With a beautiful weather day offering temps 50+ degrees warmer than last weekend I got out to Afton State Park after work hoping to examine some secret spots for possible owl species. Afton is a massive area to cover and I easily know of a dozen spots I'd like to look for a variety of owl species, though many are a serious hike in deep snow. Pete Nichols and I have discussed Afton at length and continue to review Google Maps for viable evergreen stands that we wish to check.
On a big year like this one it pays to think about some of the more challenging birds and figure out opportunities to look for them. Most birds of course will cross paths with you at some point while on territory or while migrating assuming the habitat it correct, but Owls really make you work for it and I consider myself a rank amateur in finding them.
We hiked a few locations that have been on our short list without any results beyond some whitewash that showed something was definitely present this winter in one location. Again, I'm a newb when it comes to finding and looking for owls, but it is a skillset I'm working on actively and in the pictures below you can see the signs you may wish to look for when observing evergreen stands for the presence of owls.
Near center on this image is a spot of white easy to miss in the tangle of branches and background snow, but if you look closely and really focus on branches just out from the trunk...
...you will often see this type of white wash sign from potential roosting owls. This seems like a good sign of a potentially active location.
Though owls did not show themselves this day we did have a vocalizing Common Raven that seemed to be in a tangle with some crows. It is a flagged bird for this area, though we always seem to find one or two in the county each winter. This very well could be the farthest south Raven in the state at this point considering they generally don't push beyond the main body of the north metro. It seems the St. Croix River valley may provide a suitable corridor for them to dip a bit further south than normal. This is my second St. Croix River Common Raven this year with another coming on my hike at Wild River two weekends ago.
I also wanted to add a quick note about a new piece of travel safety gear I bought for my State Park Trips. One thing I always think about is going to some of the out of the way parks up north and then having my car battery die. A friend (Craig Mullenbach) had posted about the Noco Genius.
This lithium ion battery has a set of jumper cables allowing you to jump your own car if the battery dies with protections if you do it wrong so you don't destroy the car or your device. In addition the USB in and out ports allow you to charge it off a wall socket or a car lighter port and then use the device to recharge your phone and other USB devices multiple times over. In addition it has built in LED lights that have 6 modes including a strobe if you are stranded along the road. Really cool device that as I read reviews on Amazon I couldn't find any negatives. I'm not getting paid to shill product or anything like that, I'm just a dude trying to stay safe when I travel and this seemed like a great device that will ease my mind when travelling to far flung locations in MN. Give it a look if you see any value for your own adventures. Even as a campsite phone charger this seemed like a great value along with the built-in flashlight.
Amazon link to the GB40 version that I bought.