot). And last, but not least. The bane of my existence this Big Half Year. A bird I nearly missed, as I was looking for orchids and Kristina convinced me to look up and see it… OSPREY! Jeepers. It took me long enough to get this bird. Osprey may nest south of the Bog, and north of the Bog, but they do not nest anywhere in the Bog (that I know of right now) and they can be a very hard bird to find away from artificial nest platforms in this area. Uffdah! Birds! I still have one species that I have in my mind to get…. hopefully tomorrow!!!

Next, lets quickly dip in to bugs, starting with the Butterflies! I was able to add 13 new species to my Half Year list, which was pretty good. I have enjoyed getting to know what to expect out of butterflies, in terms of flight season etc. However, I am a little disappointed at the diversity thus far. I think that has to do with a lack of flowering plants along the roadsides. Typically, the roadsides along Lake Nichols Road are filled with blooms, making it easy to find nectaring butterflies. If the milkweeds open up… I should be able to a handful of other species (especially skippers). I am still hopeful for a Hairstreak 🙂 In the new additions, many of them came during a wonderful Butterfly Program that I was able to lead in the Bog last weekend. Much of the strategy I have had for butterflies this Big Half Year revolves around targeting clusters of flowering plants, or spotting butterflies on the road, as they are finding nutrients on scat or from water puddles. I have a few locations that I like better than others, but mostly I am dependent on flowers! Spreading Dogbane has just opened and attracted much of the diversity so far, as has Yarrow and Queen-Anne’s Lace. Fingers crossed for open blooms and added butterfly diversity!

Last, a quick review of odonates along Lake Nichols Road! Odes have been killer lately in the Sax-Zim Bog and I have been able to add two new species to the Master Species list (Boreal Snaketail and Lilypad Clubtail) in as many weeks. Lake Nichols Road is always a wonderful place to find adult dragonflies and damselflies patrolling and it is fun to be able to watch the season change through odonate emergence. Most exciting, has been the huge hatches of emeralds! Delicate Emerald is a fairly uncommon and even rare dragonfly in some places and there was a time two weeks ago where that was the most numerous ode flying! Couple this hatch with large flights of Prince, Common, and Spiny Baskettails and you have a sight to behold! The only big disappointment thus far is the lack of two species of skimmer: Twelve-spotted and Widow. Neither have hatched yet and I don’t know if conditions lately have been conducive to emergence, but one can hope!

Stay tuned for the final report tomorrow and subsequent wrap up of my Big Half Year for the Bog!


Bird species added:

  • Gray Catbird
  • Alder Flycatcher
  • Cliff Swallow
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • Merlin
  • Indigo Bunting (#100!)
  • Northern Parula
  • Osprey

Butterfly Species added:

  • Little Wood-Satyr
  • White Admiral
  • Pearl Crescent
  • Silvery Checkerspot
  • Aphrodite Fritillary
  • Atlantis Fritillary
  • Tawny Crescent
  • Northern Crescent
  • Clouded Sulphur
  • European Skipper
  • Northern Pearly-eye
  • Eyed Brown
  • Long Dash Skipper

Odonate Species added:

  • Common Baskettail
  • Ocellated Emerald
  • Prince Baskettail
  • Spiny Baskettail
  • Delicate Emerald
  • River Jewelwing
  • Eastern Forktail
  • Sedge Sprite
  • Hagen’s Bluet
  • Kennedy’s Emerald
  • Swift River Cruiser
  • Blue Dasher
  • Belted Whiteface
  • Frosted Whiteface
  • Dot-tailed Whiteface


Big Half Year Update 5/31/2018

May has now come and gone!! One month remains in the Big Half Year for the Sax-Zim Bog! I hope all of the other folks who have been working hard on their half year lists have enjoyed their time so far. However…. there is still an entire MONTH(!) left in this little competition… and that is a lot of time!

The last week or so has seen a changing of the guard on Lake Nichols Road! Finally, my bug lists out pace my bird lists. As of this update I have added only 6 new bird species, but have added 6 new odonates and 8 new butterflies! It is going to be a wonderful time in the next couple of weeks along Lake Nichols Road, with a marked increase in winged insects and flowering plants. My bug lists will start to balloon, given the right conditions on my visits! As far as birds are concerned, not many more to add, which gets to be very fun and exciting! I need 7 species to reach 100 bird species observed along Lake Nichols Road…. but have only 11 realistic options! My needs for this road include: Osprey, Black-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Alder Flycatcher, Cliff Swallow, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, Magnolia Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Clay-colored Sparrow. This list is complied based on what habitat is available for foraging species (aka non-nesters like Cliff Swallow and Osprey), what species could have habitat for nesting (Magnolia and Canada Warbler, Clay-colored Sparrow), and what species I should have a decent shot at based on my experience with the road. Maybe there will be a few surprises left for me, bird wise, on Lake Nichols Road!

