See the November 2021 and 2020 Grand Marais MBW summaries

following the summary of the 2021 Tofte MBWs.


Tofte / North Shore MBWs Summary

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

*          *          *

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)

Craig Mandel photo

It was certainly more like early October than November, as each day was mostly sunny with high temperatures ranging from around 60 into the low 70s. On Friday the 6th, it even hit 74 in Duluth, a new record high by 4 degrees! As I told both groups, the only thing I could figure was that on the first Sunday of November, when we were supposed to just set our clocks back one hour, something malfunctioned and both time and the temperatures were set one month earlier instead. The only day with more November-like weather was on Saturday when it was mostly overcast, the wind shifted to the east off the lake, and temperatures fell back into the 40s by the afternoon.

The only problem with such “Indian summer” weather is that the movement of migrants typically comes to halt, and the birding can then become quite slow at times. Such was certainly the case during much of each day, but no one seemed to mind given the unusually pleasant weather.

Probably the best bird enjoyed by both MBWs was the female-plumaged Harlequin Duck at Stoney Point. Both groups were also able to see all 3 scoters, Long-tailed Duck, late Wilson’s Snipe at a few locations, Bohemian Waxwings, both Evening and Pine grosbeaks, White-winged Crossbills, a few meadowlarks (probable Westerns), and that frustrating, distant loon at Stoney Pt. – this was IDed by others as a Pacific, though it looked like it had some Common-like features and I decided to leave it as unidentified.

MBW I had a higher species count (63 vs. 55), and 16 of them were not seen by MBW II; these included Cackling Goose, a possible N. Goshawk, the crabapple-eating Red-headed Woodpecker in Grand Marais, and several late-lingering migrants – e.g., American Pipit, Fox and Savannah sparrows, Rusty Blackbird, and Orange-crowned Warbler. MBW II came up with 8 species which MBW I missed, and these included a Red-necked Grebe and late Eastern Phoebe at Stoney Pt., a brief Northern Shrike in Knife River, both kinglet species, and mostly-heard Red Crossbills flying by in Two Harbors.  


Thanks to all for coming, despite the risks involved with traveling during the ongoing pandemic. Though some had understandably canceled, there were enough of you interested to get me out on my first MBWeekend since last January, as I co-led with Craig on Thursday and Saturday (while Dave Benson was with Craig on Friday and Sunday).  –KRE

Bird List (71 species total)

• I = seen on MBW I, November 5-6 (63 species)

• II = seen on MBW II, November 7-8 (55 species)

Cackling Goose        I  (Two Harbors)  

Canada Goose        I   II

Mallard        I

Greater Scaup        I   II

Lesser Scaup        I

Harlequin Duck        I   II  (Stoney Point !)

Surf Scoter        I   II

White-winged Scoter        I   II

Black Scoter        I   II  

Long-tailed Duck        I   II  (with all 3 scoters at Taconite Harbor on I)

Bufflehead        I   II

Common Goldeneye        I   II

Common Merganser        II

Red-breasted Merganser        I   II

Ruffed Grouse        I   II

Horned Grebe        I

Red-necked Grebe        II  (Stoney Pt.)

Rock Pigeon        I   II

Mourning Dove        I

Wilson’s Snipe         I   II  (several locations)

Ring-billed Gull        I   II

Herring Gull        I   II

loon, sp.        I   II  (Stoney Pt.)

accipiter, sp.        I  (possibly N. Goshawk)

Bald Eagle        I   II

Rough-legged Hawk        I   II

Red-headed Woodpecker        I  (Grand Marais; rare in Cook Co.)

Downy Woodpecker        I   II

Hairy Woodpecker        I   II

Northern Flicker        I

Pileated Woodpecker        I   II

Merlin        I

Eastern Phoebe        II  (late at Stoney Pt.)

Northern Shrike        II  (briefly in Knife River)

Blue Jay        I   II

American Crow        I   II

Common Raven        I   II

Horned Lark        I   II

Black-capped Chickadee        I   II

Red-breasted Nuthatch        I   II

White-breasted Nuthatch        I   II

Golden-crowned Kinglet        II

Ruby-crowned Kinglet        II  (late)

American Robin        I   II

European Starling        I   II

Bohemian Waxwing        I   II  (best at Bayside Park and in Grand Marais)

House Sparrow        I   II

American Pipit        I

Evening Grosbeak        I   II  (Grand Marais)

Pine Grosbeak        I   II

Purple Finch        I

Common Redpoll        I   II

Red Crossbill        II  (fly-bys in Two Harbors)

White-winged Crossbill        I   II  (mostly fly-bys)

Pine Siskin        I   II

American Goldfinch        I   II

Snow Bunting        I   II

Fox Sparrow        I  (late at Black Beach)

American Tree Sparrow        I   II

Dark-eyed Junco        I   II

White-crowned Sparrow        I   II

White-throated Sparrow        I   II

Savannah Sparrow        I  (late)

Song Sparrow        II

Lincoln’s Sparrow        I   II  (also late)

Swamp Sparrow        I   I I (ditto)

meadowlark, sp.        I   II  (probably Westerns)

Rusty Blackbird        I  (near Black Beach)

Orange-crowned Warbler        I  (late in Knife River)

Yellow-rumped Warbler        I

Northern Cardinal        I   II

PHOTO GALLERY (photos by Craig Mandel)

Agate Bay, Two Harbors (Lynn Glesne photo)

*          *          *

~  North Shore MBWs Summary  ~

November 5-6, 2020 (MBW I) and November 7-8, 2020 (MBW II)

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