Adventure Files: The Sax-Zim Bog

On the second full day of our mini-vacation, we headed up to the Sax-Zim Bog area early to scope everything out and see what we could find on our own before our guided trip the following day. On the way up, we worked on my visual identification skills for Crows vs Ravens. To most, I think the differences are obvious. If you can hear them there’s no mistaking them, but visually it took a bit of refining for me. It kept the ride interesting as did our selected audiobook, The Wave by Susan Casey. A somewhat strange juxtaposition with the landscape, this book is fantastic, especially if you have a soft spot for the ocean like I do. I’ve always felt very at home in the brine-y saltwater air and I’m pretty convinced that in another life I would have made an excellent surfer or at least a very happy beachcomber. Ironic since I live no where near the ocean, but that’s life sometimes. And the Great Lakes — with their vastness and their stormy nature — fulfill that need for big water pretty darn well, too. But I’m on a tangent now, so I’ll digress.

Rogue waves & big wave surfer stories aside, like the first day of any birdwatching trip to a new region seeing the area’s specialties was very exciting. Thanks to some really good staging around the bog area with personal feeders that welcome non-local birders to view during the festival, we were able to spend time watching huge flocks of Common Redpolls & Pine Siskins, Blue Jays, Northern Shrikes, loads of Bald Eagles, Evening Grosbeaks (a ‘life bird’ for me — meaning it was a new-to-me bird), and even some Pine Grosbeaks (I’m pretty sure that one was new, too). At one very special feeder on a lone highway, we even got to view the elusive Boreal Chickadee (yet another life bird). It’s said that that this one bird feeder is the best place in the United States to view a Boreal Chickadee. Usually preferring to remain reclusive in the great forests of the North, these little chickadees are quite shy compared to the very bold black-capped chickadee with which most of us are familiar.

And that’s just what makes the Sax-Zim Bog special. It’s so far north, yet it’s still pretty easy to access — even for roadside viewing. A lot of very specialized birds are actually relatively easy to find here — in many cases, the bog is one of just a handful of places to reliably view these birds which is why the Sax-Zim Winter Birding Festival is such a hit and requires 4 or 5 full school buses for field trips each day. One such special resident we would have missed due to the late day sun if not for a small collection of cars parked and photographers quietly snapping photos…

Photo by Mr Knitting Sarah

The Great Gray Owl is definitely the big kahuna of the bog and we were lucky enough to catch sight of him easily from the road once on our own and once the following day with our field trip. A very large owl — between 24 – 33inches — it is absolutely amazing to view. I saw one of these birds about 2 years ago when it randomly showed up an hour and a half from our house, but this view was so much more rewarding. Not stacked with photographers on the roadside, this owl was clearly at home and as he watched us curiously it was plain as day that he did not really care that we were visiting. I wonder what he thought of the whole situation actually. He sat watching us as we watched him and he flew when he was ready. What a beautiful bird.

That evening we checked in with the Festival folks and enjoyed dinner and a presentation by Stan Tekiela — one of the most skilled wildlife photographers out there and a prolific author of nature books. He gave a talk based on his book, Intriguing Owls — it was fun and I learned a couple new tidbits which was cool. We headed back to the hotel and tried to get some sleep before our 4:30am wake-up call. That’s the thing about bird-watching — if you want to see the birds, sunrise is usually about when you have to get started, so pre-dawn wake-up calls are the norm.

We awoke and immediately set about making some coffee in the tiny hotel room coffee maker. We checked the weather. It was -10Β° and I could hear the wind howling. We knew that was coming, but I think I had remained hopeful that the temps would get a bit closer to zero or at least that the wind would be a little more tame. At the last minute I opted for a second pair of long underwear and with parka, pack boots, multiple hats, face mask, and mittens we headed out. We arrived at the Meadowlands Community Center which served as the nerve center for the festival about a half hour early. After a couple bathroom breaks and another couple sips of hot coffee it was time to board the bus. This is me super bundled, a little groggy…

10887359_10152542209517000_7763437944318948392_o…and realizing that there really was very little heat on the bus. That improved by the afternoon, but it was an older bus and with the extreme cold it was having some troubles in the morning. I know how it felt!

We headed straight to the spot where we had seen the Great Gray Owl and were treated to yet another royal view of the beautiful, awe-inspiring owl. Unlike the majority of us, this bird clearly was completely unaffected by the 25-35mph winds in subzero temps. We stood out in the road watching this marvel until our eyelashes started to freeze and our feet began to feel like blocks of ice (do note that I have very good pack boots in which I have never, ever experienced cold feet… until this day).

We made a bunch of stops and saw most of the birds that we had seen on our own the day before. And I acquired some serious skills with my complimentary ice scraper…

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Part of the goody bag you get with registration, this little tool is absolutely necessary to continually fight back the ice on your bus window. My husband laughed as I would just sit there scraping even when I was looking out the front windows. He laughed, but I could always see out of my window!