As far as bugs go, the forecast can only go up and up and up! Dragonflies are just emerging, mean that the longer the season goes, the larger the number of species on the wing gets! I have had tremendous luck along this road for odonates, include a county record (Skimming Bluet) and two rare emeralds (Delicate and Ski-tipped). I am so excited to see what else turns up along this road. Butterflies are still leaving me a little perplexed. I still don’t know what to expect from these lepidopterans. Could I have 20 or 30 species? Might I have topped out at 15? Who knows! All I know is that I have found most of the common and expected species for the season, I can only expand my learning as the month rolls along.

For those thinking of supporting me, or for those who have supported me already (by donating or just following along with posts) Thank You! I have fun doing this for my knowledge of the place, and I hope I can expand horizons on just what could happen along one stretch of road, in any given place, during a span of time!

Stay tuned for a jam packed rush to the end of May!

Bird species added:

  • Mourning Warbler
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
  • Mourning Dove
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • Great Crested Flycatcher

Butterfly Species added:

  • Monarch
  • Canada Tiger Swallowtail
  • Gray Comma
  • Cabbage White
  • Dreamy Duskywing
  • Silver-bordered Fritillary
  • Arctic Skipper
  • Hobomok Skipper

Odonate Species added:

  • Beaverpond Baskettail
  • Dusky Clubtail
  • American Emerald
  • Springtime Darner
  • Four-spotted Skimmer
  • Chalk-fronted Corporal


Big Half Year Update 5/22/2018

Things are heating up!!…. literally and figuratively! My Big Half Year Total grows and grows!

Spring migrants have finally started arriving in the northwoods, nearly a week later than usual. It has been wonderful to see the influx of breeding birds back to the Sax-Zim Bog! My last visit on the 21st was musically accompanied by the returning song of Chestnut-sided Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Ovenbirds. I had a chance to add a couple of pesky species that had been eluding me up to this point on my last visit as well: Broad-winged Hawk (after being foiled by a Blue Jay mimic or two) and Pine Siskin!! Pine Siskin is huge relief, as they were absent all winter and I didn’t think I would pick one up for this Half Year! This leaves me with Red Crossbill and Evening Grosbeak needed to complete a finch sweep on Lake Nichols Road. Is there a chance at either? Not likely! But with Red Crossbill’s penchant for moving around and them nesting in the Bog this year…. maybe! Evening Grosbeak is seen at a feeder or two along the road in the winter, but I don’t hold much hope for them this summer. I do have one major target left for this road for the half year… 100 bird species! This is a tough task, as the number of migrants is slowing… but I don’t yet have Osprey for Lake Nichols Road and flycatchers have been disappointing so far (I only have seen Eastern Phoebe and Least Flycather, still 6 species I could get!), meaning there are plenty of species yet to see this season!

If you notice, the butterfly and dragonfly lists have also grown… however slowly the growth may be! I am quite hopeful regarding what is happening in butterfly and dragonfly realms! Finally, I have seen my first non-migrant butterfly and dragonfly of the season along Lake Nichols Road! Spring Azure (butterfly) and Hudsonian Whiteface (dragonfly) are both non-migratory species and are a good sign that my butterfly and dragonfly lists will soon be skyrocketing! Lake Nichols Road happens to be my favorite road for dragonflies and damselflies in the whole Bog. I am expecting a good showing soon from Baskettails, Bluets, and Emeralds! Butterfly wise, I am excited to report my second ever Hoary Comma (which is a rare species in the northwoods)! I also know a couple of things, however vague, regarding butterfly expectations: 1) lots of milkweed and flowering plants in the ditches. 2) I am determined to ID some butterflies 3) I have a field trip or two coming up that may or may not be targeting butterflies, where we may or may not be visiting Lake Nichols road 🙂 I am excited to expand my knowledge base and add some butterfly species to my list!

To those out there reading and excited about the Big Half Year for the Sax-Zim Bog…. June is coming! With one month left for this event, who knows what species will be seen (or not seen….)! What heartbreak or heroics remain for the folks working hard to track down species!?

Stay tuned!

Bird Species added:

  • American Kestrel
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Palm Warbler
  • Swainson’s Thrush
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • American Redstart
  • Ovenbird
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Golden-winged Warbler
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Least Flycatcher
  • Veery
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Pine Siskin
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Blackburnian Warbler

Butterfly Species added:

  • Hoary Comma (my second ever!)
  • Spring Azure

Odonate Species added:

  • Hudsonian Whiteface

Big Half Year Update 5/11/2018

My last few visits to Lake Nichols Road have been incredibly fun! In my last 3 visits, I have seen 7 total porcupines, added 31 new birds, 2 new butterflies, and 1 new dragonfly.

