Flccking To Toivola-Meadowlands

About 150 birders flocked to the Toivola-Meadowlands area for the first-ever Sax-Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival Friday through Sunday (Feb. 15-17). Birding festivals are getting more and more popular, but most of them are held in spring, summer and fall. Duluth birder Sparky Stensaas thinks this may be the only mid-winter birding festival in in the northern United States.
The event was organized by Duluth’s Mike Hendrickson. Duluth birders Laura Erickson, Dave Benson and Stensaas all spoke at the event, which attracted birders from 19 states.
No great gray owls showed for the event. Few have been around this winter and the ones seen in mid-January must have moved back north. But the single hawk owl proved very cooperative, and birders also saw three-toed woodpeckers, black-backed woodpeckers, redpolls and sharp-tailed grouse, Stensaas said.
The Sax-Zim area, along with much of Northeastern Minnesota, became a magnet for birders in the winter of 2004-2005 when more than 5,000 great gray owls moved down from Canada in to Minnesota in search of food. An equal or larger number of tiny boreal owls also moved into Minnesota that winter. It was the largest "irruption" of owls ever recorded in the state.

1 Response

  1. Mike Hendrickson


    To bad you missed the boat on this winter bird festival. I was surprise that there was not one article written nor was I contacted for an interview for an article for the outdoor section of the Duluth – News Tribune.

    This was my idea that I presented to the Meadowlands Community back in March 2007. With the help of the Toivola-Meadowlands Dev. Board the festival took off. I originally predicted we would get about 50-75 birders our first year and we ended up with 160 registered with 10 cancellations. Of the 160 birders registered 20 states were represented but during the week prior to the festival I got 10 cancellations.

    This is largest winter bird festival in the Midwest and Minnesota’s 2nd largest bird festival after the Detroit Lakes birding festival. Next year we are expecting anywhere from 200-300 birders to come to the 2009 festival. We already out grew the Meadowlands Community Center and are moving into the old Meadowland’s school. This festival is getting the attention of some big sponsors and I am very pleased with the results.

    Mark Stensaas was not a feature speaker but he did an outstanding job leading field trips and gave a presentation to 8 birders during a workshop on Sunday on how birds survive the northland. Mark is a good friend of mind.

    All I know is that this festival has done wonders with improving the relationships between the birders and residents of the Meadowlands community. The owl irruption of 2004-05 created some strong issues with the residents of the area when 100’s of birders raced to the Sax Zim Bog area and parked in the middle of the road to view owls, trespassed on the private property and all sorts of stupid things.

    Helen Abramson contacted me last winter asking me where are all the birders? Helen then asked me how can the town of Meadowlands attract birders to the Sax Zim Bog area and I suggested to Helen a winter bird festival. So I went up to the manor in Meadowlands last spring and presented my idea and the TMDB members loved it.

    So with Helen & Dave Abramson and the other board members ( Toivola Meadowlands Development Board) we decided to move foward and plan the festival on our own. AS you may of heard by talking to Sparky that the festival was a huge success!

    About 60% of the people that attended this year are planning on coming back next year and the rest of the people are going to spread the word and get others to come up! I have big plans for next year, getting big sponsors and more vendors. I am also expanding all the field trips and also do more workshops.

    I am very proud of myself and also proud of the people of the Meadowlands for standing up and realizing that the birds in their area are special as is the land they live in. I am happy that there is now a strong bond between birders and the residents. A lot of good came from this festival.

    Even some good friends like Pam Perry ( good friend) and Maya Hamady of the DNR were there as vendors and commented to me what a wodnerful festival this was and how this festival will bring awareness to protecting the tamarack/spruce bogs in the Sax Zim area.

    Again I wish you contacted me before the event started and I believe Helen even contacted you a few week before the event and you told her you will put festival on the outdoor calendar.

    Lots of good stories could of been told and shared at this festival for others to read. I am just glad at least the journalists from Ely, Hibbing and Floodwod came to write about it and also it was great that a Grand Rapids radio station gave us free advertising – thanks to my friend Sandy Roggencamp. .

    Hopefully next year Sam.

    Mike Hendrickson
    Duluth, Minnesota

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