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For birdwatcher, merging hobbies is beautiful experience

Seth Owens is a lifelong North Dakotan whose love of birds began at a very young age. He picked up photography in the spring of 2021 and now has merged those two interests.

Sleepy Northern Saw-Whet Owl - Seth Owens
Northern saw-whet owls are tiny raptors. This one has been seen in Grand Forks this winter.
Seth Owens / Special to Northland Outdoors
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GRAND FORKS -- February was a rough month to be a wildlife photographer. The frozen wind rapidly removed what heat was left in my hands while holding the camera. Through it all, I gained far more respect for the birds that don’t have merino wool underlayers and insulated jackets. There may have not been many great opportunities to get outside with the camera, but when the sun shone I took advantage of it.

Seth Owens 2.jpg
Seth Owens, a junior University of North Dakota fisheries and wildlife biology student from Hillsboro, N.D., carries his camera gear with him Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, during a birdwatching excursion along the Red River in Grand Forks.
Brad Dokken / Grand Forks Herald

I’m Seth Owens, a lifelong North Dakotan. Living in this state has exposed me to a wealth of wildlife and nature that have shaped and directed my education. I am a junior at the University of North Dakota studying fisheries and wildlife biology with a minor in English. I picked up photography in the spring of 2021, but the variety of wildlife in the area has allowed me to practice with many different subjects and hone my skills.

I’ve had a love of birds from a very young age, and that love has only grown as I progress through my schooling. I encourage you to get outside and explore a bit. You never know how much is actually out there until you get out there and get lost!

Northern saw-whet owl - Grand Forks

The first major sighting of the month was a Northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus). This little owl has been hanging around in Grand Forks for the last couple of months and is certainly tougher than me in the cold. Northern saw-whet owls are tiny little raptors that spend their days roosting and resting in evergreens and spend their nights hunting small rodents. They weigh about 3.5 ounces, about the same as a deck of cards.

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Female Purple Finch - Seth Owens
The female purple finch doesn't bare the namesake color, but is a resident of trees. This one was among a flock spotted in Grand Forks.
Seth Owens / Special to Northland Outdoors

Purple finch - Female - Grand Forks

A few days after the owl sighting, I stumbled across a small flock of purple finches (Haemorhous purpureus). This female doesn’t bear the namesake color, but her heavy contrasted colors and inquisitive eyes made her and her friends the superstars of the day. Like the northern saw-whet owl, purple finches are residents of the trees. They are often found across coniferous (pine) and mixed forests, but won’t shy away from the feeders in your wooded backyard. Try putting out black-oil sunflower seeds to attract them and other finches to your yard.

Bald Eagle - Seth Owens
Bald eagles are an inspiring sight. This one was photographed while visiting St. Louis County in Minnesota.
Seth Owens / Special to Northland Outdoors

Bald eagle - St. Louis County, Minn.

There are few birds as awe-inspiring as the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). My friends and I were lucky to stumble across this raptor after taking a wrong turn! Their scientific species name, leucocephalus, literally translates to “white” (leuco) “head” (cephalus). It’s pretty easy to see how they came up with that name.

Black-Capped Chickadee - Seth Owens
Black-capped chicadees are common among the northern United States. This one was photographed in Grand Forks.
Seth Owens / Special to Northland Outdoors

Black-capped chickadee - Grand Forks and boreal chickadee - St. Louis County, Minn.

Where the bald eagle inspires awe and courage, Chickadees tend to inspire quotes of, “aww, how cute!” These two chickadees, the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) and the boreal chickadee (Poecile hudsonicus) are very similar, but one is far more commonly seen than the other. Almost everybody has seen a black-capped chickadee, but you’d have to be searching to find a boreal! Black-capped chickadees can be found nearly anywhere across the northern portions of the United States, but boreal chickadees are found much further north and rarely move further south than the boreal forests of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Which one do you think is cuter?

Pine grosbeaks - Male and Female - St. Louis County, Minn.

Pine Gosbeak Female - Seth Owens
The female pin gosbeak is gray with contrasts of copper-gold hues on their heads and backs. This one was photographed in Minnesota's St. Louis County.
Seth Owens / Special to Northland Outdoors

I wasn’t expecting to find a new favorite winter bird this year, I always appreciated the common redpolls and northern saw-whet owls, but I think that the pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator) take the top spot now. These finches are huge. They easily dwarf almost every other bird that frequents the feeders of the boreal forest. Like the boreal chickadee, there are limited options for finding pine grosbeaks in the United States. Most of their range runs through the boreal and coniferous forests of Canada, but they do dip into northern Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

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Males are extremely beautiful with a reddish-pink hue that pulls so much color and life into the wintery forests. Females are slaty gray, contrasted with the copper-gold hues that are present on their heads and backs.

Pine Gosbeak Male - Seth Owens
A large finch with a range through the boreal and coniferous forests of Canada, the pine grosbeak sometimes dip into northern Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The males feature a reddish-pink hue. This one was found in Minnesota's St. Louis County.
Seth Owens / Special to Northland Outdoors

February was a blustery month, but by taking every opportunity to get outside, I was able to find several different birds that were extremely photogenic. For the next month, I am looking forward to a variety of spring birds starting to trickle into the state, grouse becoming active at leks (communal breeding grounds), and my spring break trip to bird in central Florida. Hopefully, the sunshine and warmth we’ve experienced at the end of February will stick around as March progresses.

MORE BIRDWATCHING STORIES:
Since coming to the University of North Dakota in 2019, the birdwatcher and aspiring wildlife photographer has taken his passion to a new level, exploring Grand Forks and the surrounding area with keen ears, keen eyes and a Nikon camera with a very large lens, to observe and photograph birds.

How to follow Owens on social media:

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