As far as birds go, warblers have just started to show up and waterfowl is starting to leave. I did have a good run of waterbirds on Lake Nichols, with both Common and Red-breasted Merganser, a surprise Double-crested Cormorant, and even a rarity in the form of a sharp male Ruddy Duck! Ruddy Ducks are not rare in the state, but in St. Louis County, they are not very common migrants. Ruddy Ducks tend to stay westward in migration, and to have them away from Lake Superior is not very common at all! A few other bird surprises include a Wilson’s Snipe during a Frog and Toad Survey, a Wild Turkey (my first for Lake Nichols Road), a Bald Eagle (only surprise because it took me until the second week of May to see one!), and FINALLY!!!! DOWNY WOODPECKER!!! Now, if you have been following along my posts, I did not see a Downy Woodpecker all winter!! This very common species has been a thorn in my side along Lake Nichols road and I am very pleased to have finally gotten one!

Butterfly action is in a bit of stall, though I did add two new species: Milbert’s Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral. The good thing is that seeing a Red Admiral means that migrating butterflies are starting to return north! Migrating butterflies? You bet! Red Admiral is one species that typically moves south and then returns north, much like Monarchs, but at a shorter scale.

However, though butterflies are in a stall, migrating butterflies returning also means the return of migrating dragonflies! Common Green Darner is perhaps the best known migrating dragonfly, but there are a couple of other species I will be watching for in the next couple of weeks before our resident dragonflies start hatching. Those species are Black Saddlebags, Wandering Glider, Spot-winged Glider, and Varigated Meadowhawk. Each of these species undertake yearly migrations and can be found in large numbers when they return to the north following the return of Spring!

The next couple of reports, as we are nearing peak migration, could be bonkers bird-wise! Stay tuned!!

Bird Species added:

  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Mallard
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Horned Grebe
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • American Goldfinch
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Bufflehead
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Common Merganser
  • Wood Duck
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Bald Eagle
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Tree Swallow
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Winter Wren
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Wild Turkey
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Trumpeter Swan

Butterfly Species added:

  • Milbert’s Tortoiseshell
  • Red Admiral


Big Half Year Update 4/25/2018

It has happened! Spring! Its here!!! Uffdah!

As you may be able to tell from my last post, spring has felt like it has been arriving for nearly a month. There certainly have not been many clues that spring is coming, since late March! Last week, we got around 15″ of new snow in the Sax-Zim Bog, with much of the weather being just barely in the 30’s. We have not had any wood frogs calling yet, no skunk cabbage in bloom, and very few American Woodcock and Wilson’s snipe have made their way north. In years prior, these sure fire signs of spring have been observed for a couple of weeks by this time in April. However, the tides have finally turned to the tune of a couple of 60 degree days in a row this passed weekend. I took advantage of this change of weather to get out and bolster my Big Half Year list. As you might see, my list has increased from 16 species to a whopping 38! And, if you note: Butterflies!!

Minnesota is home to a few species of butterfly that do over winter as adults, meaning that you can see them well before you see any sort of flowering plant activity. These butterflies are always a fine sign that spring has come. Mourning Cloak, is perhaps the most familiar example of a butterfly that overwinters as an adult, as they can be seen when snow is still on the ground in both the early spring and late into the fall. I have been lucky to chase down nearly all of the early season butterflies this season so far, with just 3 species eluding me. However, not all of these have I been able to find on Lake Nichols Road! The most exciting butterfly, for me, to add to my Big Half Year List is Green Comma! This was not only a new species for the Sax-Zim Bog Master Species list, but it is a lifer butterfly for me! The commas are a tough group of butterfly to ID, but the Green Comma is heavily marked on the underside of the wing, often showing green borders and marks on the hindwing. From the photo below, you can also see the namesake gray/silver “comma” on the middle of the hindwing.

Green Comma from April 20. These are one of the most beautiful and cryptic butterflies out there!

Butterflies are nice, but the birds have really been showing up in fine numbers lately! Migration has been slow based on lack of proper winds to aide migration, as well as a wall of snow in the southern part of the state. Slowly, but surely, our early migration species have begun to show up, and in number! Dark-eyed Juncos are one of the earliest species to arrive to the northwoods to begin their nesting and they have arrived in huge numbers to Duluth and the Sax-Zim Bog! These sparrows are first in the line of sparrows that will soon make their way back north. The best surprise of the last week’s birding and butterflying on the road had to be the return of Purple Finches! These colorful songsters have arrived and are making their presence known along Lake Nichols Road. Things are “heating up” in the Sax-Zim Bog!

