Birding in the middle of the winter would be something I’d have never thought of doing by myself, that too in the northern part of Minnesota, close to the Canadian border. But Aubrey, my Labmate, a PhD candidate in our lab, asked me if I would be interested to go Bird watching somewhere, at that time I didn’t actually know where Roseau was. I agreed, why would I say no to bird watching and of course traveling? This was to be my first bird watching trip in the US. The last time I went birding has to be in Shivapuri national park with my B.Sc. 4th year students from Tri-Chandra. I was recently gifted the book “Birds of North America” by Ashna so I had a chance to use the book as well. It’s only later that I looked at the map for Roseau and realized that it’s way up to the North of Minnesota and close to the Canadian border, not just close it was super close.
Team Sparrow was about to head to Roseau, Minnesota for birding. Aubrey, Jennifer and me had planned to leave after the seminar on Friday. Accordingly I rushed back to my apartment to pack my stuff, we were set to leave at 5 pm. I pack light, I pack super light, my sisters in Indiana and Iowa were shocked to see my backpacks that I had during my trip back in December. Somehow I manage to get all my stuff within that small backpack of mine. And of course it takes about 2 minutes for me to pack. While I was waiting for them I went through the bird book and just randomly browsing through the pages and maps to see what could I possibly see during the trip. I was going wear my Goldstar boot, but later changed my mind to wear the snow boot and that’ was a good decision. We left Fargo around 5:15 pm. The ride wasn’t particularly long, for those who don’t know how it works here, a ride that 5-6 hours isn’t “Long” over here, ours was 3 hours something. Imagine a 5 hours drive back in Nepal, how long can that be, well that’s relativity I guess!
By the time we reached Roseau, it was almost 8:45 pm. We were staying at the Roseau motel and diner. It was my first stay at any diner in US. The Roseau motel and diner was a good experience. We went ahead and checked in, and headed to the dinning hall. There were about 10-12 people there who were also there for Bird watching as well. They were actually playing a birding game, birders’ version of Monopoly. You’d get a question about birds, you could pick 3 levels-” Beginner, Medium and Expert” and if you answer the questions correctly you would be able to roll a dice and move forward. As soon as we entered the room, each of us got one question! I picked Beginner, but still didn’t manage to answer it correctly. By that time, there was barely 6-7 birds in America that I could recognize, so yeah, that was supposed to happen. I guess if this was a Nepali game then I’d not be this bad. We stayed there as they continued playing the game, it was fun! There were few people who could answer literally anything related to birds and by anything, I mean anything. It was so refreshing and motivating to watch those people answer what would be rocket science question equivalent for me at that time. Before the end of the game, the group discussed the plan for the next day, we were supposed to meet in the diner at 6 am, Yes! You read it right 6am and then we would head out to different places for birding. After the briefing we headed out to find some food, we didn’t stop for food on our way to Roseau so three of us were pretty hungry by then. As soon as we got out of the dinner to we saw the huge Subway sign to the left, and Aubrey knew that I love Subway, she suggested we’d go to Subway, headed out there to realize that it was already closed, just like most of other food outlets. We looked around for a while and found a bar that was still open, Brickhouse Restaurant and Bar. To quite of a place for a bar, that too on Friday. I’m so not good at ordering food, mostly because I don’t know what to eat, but I’ll be fine as long as it has meat, cheese and of course Bacon in it. Imagine how easy it is to pick food in Nepal, there’s no need for a menu, no matter what time it is after 10:00 am, you’d have momo’s. I’d have loved to have a big ass bowl of Le Trio’s Jhol momo at that time in Roseau, on top of that it was super cold! How awesome would that be? They should start momo outlets in US as well. Anyways, I went for Bacon wrap, and apparently bacon is a huge midwest thing, as Aubrey had told me and the waiter didn’t hold back his compliments when I said I want Bacon wrap. It was good, why would anything with Bacon not be good? After the dinner, we headed back to the Motel. Had to sleep early, was supposed to wake up at 5:30 am, so went to the bed. I had Nick Lane’s “The Vital Question” with me so I read for a while and went to bed. I never go anywhere without book, I might forget every other thing but not books.
