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Tofte / North Shore MBWs Summary

October 20-21-22 (Tofte I) and October 22-23-24 (Tofte II), 2021

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Grand Marais / North Shore MBW Summary

November 6 - 7, 2021

Yes, the weather was certainly about as pleasant as one can expect on this MBW, with temperatures approaching 65 degrees on Saturday afternoon, and with the low 50s and virtually no wind on Sunday morning. Surprisingly, though, this wasn’t the mildest November North Shore MBW ever. I had forgotten that it hit a record high of 74 in Duluth during this MBW in 2020, and the highs were 60+ on each day. And the weather in 2009 was about the same as what we had last weekend.

This balmy weather almost made it irrelevant that this has been one of the slowest fall migrations ever, both here and throughout most of MN. Our total of 52 species was clearly lower than we usually have on this MBW, although our composite totals were even lower in 2016 (49 species) and 2013 (50). By the way, our average species count is around 60, and we managed 70+ species in 2008 and 2017. Examples of our modest species total this year were the very low numbers of American Robins and Snow Buntings, the abundance of mountain ash berries with virtually no birds in them (we never did see any Bohemian Waxwings), and the near-absence of late-lingering migrants (like sparrows).

These disappointments, though, pale in comparison with the overwhelming – perhaps unprecedented? – flight of hundreds of both Common Redpolls and White-winged Crossbills we witnessed both days. Actually, the word “thousands” probably describes it better, as I don’t remember ever seeing as large a movement of these species. Other highlights were that sort-of-a-Ross’s and Cackling geese in Two Harbors, the Harlequin Duck still lingering in Grand Portage, White-winged Scoters at 3 locations in all, and the adult male Black Scoter for those still with us Sunday afternoon at Park Point.

Among the notable things we saw among the land birds were the Red-bellied Woodpecker in Knife River and another in Two Harbors (we see 0 on most North Shore MBWs), a couple of Lapland Longspurs landing in trees (something I don’t recall ever seeing before!), all those Rough-legged Hawks along Hwy 61(including that handsome and photogenic dark-morph bird near Taconite Harbor), and a Northern Shrike near the Grand Portage sewage ponds.

Bird List

S = St Louis County

L = Lake County

C = Cook County

Ross’s Goose          L

Cackling Goose          L

Canada Goose          L, C

Mallard          S, C

American Black Duck          S, C

Greater Scaup          C

Lesser Scaup          S, C

Harlequin Duck          C

White-winged Scoter          S, C

Black Scoter          S

Long-tailed Duck          C

Bufflehead          S, L, C

Common Goldeneye          S, L, C

Common Merganser          S, L

Red-breasted Merganser          S, C

Horned Grebe          S, L, C

Red-necked Grebe          C

Rock Pigeon          S, L

American Coot          L, C

Ring-billed Gull          S, L

Herring Gull          S, L, C

Common Loon          L

Bald Eagle          S, L, C

Rough-legged Hawk          S, L, C

Red-bellied Woodpecker          L

Downy Woodpecker          L, C

Hairy Woodpecker          C

Pileated Woodpecker          L, C

Northern Shrike          C

Blue Jay          L, C

American Crow          S, L, C

Common Raven          S, L, C

Horned Lark          C

Black-capped Chickadee          S, L, C

Red-breasted Nuthatch          L, C

White-breasted Nuthatch          L

American Robin          L, C

European Starling          S, L, C

Cedar Waxwing          L, C

House Sparrow          L

Pine Grosbeak          L, C

House Finch          L

Common Redpoll          S, L, C

Hoary Redpoll          C

White-winged Crossbill          S, L, C

Pine Siskin          S

American Goldfinch          S, L, C

Lapland Longspur          L, C

Snow Bunting          L, C

American Tree Sparrow          C

Dark-eyed Junco          S

Northern Cardinal          L


Sawbill Trail sunrise (KRE photo)

Just about everyone would agree that this has been one of the slowest fall migrations ever – and not only in Duluth and up the North Shore, but throughout MN as well. Indeed, our pair of Tofte-based MBWs had little to offer to contradict that impression. It was especially telling that the mountain ash trees were full of berries but practically devoid of any birdlife, and note especially that Tofte I didn’t record a single robin anywhere on Wednesday afternoon or all day Thursday! The winds were generally favorable for migration from the N and NNW from Thursday through Saturday, but not much was moving aside from a decent flight of redpolls Saturday morning.

