I took advantage of a free day on Monday to spend sometime tooling about the Sax-Zim Bog.
Birders come to the bog from all over the country and even from other countries. It’s the only Minnesota birding destination mentioned in both the book and the movie “The Big Year.” The kind of extreme birders who might get lost on the way to their neighborhood drug store know exactly where the best spots are on Admiral Road in the bog.
Yet neither private nor public entities have done much to call attention to it. The town of Cotton could have a sign proclaiming it “Gateway to the Sax-Zim Bog,” but it doesn’t. There aren’t any “birding route” signs, not even an indication of when you’re actually in the bog. As far as I’ve been able to discover, there are no public foot trails in the bog.
Except for the part about foot trails, this is not a complaint. I like that it’s almost a secret; the kind of place that you only know about if … you know about it.
Even though it’s close — under an hour’s drive from Duluth — I seldom visit the bog, and I drive around pretty much at random when I do go.
On Monday, I took U.S. 53 north from Duluth, then turned left on county Highway 52 (once you’re off 53, they’re all county highways) at Cotton. I took the first right turn — Reynolds Road, I think it is — and ended up back on U.S. 53, then took that back to 52 and started over. This time, I turned right on Highway 7, which seems like kind of the main drag of the bog — the road is paved and even has shoulders. I took a left on the road that purportedly leads to the Zim Town Hall, and another left on Highway 5, and then again on Highway 52, most of which is a dirt road. On Monday, it was covered with a thin layer of snow and ice in the shady spots. During that section of the drive, I stopped briefly at Owl Avenue just because it’s called Owl Avenue.
When I got back to Highway 53, I stopped for a slice of pie and a cuppa tea at the Wilbert Cafe in Cotton. I wondered how many real birders had stopped at that cafe, which has been existence since 1922 and has gone through several fires and changes of ownership.
As for birds, I didn’t see much. The thrill was a raptor along Highway 7. It posed for me twice, close to the road, and I managed to get a blurry photo:
It was not blurry in real life, but when you have the camera at maximum zoom and hold it with an unsteady hand, blur is what you get.
I think it is a first-year red-tailed hawk, but I’m willing to be corrected.
I just discovered a birder-oriented map of the bog that I wish I had found before my drive. You can view it here:
One more note regarding a red-tailed hawk, and it’s a sad one. The New York Times reported that the matriarch of a red-tailed hawk family known through a New York City bird cam has a serious leg injury and is in danger of losing her right leg.
The hawk, known as Violet, is shown in video with her leg dangling uselessly, her foot gray from lack of blood flow. It’s not clear what cased the injury, the Times reported. The hawk cam is down for this season.
Your bird pictures and stories welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org.