On occasion, Professor Chad Heins will take students from his Topics in Biology course up to northern Minnesota in search of uncommon birds from the boreal forest and rare gulls and other birds from the Arctic.
On a past trip to the Duluth-Superior Harbor, students learned to distinguish between the common Herring Gulls and the rarer Thayer’s Gull. They also compared the common overwintering Mallards with the closely related American Black Duck. Searches for wintering Gyrfalcons came up empty but students watched a Peregrine Falcon dive-bomb a Red-tailed Hawk and also found a flock of Snow Buntings in Superior. As the light faded, the class spent more time looking for Snowy Owls and managed to find two of these tundra-nesting birds before it got too dark see them.
Other activities include spending time in the world-famous Sax-Zim Bog northwest of Duluth. Here, boreal birds reach the southern limit of their range. Searches for Great Gray Owl and Black-backed Woodpecker were unsuccessful but spectacular views of finches like Common Redpoll, Pine Grosbeak, and Evening Grosbeak were had at various feeding stations. Students also had a chance to observe Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, and Ruffed Grouse and a couple of students even tried to copy Professor Heins and have a Black-capped Chickadee eat out of their hand. Temperatures were warmer than usual and students perhaps had the most fun on a hike through a Black Spruce/Tamarack bog off of McDavitt Road. Here they crossed paths with the tracks of a Bobcat and the ever-abundant Snowshoe Hares. A North American Porcupine snoozing in a tree though ended up being their favorite mammal of the day.
Bethany’s small class-sizes make these types of opportunities possible. Come check us out!