Overall, though, we still did pretty well as we experienced some cold but mostly favorable weather during both MBWs – at least it never rained or snowed on us while we were out birding. In all, from Wednesday afternoon into early Sunday afternoon, we came up with a modest composite total of 70 species, 57 of these on Tofte I and 62 on Tofte II. While Tofte II had more species, keep in mind that this latter group was helped at times by the scouting provided by Tofte I.

Of the 8 species seen on Tofte I and not on II, the best was probably the small group of Bohemian Waxwings flycatching in a bog along Hwy 61 between Hovland and Grand Portage. Conversely, of the 13 birds found on Tofte II but missed on I were the Harlequin Duck at Grand Portage (though a probable Harlequin flew by the Tofte I group at Taconite Harbor), a lone Black Scoter at Hovland, and an uncooperative leader-only Boreal Chickadee plus a late Eastern Phoebe in the Grand Marais campground. Both groups saw that alleged Ross’s Goose (a hybrid?) and Cackling Geese in Two Harbors, a close and entertaining Long-tailed Duck at Agate Bay (seen mostly on II, but spotted by Val of the Tofte I crew and seen by some lucky Tofte I lollygaggers), a Surf Scoter at Grand Portage (and some on Tofte I saw another at Agate Bay), those hungry and crowd-pleasing Canada Jays up the Sawbill Trail, and a male Northern Cardinal in Grand Marais.                   

Of final note were the ID issues that came up during one MBW or the other. One was the sparrow (photo by Kathrynne Baumtrog; a Savannah?) with a massively deformed bill seen by some of the Tofte II group at Stoney Point before we convened...

Another was the white-headed, partial albino blackbird (photo by Kathrynne; a Rusty?) seen distantly and briefly that day at Castle Danger...

But just as interesting was the sparrow found at Lutsen on Tofte I; both photos by Nancy Henke are presumably of the same bird!

Grand Portage sewage ponds (Kathrynne Baumtrog photo)

Agate Bay, Two Harbors (Lynn Glesne photo)

Sawbill Trail (Lynn Glesne photo)

Chickadee taking a selfie (Lynn Glesne photo)

Ross's Goose (or hybrid?): present in Two Harbors since September

~  Lynn Glesne photo  ~

Dark-morph Rough-legged Hawk:

near Taconite Harbor, one of several migrants along Hwy 61

~  Kathrynne Baumtrog &

Roy Zimmerman photos  ~

Snow Bunting: very low numbers this fall along the North Shore

~  Roy Zimmerman photo  ~

Lapland Longspur: one of two that perched repeatedly in trees (!?) in Two Harbors

~  Kathrynne Baumtrog photo  ~

Common Redpoll: one of 100s (or probably 1000s?) along the North Shore

~  Roy Zimmerman photo  ~

White-winged Crossbills: one of 100s migrating down the North Shore

~  Roy Zimmerman photo  ~

At times it looked like a typical Song Sparrow (left), while at others a hint of buff, somewhat thinly streaked underparts, and peaked head shape suggested a Lincoln’s (right). I’m now in the Song Sparrow camp, but admittedly I was first leaning towards Lincoln’s since my views were when it looked more like the right-hand image. It’s never a good idea to base a less-than-straightforward ID on just one look or one photo, either of which can be misleading. Other views and additional photos can often make a bird look quite different. (But now, the more I look at these, the more I have to wonder if there could have been two different birds/species present?!)              

