When we left Dutluth I really enjoyed our drive north. We visited Gooseberry Falls, a Minnesota State Park.
We spend one night at Silver Bay. Bright and early the next morning we drove north to Ely, making several birdy stops on the way.
We found an American Black Duck. I only ever saw one before, when I was a kid in New York State.
We stopped at Spruce Road - a spot we would revisit - where we looked for birds. Don saw Boreal Chickadees there. I did NOT as the snotty little chickadees were avoiding me. Bugger! I did see this lovely little Snowshoe Hare which posed prettily for me as you see below.
But we also saw loads of other wonderful birds as well, along Spruce Road and by the Kawishiwa River Bridge were we found dozens of highly vocal eensie little Least Flycatchers, which croak "Che-bek! Che-bek!". They sounded like tiny frogs.
As we drove into the town of Ely, it was live at first sight; Impeach Bush & Kerry/Gore campaign stickers everywhere. There were loads of cutesy shops and outdoor sports outfitters lined the streets. We had a few shopping sprees in Ely.
We showed up at the Northern Lights Lodge with groceries in hand, to take over a very pretty ‘suite’ all done up in Early American Woodsy Décor.
We did some wonderful birding in the Ely area, some of it enjoyed from the balcony of our second story suite.
Also, one day as we drove along the driveway into Northern Lights Resort, we found a very slow Ruffed Grouse crossing the road. The bird was only slowly and deliberately lifting up one foot after the other, setting its food down like it was crossing a mine field. I got out the car and took picture after picture and the bird continued to walk slowly, making me feel like time was standing still.
One night we drove out to Spruce Road, stopping at a few meadows there. We noticed a weird sound.
"What the heck is that?" I asked. “Frog,” said Don, and believe me, a highly reasonable answer.
What else, except a frog, could such a melancholy croak be?
That night I listened to my iPod. I must add here that It’s been more than a year ago that I treated myself to a spiffy, top of the line iPod and I loaded it with the calls/songs of every bird in North America. I have since, used my iPod for all sorts of things - music, movies, podcasts, but NOT for birding. Well, the iPod's day - or rather night - was finally at hand. I knew the identity of the mystery croaker.
The following night we returned to Spruce Road. I played a particular call on my iPod.
Bog: ‘MEEEEEP!” “MEEP!” “MEEP!” "MEEP!" "MEEEEEP!"
It was an American Woodcock calling back to the iPod. Woodcocks are baseball sized little butterballs, with very long bills with which they hunt for worms by sniffing them under their noses, deep in the ground. Woodcocks are peculiar looking, having cryptic camouflage coloration and beady black eyes placed on opposite sides of their strange little noggin.
All around the meadow little woodcocks called out to challenge the new guy on the block, which of course was the electronic iPod. It was a Festival of Meeps calling!
From just in front of us a pissed little Woodcock called to its electronic rival. A lantern in hand, Don leapt down into the rushes to get a look at the bird but no dice. He returned and we rather resigned ourselves to hearing the birds - getting them on our life list - but in not getting to actually see any of the blasted little birds. Just then my iPod played a second call - a peculiar bat-like twittering. Apparently Woodcocks have two calls – the MEEP! call, and an agitated twitter. Then it happened! Like a feathered ball, on short rounded wings, a woodcock shot by, circling around us in a wide arch.
Must admit, I rather hoped the Woodcocks would – as rails are apt to do - walk out of the bog for a look at us. But nope, Woodcocks were into aerial reconnaissance! The bird flew by several more times past us in wide, circles and with each pass the circles grew closer to us.
It was marvelous seeing that rotund little body silhouetted against the ever darkening sky. Between flights, the bird would land in the bog on either side of the roadway.
Hurrah! We had both achieved a new lifer, based on a sighting as well as the calls. I squealed as the bird - I was unsure if it was the same bird or a different one - whizzed past my head, so close I could have caught it in a catchers mitt - if I weren't so clutzy anyway. As the bird zipped past it was twittering a message to us, either "Who the eff are you and why are you in my territory?" or possibly "Hey! You’re kind of cute - wanna nest?"
Don and I exchanged high-fives. I was elated but beginning to feel a tad guilty for messing with the bird’s heads. We called out our good wishes to the birds with our own vocalizations of "MEEEP! MEEP!" and headed back for the lodge.
I would have, but damn it, it was dark out there!