no hawks were violated [51]

Today was our last day in Minnesota, and we decided to bird Sax-Zim bog, a rural area northwest of Duluth and famous for birding. We planned to stay till noon and then drive back to Chicago. We stayed till dusk, of course, and didn’t get home until 1:30 am. We still hadn’t seen any Great Gray Owls this trip, and since we saw a lot of them at Sax-Zim last year, we hoped we might get lucky.

We started on Route 133, where, almost immediately, we saw a large raptor. It was sitting in a tree and turned out to be a juvenile Bald Eagle. An adult (mom or dad?) was just perched just a little down the road. Then we saw another raptor flying over a field. Pole identified it right away by the distinctive markings under its wings: a ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK. Another lifer for us both. We actually saw two of them, so they might have been a breeding pair. We saw them frequently as we drove around the bog.

Also on 133 was a deer carcass on the side of the road that had obviously been left by a hunter: its head and legs had been cut off cleanly. The ravens that were feasting on it quickly flew away as we approached. This made room for all the smaller birds: black-capped chickadees, a red-breasted nuthatch, and a downy and hairy woodpecker. It was great to see these last two together, because the size difference became very obvious. A hairy is a big bird, bigger even than a three-toed. It ruled the (dead) roost while the ravens were away. I have to say I was a little surprised by the chickadees. I guess I never thought of these cute guys as scavengers. They were into it, though, and one of them was even popping in and out of the rib cage. Quite a sight. When I die, I want my corpse to be torn apart by chickadees.

Sax-Zim bog is mostly farmland, though there are some beautiful woods. For the first time during the trip, it snowed in earnest, so the woods were spectacular. It made us realized what we missed all week. Anyway, the point is, the place ain’t no nature preserve, and I’m sure a lot of the local farmers think the visiting birders are just whack jobs. (Which some of us are.) I’m also sure they’re bothered by hunters, so you find a lot of “No Trespassing” signs around. But when driving on Stickney Road (south of Sax), we saw the best sign of all. Painted in large white letters on a red barn was this gem:


I wanted to take a photo, but Pole thought that would greatly increase the chance of sniper violation, so we didn’t linger. I guess the guy meant to write “Violaters Will Be Prosecuted,” but he got confused. And the modest addition of the word “retired” is sublime.

Thus ended our trip to Minnesota, where we added 24 birds to our Big Year. I had 9 lifers, while Pole had 12. A great trip, even if we could have done with more snow and more owls (and maybe a boreal chickadee or two).


We went back to Minnesota in February 2010, and I managed to get a picture of the barn.

If you're the delivery guy from Dominos, hold up the pizza box so he can see it.

My earlier transcription, if not 100 percent accurate, did catch the creepy spirit of the thing. The picture isn’t great, either, but it’s not the kind of place you want to linger in, what with the violating and the bewaring and the sniping and the danger-combat-marining.