Bird Species added:

  • Canada Goose
  • Blue Jay
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • American Robin
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Turkey Vulture
  • American Woodcock
  • Great Blue Heron
  • American Tree Sparrow
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Purple Finch
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Song Sparrow
  • Northern Harrier

Butterfly Species added:

  • Green Comma (pictured)
  • Mourning Cloak
  • Question Mark


Big Half Year Update 3/29/2018

Signs of spring are slowly, but surely, making their way to Sax-Zim Bog! The ice is receding in the ditches, the ubiquitous muddy roads and trails are making the task of getting around the Bog a little more exciting, and of course owls are starting to call. There are three active owl survey routes within the Sax-Zim Bog, which target rarer owl species, like Great Gray or Boreal Owl. The owls have their own calendar when they like to call, but March 27 was the first time this season (which starts March 1 and runs to April 15) we had Northern Saw-whets calling (as compared to early March last year)! The owl survey route which I run is not along Lake Nichols Road, but there is one owl survey route that is run along Lake Nichols Road. Following our survey route, Kristina and I took a drive down Lake Nichols Road to have a listen to what might be out in the woods along Lake Nichols Road. Mostly, we were hoping to hear Northern Saw-whets, but hit the jackpot at our third stop along the road: 1 Northern Saw-whet, 1 Barred Owl, and 1 Great Horned Owl all call from the same area! Both Great Horned and Norther Saw-whet Owls were new species for our Big Half Years! Now it is just a matter of time before cranes, woodcock, and snipe arrive… here is to an exciting April!!!


Bird Species added:

  • Great Horned Owl
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl


Big Half Year Update 2/28/2018

March is almost here and migration is picking up in regions to our south! I am just dreaming for the flocks of geese and waterfowl that will be landing on Lake Nichols! This last month has been incredibly slow. If you can believe it… I have not seen a Blue Jay OR Downy Woodpecker along Lake Nichols Road yet this year!!! There are a few houses with feeders, but none that are easy to observe from any location. Uffdah! I did pick up one new species during this update period, near the middle of February: Northern Shrike. If you are keeping track of my tally, nearly all of the winter only species that I can find along this road have been accounted for and with raptor migration beginning soon, Rough-legged Hawk is my next big target to see along Lake Nichols Road. I might have to spend some time just sitting and waiting along the road, but with a good wind, who knows what will blow over!


Bird Species added:

  • Northern Shrike


Big Half Year Update 2/01/2018

One month is in the books! What a stagnant end to January I have had. Lake Nichols Road can be a bounty for species, but my winter species list is exceedingly low due to the quick start I got in January. Realistically, the options I have left for the winter species on Lake Nichols Road is small: only 7 species! It is going to take a lot of work to get the last few winter species before migration begins to expand my options. However, I can report that I added a very difficult bird (at least this winter) to my list while looking for woodpeckers in mid January: White-winged Crossbill! These cone dependent wanderers have been vacant from most of the state this winter, with pockets showing up here and there. Two of these boreal finches flew over-head while looking for woodpeckers along the east end of Lake Nichols Road, a very welcome surprise and unexpected addition for the list this year! Hopefully, another surprise or two is in for me this winter season, but I am telling you now, spring migration can’t come soon enough!


Bird species added:

  • White-winged Crossbill


Big Half Year Update 1/11/2018

Of course, no butterflies or dragonflies have been encountered in the brisk winter temperatures of the Sax-Zim Bog, but that does not mean species have not been added to my list! The birds of Lake Nichols Road have treated me well so far!

At this point of the half year, my hope is to check off the hard to find species of bird. Winter visitors, like redpolls and pine grosbeaks will not stick around in the summer, so the only window to see them is the winter. I have had great luck checking out a feeder along Lake Nichols Road, which has given some great birds including Common and Hoary Redpolls and Pine Grosbeak. This feeder was also the location where my Christmas Bird Count Group also had a Pine Siskin, which have been very hard to find this winter! I have not seen it yet, but will be checking regularly!

The other hard to find species in the winter are those birds that might not be active much during the daylight hours or those who move around so much that they are difficult to find. Of the hard to find species, I have checked off 4 tricky ones, including Great Grey Owl, Northern Goshawk, Ruffed Grouse, and Barred Owl. There are lots of birds to find along this road and I cannot wait to see what other surprises lay ahead!

Bird Species added:

  • Northern Goshawk
  • Pine Grosbeak
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • American Crow (bird #1 for the Big Half Year List!)
  • Common Raven
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Common Redpoll
  • Hoary Redpoll
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Ruffed Grouse
  • Barred Owl
  • Great Gray Owl