Hiking through the hills overlooking Duluth, we are only a few steps from the parking lot when Erik Bruhnke comes to a sudden stop and looks up sharply. “Northern Flicker!” he says excitedly.
With the naked eye, I see an ordinary-looking outline of a bird atop a pine tree, but with the camera zoomed in, a spectacular speckled woodpecker comes into focus with a red cap and stunning yellow feathers under its wings.
Eriks excitement for birds is immediately contagious. He has a fun fact at the ready for every sighting. “Unlike many woodpeckers, Northern Flickers occupy both trees and they go for ants at the bottom of trees.” he says.
Erik has spent most of his life studying birds, and sharing that knowledge with others. We are at one of his favorite places for watching bird migration, Hawk’s Ridge Bird Observatory, where he has worked as an interpreter and hawk-counter for years.
Birds can be found just about anywhere! The Duluth area is especially unique during migration because of Lake Superior. “Many birds fly over land but avoid large bodies of water, especially birds of prey.” Erik explains. “What happens is these birds are rushing North into the Canadian forests and as they hit the shoreline of Lake Superior, they funnel into the Duluth area. So Duluth is the geographical funneling point for many birds.”
If you are North of Duluth, Erik says all of the State Parks along the North Shore are excellent for bird watching, and come with the bonus of waterfalls and other amazing views too.
He also recommends the Sax-Zim bog, a world-renown bird watching hotspot, about an hours drive North West of Duluth for visiting some of the deep forest birds of Minnesota.
“The two main items that are necessary for getting into birding is a pair of binoculars and a field guide of some sorts.” Erik loves the well-known “Sibley Guide to Birds”, but he also recommends “American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Minnesota” by Laura Erickson, for extra-local context. He also sometimes carries a spotting scope on a tripod, and a camera with a long lens.
Erik says Duluth has some incredible resources for anyone curious about birds.
The Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory