Sax-Zim Bog blog

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:

5 thoughts on “Sax-Zim Bog blog

  1. Hello:

    If you would of traveled along CR 133 to Meadowlands there you would of seen 2 huge signs welcoming birders to the bog. There is also a birding festival held each February and we are now in our 5th year of operating this festival. The map you saw on the site is the map I created awhile back and people from all over have been using this map to get around. Duluth Audubon Society has a large kiosk with all kinds of information ( maps included ) at the corner of CR 133 and Western Ave ( in Meadowlands ) at the old Co-op Store. Sparky Stensaas has a organization called “Friends of Sax-Zim Bog” which is raising money to purchase land and put a naturalist building in the bog. There is a slew of information about the bog and you were not looking in the right direction nor did it seem you bother googling Sax-Zim Bog or else you would of found out more.

    There was never a footpath nor is there a route but a series of roads that go through the bog. On MOU-Net listserv you can look at archives of the list on the MOU website of past postings of what birds were seen in the bog and here you can gauge what roads are the better roads to look for winter birds and residents of Sax-Zim Bog. ( I would suggest McDavitt Rd and Admiral Rd ).

    Cotton has never been considered the main town to enter the bog as many people take CR 133 to Meadowlands, MN. Meadowlands is the main community in the heart of the bog. Cotton has Wilberts Cafe which is a nice place to eat lunch but you can also eat lunch at Trailside Lounge in Meadowlands too.

    Next time before you plan your trip to Sax-Zim Bog email and let me know and I can assist you on what route you should take. Again there is a lot of information out there about Sax-Zim Bog and there has been a lot of people out there getting the word out. Well I take that back.. a lot of people know about the bog. One thing to remember is that Sax-Zim Bog is mostly county, state and private land and Sax-Zim Bog has never been declared a park or refuge for birds — it is just a nice stretch of Tamarack/Black Spruce bog and roads that go through it. Also the hayfields that surround the bog are good for owls and other raptors.

    Anyway good birding..
    Mike Hendrickson

    • Hi Mike,
      I plan on going into the sax/zim bog around the 17th of March 2013. I have the map of the bog and i was wondering were I could find a boreal owl and a great gray owl. If you have any pointers for me, it would be appreciated, thanks!

  2. Hi Wannabe and Mike,

    I have yet to visit the bog but have been investigating the wonderful Sax-Zim website for over a year. Mike, I must say it is a great website for birders and people like me who love birds. The website has spectacular pictures and an awesome array of birds listed as seen in the bog.

    Wannabe, Audubon Magazine has an article in its latest publication all about the movie you referenced and Duluth is mentioned there. It is a funny article about the actors in the movie. It is great to see birds in the news and the little known sport of competitive birding. Check it out.

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