I managed to wake up early, was super sleep deprived but we were about to go birding so it was all fine. I was more excited than sleepy. Aubrey was sharp and ready, Jennifer was kind of like me but she was excited about it so the sleepy part just dissipated. We went down to the diner and had breakfast. Breakfast buffet with tons of stuff, my favorite type of breakfast, ha! Aubrey and Jennifer were kind of skeptic about the Motel and how sketchy it might be, I had no experience so I didn’t know what to expect but it turned out to be really good. The food was good, the rooms were good, the bathroom was huge and clean. I don’t have anything to compare it with but it wasn’t bad I guess. After the breakfast we headed out. I was expecting to see a Snowy Owl, that was my aim as I didn’t know what more to expect. We were tailgating few vehicles in front of us as our leader led the charge.
As I said, we didn’t know where we were supposed to head so we were tailgating and somehow the car in front of us lost the car in front of them, we ended up following them to a place where we saw a sign that said, “Canadian border ½ mile- Prepare to stop”. But the car in front of us didn’t stop, and headed right to the border, not knowing what was going on we did follow them to the border, but then Jen slowed down the car as we ended near the customs building. Well, the guys didn’t have passport with them and I couldn’t even go past the border even if I had the passport with me without a visa, so I was kind of worried about getting detained ha! So we turned around and called our leader and he gave us a direction and we followed that to join the team. After we met the team, we headed out again, and while on the road, we saw our first bird. Perched on a tall naked tree (Not sure what tree that is, my knowledge of Botany is as low as my bank balance). But it was the first time that I saw the Northern Hawk Owl, most of the birds I saw that day was for the first time. It was pretty far but I did see it properly from a binocular without managing to get a good shot the owl itself on the camera.
Like I said, it was pretty far and the image isn’t that good, but I did get a good view of the Owl from the Binocular.
Birding going strong!
We continued on our birding adventure deeper into the state park (I assume it was a state park) hoping to see more birds. One of the aim of the birding trip was to find the Spruce Grouse, I didn’t know about the grouse before so I looked at my book to see what it looked like, and it basically looked like a fancy chicken and from then on wards we went with that name! We were trying hard to find the fancy chicken. And, when I feel like I want something, I need it and my OCD goes crazy in such instances, but I tried to refrain it as much as I could because once I feel like I need to see something then I have to. If you guys are regular reader of my blog, you’d know my trip to Annapurna circuit, when I aimed for 100+ bird species and how I wouldn’t return back until I met my aim. And, now at that instance I had to see the Spruce Grouse and the Snowy Owl. I started scanning 360 degrees for the bird all along. No luck there! So we turned around and headed to a new place, while on the highway we saw another bird, it was the Great Grey Owl, beautiful species. It had a white mark at the base of the facial disc which gave it a bow tie effect and made it very easy to identify the owl. It was huge and according to the book it is also the biggest owl in US.
Not a good shot again but that’s the Great Grey!
While everyone was busy taking a photo of the Great Grey, Jennifer saw the Pileated Woodpecker on a tree right in front of us. Another bird to the list!! And 5 minutes later we saw few blue jays on the middle of the road.
We continued towards the eastern part of Roseau, on a state park again, I think, there were tons of those so I kind of lost track of it. But on our way, we were still tailgating and the car in front of us stopped and they thought they saw wolves, I jumped out of the seat and opened the window to look outside, but it just turned out to be a dog. I’d have loved to see wolves in the wild. But well, the adrenaline rush was fine too, kind of felt like I was back home and waiting for a tiger to pass by while on a safari inside Chitwan National Park. Another stop on the way and this time, there was something far away in the field, it wasn’t a wolf but a Coyote, well I saw a Coyote for the first time in my life, I did see a dead Coyote on the way to Vegas but this was was up and running in the fields. One more mammal to the list. Then again, we saw a fox and also the white tailed deer, which I had previously seen in Duluth.
The White Tailed Deer
We stopped in the middle of the nowhere to walk right into the woods with the hope of finding birds. And it was not just the middle of the woods but it was covered with at least a feet of snow. It was fun, who’d ever go bird watching in the middle of winter, that too near the Canadian border in northern Minnesota?
Team Sparrow in full birding mode!
