When I began thinking about this trip, I noticed that I was heading up to Minnesota and as I often do, I jumped on a state birding listserve for a while. I kept running into references to the Sax-Zim bog which I had known about as a hotspot in the winter for Great Gray Owls. I got on their Facebook page and found that they were seeing a few this summer. So, I put a little jog in my route and Wednesday morning were heading through Duluth for some big tract of land. Google maps was very confidant but they put me, after miles of dirt roads, in someone’s front yard. There was no one there, no 4g signal, and two guys in pickups I asked had no idea what I was looking for. I had plenty of fuel, plenty of afternoon, and water and food onboard.
Retracing my route to the main highway, I tried to call up a post that named two roads where he had seen Great Greys last week. I found it just as I found one of the roads so off we trucked, scanning trees and driving. Right away, there was a large bird in the road – sort of ![title]()grackle-looking. I stopped, got the binoculars on it and bingo: a Black-billed Magpie. I tried to get a shot through the bug-splattered windshield and then maneuvered the van so I could shoot out the window but it flew. I took this long-distance shot for the record. It was a lifer for me. That was easy!
Soon, a car approached from behind moving right along so I pulled way over and as he passed, a passenger gave a wave. “Looks like a birder,” I thought and tailed them from a distance on the dirt road. They pulled off in a grassy parking spot and were unloading when I came by and asked what’s up. In a nutshell, it was a guide from Duluth with two clients from Georgia who were after Black-backed Woodpeckers. Once I explained my ignorance of the area, he gave me his map, guidance on what roads to take, and to do it in the morning. I was so impressed with this guy, apologized to the Georgians for taking a bit of his time, and I was cautiously optimistic.
I drove the hour and fifteen minutes to the campground which is on the upper reaches of the Mississippi River. Here’s the lovely backwater for the dam.
As you can tell from the title, I drove back early Thursday morning and drove roads back and forth. I may have driven by one, who knows. It was a lovely day in some pretty special country – it reminds me of the Tug Hill Plateau in upper New York State. There were lots of birds out and I wasn’t really disappointed – how could you be on such a lovely day.
Meanwhile, flotillas of Canada Geese were on the river when I returned. Here is one gaggle. Off to North Dakota next.