We took a little mini-vacation this week with our friends Gary and Rosie. The object was to check out the Sax-Zim Bog. I had been in the area numerous times previously but only in the summer, when my brother lived near Eveleth, Minnesota. Then it was for fishing, as we had a secret "honey hole," near the small town of Melrude. This time it was for a different purpose. Ice fishing is not for me!
The Sax-Zim Bog is known statewide as a great area for birding. It's not exactly as scenic as the great pine forests of the northeastern "Arrowhead Country," which encompass the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness. Bog here means low lying wet areas of scruffy tamarack, spruce and white cedar. Scattered about one sees a few hayfields and some not very prosperous looking farms. The towns are also minute with few, if any, appearing to have much going for them The area has no lakes to offer as an attraction for tourists. Much of the land is held in various public forms.
What attracts here is a special collection of birds. Some are permanent residents like the Northern Goshawk, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Great Gray Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Black-billed Magpie, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, and Red-breasted Nuthatch. These are birds which are not often seen in other parts of the state. Others are visitors from across the border in Canada. If food is short in Canada during the wintertime, Rough-legged Hawks, Snowy Owls, Northern Hawk Owls, Northern Shrikes, and several kinds of Crossbills and Redpolls may appear. If they appear in great numbers as the Great Gray Owls did in 2005, it's called an "invasion." These are the kind of invasions we like!
I have seen Great Gray Owls flyfishing in the mountains of southwestern Montana. This time I hoped to see them here along with several other owl species. It was not to be, but we had a great time anyway. Here are just a few of the highlights.
The Pine Grosbeak family.
The Pine Grosbeaks, who live in the boreal forests of Canada were a "lifer" for me. We saw several small flocks hanging around "feeding stations." What a gorgeous bird. The males with cranberry wine coloring and black and white wingbars.
We had hoped to see some Boreal Chickadees but instead the Blackcapped versions were busy zipping about everywhere.
In days gone by, I would have been quite astonished to see a Ruffed Grouse sitting in the bushes before getting a shot off. Even my hunting dogs seemed startled, compared to the pheasants whom they usually tracked quite readily. Now that I'm pointing a camera instead of a gun it seems a little easier.
Another bird I was quite pleased to see were flocks of Evening Grosbeaks. When my brother lived near Eveleth we used to see dozens at his feeders. Now they seems quite rare. Perhaps there content to stay further north or perhaps there numbers might sadly be declining. We saw them both feeding in the ditch along the road and high in a several trees working on some kind of berries. Adding to our list of sighting were red-breasted nuthatches, crows, goldfinches, blue and grays jays, a hairy woodpecker, a raven and a bald eagle.
I do suspect, however, that summer in this area would produce a bumper crop of our alternate state bird - the giant bloodthirsty, supersized Minnesota mosquito. Winter looks to me like the best time for birding in the Sax-Zim bog!