No luck came with birds for a long time but we went to this place, I don’t quite remember if it was a state park or not but there, we saw 5 different species of birds. I jumped out of the car, once Jen unlocked me, for some reasons, the back door wouldn’t open at all so I got stucked most of the times. But then I ran to this small shurby tree and started taking photos.
Grey Jays in Bush
All the birds in that bush were new for me. One in particular was beautiful, the Common Redpoll. The others were, Blue Jay, Grey Jay, the Black Capped Chickadee and the Pine Gross Beak. The Grey Jay’s seemed to be super friendly and the house owner and the manager there brought some bread for us, so that we could feed the Grey Jays on our hands, I tried it, and my hands were numb as I held the breads up in the air, and it took at least 10 minutes for the Grey Jay to come and pick it up off my hands, people were waiting to take a photo of me with the Jay in my hands but they gave up after a while. I didn’t even though my hands were about to. Finally the Jay landed in my hand and took the bread, but sadly there were no one to take a photo of me with the Jay in my hand. But it was a fun experience. There was almost a mini museum inside the building, with skins and stuff animals, mostly owls.
We headed out of there in hope of finding more birds, headed right to Roseau and scanned every single alley and went over the same roads for multiple time, I swear few people were worried about what we were doing and one of the guy might have almost been close to calling the cops. 4 cars tailgating and stopping outside people house and looking at their houses with binoculars and taking photographs, that sounds creepy and weird! Little did they know that we were actually looking for birds ha! But we did see tons of birds mostly the same species, the Pine Grossbeaks, Black Capped Chickadees and the Pileated Woodpecker. One tree outside one of the house, we saw tons of Bohemian waxwings, beautiful bird. It was another bird to my list. We went around the houses for at least 100 times before heading out back to the same place we had been in the morning in the hope of finding the Spruce Grouse. If you guys are wondering when and what time did these guys had lunch, we didn’t! We were so into birding we didn’t even stop for lunch, the only thing I had was coffee in the gas station and that’s it. So we stopped at a gas station before heading out into the wild to look for the fancy chicken, I had no idea what to eat, so I grabbed two pringles and an iced tea. We headed out to the same spot from the morning, but no luck with the chicken. It was almost dark and we had to turn back. We returned back to the motel.
Dinner and the game
Back at the motel, we were at the diner for our dinner, and again I was left with the hardest question of what to eat, and not surprisingly I decided to go with a burger with Bacon! Because Bacon!! After the dinner, I stayed back to play the game with the team, though I would suck at it and believe me, I did. But it was fun though, I most rolled the dice and got 6 after 6 each time. I also did manage to get 2 answer correct which was mostly based on habitats rather than the birds itself. There was a professor of NDSU, who could literally answer every single question about birds of US. It was insane, it was fun watching everyone else trying to answer the question and when they couldn’t they’d look back to him, which was the phone a friend version of birding game. By the end of the game it was almost 10:00 pm and we had to wake up early on in the morning again to hit the road with a hope to see the fancy chicken again, so that meant waking up at 5 again!! I went to bed, before that I read one chapter and then hit the bed, to wake up super early. Woke up sleep deprived at 5:15 hallucinating and hearing an alarm that actually never went off, had breakfast at the diner and then headed out in search of the Grouse. On the way, our leader would stop at times, giving us hopes of the fancy chicken but we didn’t see one. While on the road to the same place we had been before, one of the car got stuck in the snow, which had happened the previous day as well, so we all pushed the car and got it out of the snow, but then another car fell down into a small ditch and it took all the people in there to push the car out of the snowy ditch. Aubrey and Jen scrapped off the snow from the tires and then all of us pushed it and finally got it out. It was a fun morning, but no luck with birds though. We headed out from there hit the highway and headed back home.
It was a fun trip over all, I managed to see 9 different species of birds, taking the list of birds I’ve seen in use to 15, Mammals to 5. I forgot to mention that we saw a hare in the middle of the snow, which Jen and I thought was a pile of snow but turned out to be a hare. Though I didn’t get to see the Spruce Grouse or the Snowy Owl, it was an awesome trip and a great learning experience, I’m definitely going back for that fancy chicken next time, it’s on my list. I’m hoping to cross 100 species by the end of 2018!! Let’s hope if I reach it!
Northern Hawk Owl
Black Capped Chickadee
The Grey Jay