Monday, December 30, 2019

Snowy Owls Winter 2019-2020

©Marie Feldmeier, Kittson County,  Dec 21, 2019

NW Minnesota and the Red River Valley 

are high on the list of the most reliable places to spot Snowy Owls 

in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest


Official "irruption" year - or not - over the past decade we've always had at least a few reports, more often - dozens (or more) throughout the winter season.  They're relatively easy to spot from the comfort of your car.  Look for them on power poles along roadsides, on top of grain bins, barns and road signs, and on the ground in the middle of - and along side - "minimum maintenance" roads.

But before you venture out, be sure you and your vehicle are prepared for the cold, your gas tank is full and your car maintenance is up-to-date.  Keep your cell phone charged.  Use your car navigation system and pay attention to road signs - so you know where you are in case you need to call for help.

Always use your flashers and turn signals.  
Use your vehicle as a bird blind - STAY IN YOUR CAR!
Stock your car for winter emergencies.
Drive defensively.


The first report of the fall season came in on 24 October.  It was spotted on a very muddy township road near a sugar beet field west of US 75 and south of Euclid.   Several birders went out to document the report with a photo.  Nobody got lucky.

Isn't October too early?  According to the records in Robert Janssen's "Birds of Minnesota" (the new, updated edition of his "field guide to the distribution of 400 species of birds in Minnesota" will be on the bookshelves in 2019), September would be "early."   It's "normal" to start seeing snowies in the Red River Valley in October and November.

Our 2nd report came from Thief River Falls, east of Northland College on Minnesota State Hwy 1.  An owl was spotted on a township road, two days in a row (Nov 11 & 12) - early in the morning.   No photos were taken and the bird was not found again.

The first documented Snowy Owl of the Season was photographed on Nov 12 by Kyra Midderigh - southeast of Crookston.

13 November - we got a report from rural East Grand Forks.  Again, no photographs.

 On 13 November, 2019 Leon Thoreson provided cellphone photos of this bird south of Crookston.


On Nov 19 we received 2 reports of Snowy Owls south of Crookston on US 75.   Tim Drisoll's Raptor Ecology Class (University of Minnesota - Crookston) provided photos.

©HvHughes, November 26, 2019
© HvHughes, November 26, 2019
On 26 November, this owl was photographed - on a power pole and in the middle of the road - south and west of Warren.

Today the number of Snowy Owls reported so far this season is 20 with 14 photos.

© HvHughes, Oct 27, 2018

If you see one, please view them from a distance - for more advice click on this link:

If you spot one in the Red River Valley of the North, please send us a text (218-745-5663) or email ( with the following information:

your name
phone number
date and time of your sighting
location (nearest intersection or GPS coordinates)
and a photo - even if it's not a great photo, it may be useful.

We do NOT post exact locations of owls.

Thank you!!!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Moose west of Warren MN

I don't like to start my day sitting in front of a computer.  But that's where I was on Friday, December 27 at 9:33.  I heard an email "ping" and up popped a message from my friend Bonnie Howard.  When I get an email, call or text from Bonnie, I know she's seen something special.  She had.

Her message was simple and to the point:  "It's not a Snowy Owl, but there's a moose..." 

I've only seen one moose in the wild - ever - and that one was way far off in the distance.

I grabbed my equipment, hopped in my little Toyota RAV-4 Hybrid and headed west.  About 20 minutes later, I spotted 2 cars pulling away from the location Bonnie had sent me.  Oh no, I thought.  Did I "miss" it?

I looked around.   Off in the distance I noticed dark spot on the snow.
Was that the moose? Yes!    But it was way far off in the distance.

What to do?  I considered my options:  go east, go west, or pull off the road, snap a photo and sit still.  Just watch.

I pulled to the side of the road and took a photo, hoping I'd get a better one.  But a lousy "proof of a moose in the distance" photo is better than no moose photo at all.  Then I sat and watched.  What is this creature gonna do? 

A moose north of Warren MN.  ©HvHughes

She started walking east, and moved closer to the road towards my car.   I watched her through my open window.

She stopped several times.   Hard to say who was more curious. 

Moose in the snow  ©HvHughes

All of a sudden, she lifted up her head and took off.

A moose trotting along a rural road near Warren MN  ©HvHughes

She was headed towards a major highway - less than a mile away.

Not good.  Maybe I could head her off at the next intersection - and encourage her to go north.

Moose gathering speed   ©HvHughes

I got to the intersection before the moose did.  She headed towards the tree line north of the farmstead just up the road.

Moose heading to a tree line.  ©HvHughes

Lucky for me, the farmer was out plowing his driveway.  I pulled in, hopped out of my car and went over to talk.   
Would he be okay with me driving through his yard and up to the tree line?   

"No problem," he said.  "That moose you're looking for, it's just to the north of the trees."    I thanked him and hopped back into my car.

Imagine my surprise when I turned the corner at the tree line and moose was right there!

A moose along the treeline ©HvHughes

I couldn't help but realize just how BIG she was - way bigger than my car.   I didn't want to spook her.  
I watched her through my opened window and whispered:  "Here's where ya wanna head north."

Moose by the tree line ©HvHughes

She stood there and posed for one last photo.  Then I slowly backed up my car, giving her plenty of room to escape to the north. 

That's exactly what she did.

Moose heading north away from the highway ©HvHughes


Saturday, December 14, 2019

First Sighting of a Lesser Goldfinch 
in Minnesota - Near Warren 
December 8 - 11, 2019

Lesser Goldfinch in Warren, MN on
on Sunday, December 8, 2019
 photo ©HvHughes

There are 444 birds on the official 2019 "Checklist of the Birds of Minnesota."   Spotting a bird that's not on the list doesn't happen very often.  But when it does, birdwatchers flock to see it - even when the temperature drops below zero.  That's what happened on Wednesday, December 11, 2019, near the Agassiz Valley impoundment, 8 miles southeast of Warren.

The bird was first photographed at a feeder on Sunday, December 8th.  Experts from the Twin Cities confirmed the identification, first from photographs - then birders came up to see it first-hand.  The lone Lesser Goldfinch spent 4 days hanging out with dozens of Pine Siskins at feeders full of hulled sunflowers.    According to, these birds are normally found on the west coast, the southwestern states and parts of Central America.  

What's it doing here in Warren, Minnesota?  

It's impossible to know for sure.  It could be it got blown here in a storm.  It could be that they've been coming here every winter here and nobody noticed.  It could be that the bird was directionally challeged.  It could be that this species is expanding its range.  Or it could be another reason altogether. 

No matter where you live, you can help scientists keep track of wild birds at  
For more information about Minnesota's wild birds, go to

If you spot an unusual bird in the Red River Valley, Agassiz Audubon Society wants to know.  Call, text (218-745-5663) or email (  Please include

1.  your name and phone number
2.  your email address, phone number,
3.  when and where you spotted the bird and
4.  a photo - if you have one.