Bird List

I = Tofte I MBW, Wednesday-Thursday-Friday

II = Tofte II MBW, Friday-Saturday-Sunday

L = Lake County

C = Cook County

Snow Goose          I L  /  II L  

Ross’s (?) Goose          I L  /  II L

Cackling Goose          I L  /  II L

Canada Goose          I L,C  /  II L,C

American Wigeon          I L

Mallard          I L,C  /  II L

American Black Duck          I L,C  /  II C

Green-winged Teal          I L,C  /  II L,C

Harlequin Duck          II C

Surf Scoter          I L,C  /  II C

Black Scoter          II C

Long-tailed Duck          I L  /  II L

Bufflehead          I C  /  II C

Common Goldeneye          I C  /  II C

Hooded Merganser          I L,C  /  II C

Common Merganser          I C  /  II C

Red-breasted Merganser          I L,C  /  II L,C

Ruffed Grouse          I L,C  /  II C

Horned Grebe          I L,C  /  II L,C

Red-necked Grebe          I L,C  /  II L,C

Rock Pigeon          I L,C  /  II L,C

Mourning Dove          I L  /  II L

American Coot          I C  /  II C

Ring-billed Gull          I L,C  /  II L,C

Herring Gull          I L,C  /  II L,C

Common Loon          II L,C

Turkey Vulture          I L

Sharp-shinned Hawk          I L

Bald Eagle          I L,C  /  II L,C

Red-tailed Hawk          I L

Rough-legged Hawk          I C  /  II C

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker          I C

Downy Woodpecker          I L,C  /  II L,C

Hairy Woodpecker          I L,C  /  II L,C

Pileated Woodpecker          I L,C  /  II L,C

American Kestrel          I C  /  II C

Merlin          I C  /  II C

Eastern Phoebe          II C

Canada Jay          I C  /  II C

Blue Jay          I L,C  /  II L,C

American Crow          I L,C  /  II L,C

Common Raven          I L,C  /  II L,C

Horned Lark          I L,C  /  II L,C

Black-capped Chickadee          I L,C  /  II L,C

Boreal Chickadee          II C

Red-breasted Nuthatch          I L,C  /  II L,C

White-breasted Nuthatch          I L,C  /  II L,C

Brown Creeper          II L,C

Golden-crowned Kinglet          I C  /  II L,C

American Robin          I C  /  II L,C

European Starling          II L,C

Bohemian Waxwing          I C

Cedar Waxwing          I C  /  II L

American Pipit          II C

Purple Finch          II L

Common Redpoll          I C  /  II L,C

Pine Siskin          I C  /  II L,C

American Goldfinch          II L,C

Lapland Longspur          I L,C  /  II L,C

Snow Bunting          I L,C  /  II L,C

American Tree Sparrow          I L,C  /  II L,C

Dark-eyed Junco          I C  /  II L,C

White-crowned Sparrow          II L,C

Harris’s Sparrow          II L

White-throated Sparrow          II L

Savannah Sparrow          I C

Song Sparrow          I C  /  II C

Swamp Sparrow          I C

Rusty Blackbird          I C  /  II L,C

Northern Cardinal          I C  /  II L,C


Darcy Pinotti photo

So...just where was this duck hiding on Thursday when the Tofte II group was looking all over the Grand Marais harbor for it?! After all, it had been right there by the Coast Guard station posing for pictures for the Tofte I group – after Joanne saw it fly in while the rest of the group had been scouring the rocks at Artists Point. And, of course, it reappeared on Friday while the Tofte II bunch was elsewhere, birding its way from Tofte back to Two Harbors. Argh!

At least it was some consolation when the Tofte II MBWers claimed a total of 58 species on Thursday-Friday, 3 more than the Monday-Tuesday group. This improvement was partly due to some scouting of sites on Tofte I, to twice as many pairs of eyes to find things on Tofte II (14 participants vs 7), and to the dark skies and rainy weather on Monday morning for the start of Tofte I. Birds of note on Tofte II that were missed on Tofte I were those 2 Bohemian Waxwings at our first stop at Tofte Park; a Northern Shrike, Boreal Chickadee (seen by Mary G), and Western Meadowlark at Taconite Harbor; and a juvenile Ross’s Goose plus Bonaparte’s Gulls in Two Harbors.