At one very lovely privately owned spot, there was a trail to hike in to the woods that was lined on either side by the most creative, enchanting feeders. It was here we got a quick look at a Black-Billed Magpie — such a treat! I’ve only ever seen these birds in the Badlands of South Dakota in summer, so it felt really special and unique to see it here in the boreal forest. I wish I’d have taken photos here — if for nothing else, for the thermometer that read -8Β°F in the bright mid-morning sun, but by the time I was headed back to the bus I couldn’t feel the toes on my right foot (note to self: knit multiple pairs of worsted weight socks for the next trip here and wear them ALL), so I passed on stopping for the photo op.

We looked in vain for a the woodpecker specialties of the bog, the Black-Backed Woodpecker and the American Three-Toed Woodpecker, but the high winds made it difficult to listen for them and I’m guessing they would prefer to stick to the relative calm of the thick forest. The other highlight of the trip was a detour a few miles down the road to see a ‘reliable’ Northern Hawk Owl

Photo by Mr Knitting Sarah

Like the Great Gray Owl, I’d only seen this bird once before. The last time was the winter before my son was born. He will be 10 in June, so you can bet I was excited to lay eyes on this guy. Owls are so funny in that they tend to not be bothered at all when you watch them. They look at you, clearly they know you are there, but they just appear like they couldn’t care less. That’s all good and fine for those of us who like those nice long looks.

As the field trip wound to a close, our guide let us know that we rounded out the day around 20species which we were told was pretty good for a winter day and exceptionally good for a winter day that was that cold and that windy. Opting to skip our last meal & speaker in favor of a hot shower and ordering in Chinese to the hotel, we headed back to Duluth.

On the way back to my parents’ to collect the kiddos, we made one quick stop at Amnicon Falls State Park located just outside of Superior. My hubby snapped this photo…

Photo by Mr Knitting Sarah

And I had to share — even though I am making a pretty hilarious face — because I am showing off my Snowfling Mittens. I bought this kit direct from Tanis Fiber Arts and knit these mittens up last year. I wore them throughout this crazy cold weekend and they were amazing. Only at the coldest moments did the chill reach my hands — I was pretty impressed! I will definitely be adding another pair — or perhaps one of the Sweet Nectar Mitten kits — to my arsenal for next winter.

On the way back to my parents’, I clicked away on my 3-Color Cashmere Cowl

IMG_8087-0I absolutely adore the light grey/dark grey/hot pink combination and there simply is nothing not to love about this beautiful cashmere/silk yarn (it’s Sojourn from Miss Babs). I’ve got just two bands to go before I finish and that cannot come soon enough. If I was slightly more eccentric, I might wear it with the needles still in it — that’s how awesome this stuff is.

We made it to my parents’ house where my daughter talked my ear off for 20minutes and then started to cry because she didn’t want to leave. My son didn’t say much upon our return — he was too busy ripping up the sledding hill. A little bit brutal for this mama who hoped for a bit warmer of a reception, but logically I get that they had a blast and that’s a good thing. The dog was mostly unmoved.

We made a quick stop at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum where we spelled our names in signal flags…

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Toured the 1940s submarine, the USS Cobia…

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… and then had some lunch and headed home.

I think we’re all a little sad that our adventure is over, but happy to be home, too. As I attack the mountain of laundry and attempt to get all the minutia of running our house back on track, I took a little time yesterday to order new sleeping bags and mats for our next adventure. As my husband always says, the best way to combat the post-vacation let-down is to get right to planning the next adventure. And we are all over that.

10 responses to “Adventure Files: The Sax-Zim Bog

  1. Wow – you are intrepid adventuruers! I think I would have said “You go have fun, dear, I will stay here knitting” πŸ™‚

    Love your mittens! I have been eyeing those on the website – the lining makes a huge difference, I bet. How about making similar socks for these weekend jaunts?

    On that note, years ago I made spiral ribbed tube socks for my niece from Lamb’s Pride worsted weight. She swears by them for warmth in her boots. They might also make good “warming up at the end of the day” socks. πŸ™‚

    • LOL! I am considering either another couple pairs of colorwork socks (like my Kate Davies’ First Footing ones) or just some good, solid Regia 8-ply. Lamb’s Pride Worsted would make some seriously warm socks… We will see!

  2. hi I stumbled across your blog recently and this post caught my eye. You see I live in the Meadowlands area and for most of the year this little “town” goes unnoticed by everyone until the birding festival comes around. I was pleasantly surprised when I read your post and the mention of Meadowlands..small world! I just wanted to say thanks for the visit and you just gained another reader πŸ™‚

    • Wow! It *is* a small world! What an amazing little corner of the world that you get to call home! Honestly, it was such a treat to visit and we were really impressed with how welcoming the town was and how well set-up the festival was. We are already talking about bringing out kids up sometime, too. Welcome to my blog — I hope you continue to enjoy it!

  3. I love these two posts about your vacation. This household of mine contains a pair of knitting and birding geeks (one of each). Throw some Doctor Who videos into your weekend and you could be our travel agent!
    Glad you had a great time, and that your kids were so happy where they were, too.

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