Aside from that Harlequin, Tofte I had some other noteworthy finds that the latter group missed: a Canvasback at Castle Danger (pretty rare NE of Duluth), late Wilson’s Snipes and Rusty Blackbirds at Lutsen’s sewage ponds, and a surprising Red-bellied Woodpecker way up by Colvill. Both MBW groups managed to see Cackling Geese, White-winged Scoters at Taconite Harbor (also in Grand Marais on II), Long-tailed Ducks (but very few of them), Red-necked Grebes, Merlins, and both kinglets. Conversely and oddly, though, the following were scarce to nonexistent on both MBWs: Surf and Black scoters, Common Goldeneye, raptors other than Bald Eagle (so where were the Rough-leggeds?), waxwings, winter finches, Snow Buntings, and late-lingering sparrows and warblers.               

Thanks to all for coming – especially Joanne and Jocelyn who were on their first-ever MBWs, and to Craig who helped guide the Tofte II group. (Though, of course, it was all his fault for not turning up that Harlequin. On the other hand, though, it was all my fault for not scheduling Tofte II to include Oct 29 – see photo below!)

Bird List (composite total = 76 species)

Tofte I = 55 species (including 18 not seen on Tofte II)

   - Oct 24: from Tofte to Hovland (all in Cook County)

   - Oct 25: Fr. Baraga’s Cross & Taconite Harbor (Cook Co), and from Tettegouche to Two

     Harbors (Lake Co)  

Tofte II = 58 species (including 21 not seen on Tofte I)

   - Oct 27: from Tofte to Grand Portage (all in Cook County)

   - Oct 28: Taconite Harbor (Cook Co), and from Tettegouche to Two Harbors (Lake Co)

Snow Goose

Ross’s Goose     (II only)

Cackling Goose

Canada Goose

Blue-winged Teal     (I only)

American Wigeon     (I only)  


American Black Duck     (II only)

Green-winged Teal

Canvasback     (I only)     


Ring-necked Duck     (I only)     

Greater Scaup     (I only)

Lesser Scaup     (I only)  

Harlequin Duck      (I only)

White-winged Scoter

Long-tailed Duck


Common Goldeneye     (II only)

Common Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

Ruffed Grouse     (I only)

Horned Grebe     (I only)

Red-necked Grebe

Rock Pigeon     

Mourning Dove

American Coot     (II only)     

Wilson’s Snipe     (I only)

Bonaparte’s Gull     (II only)  

Ring-billed Gull

Herring Gull

Common Loon     (II only)       

Northern Harrier     (II only)       

Sharp-shinned Hawk     (II only)

Bald Eagle

Red-tailed Hawk     (II only)

Red-bellied Woodpecker     (I only)

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker  

Pileated Woodpecker     (II only)  


Northern Shrike     (II only)

Blue Jay

American Crow

Common Raven

Black-capped Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee     (II only)

Horned Lark     

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Bohemian Waxwing     (II only)

Red-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Brown Creeper     (I only)  

European Starling     (II only)  

Eastern Bluebird     (I only)     

American Robin

American Pipit

American Goldfinch     (II only)

Lapland Longspur     

Snow Bunting

Chipping Sparrow     (I only)

Fox Sparrow     (I only)

American Tree Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

White-crowned Sparrow     (II only)

White-throated Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow     (I only)

Song Sparrow     (II only)       

Swamp Sparrow     (II only)       

Western Meadowlark     (II only)

Red-winged Blackbird     (II only)

Orange-crowned Warbler     (II only)

Rusty Blackbird     (I only)

Palm Warbler     (I only)

Yellow-rumped Warbler


See the summary of the 2021 Tofte MBWs following

the summary of the 2022 Tofte MBWs; also see the

similar Grand Marais MBWs


Tofte I and Tofte II MBWs Summary

October 24-25 and October 27-28, 2022