My International Bog Day Bonanza
Last week at work I had a several stressful situations arise. When I am stressed, I like to fantasize about my time off. So, I determined that I was going to really enjoy my time off by celebrating International Bog Day. International Bog Day was first celebrated in Scotland in 1991 in honor of a pretty unique ecosystem. In the United States, it was first celebrated in 2008 at the Volo Bog State Nature Area in IL. There are not a lot of bog related celebrations in Minnesota, even though Minnesota actually has more bogs (10% of the state or 6 million acres) than any other continental state. The biggest celebration for International Bog Day in Minnesota appears to be at Big Bog State Park. However, I didn’t feel like driving three hours to attend festivities such as the “bog jog.” Maybe next year. In any event, I can’t say that I know a lot about bogs, but they are dear to my heart. I grew up near a bog and have many great bog memories. I can confidently say that bogs are my favorite ecosystem. Thus, I relished the idea of celebrating International Bog Day!
I like to invent holidays or holiday celebrations. Some take off, such as Marxmas (which I did not invent, but have passionately planned a well-attended party for each year). Others, such as Radon Awareness Month- don’t really pan out. I felt that International Bog Day had a lot of potential. I began to dream about visiting bogs. Where would I go? What would I do? Oh, then there are the other details such as…what should I wear? Each holiday needs special apparel. So yes, I bought myself a “bog shirt.” Yes, yes, shame on me for consumerism, but details matter. And, it was hard to find a bog shirt! I found a pretty cool shirt with a woman wearing a pitcher plant on her head. Aside from this, I wanted a “bog cake” but this turned out to be too much work. Then, there were the activities! I decided that I would visit three bogs. My first adventure would be a visit to the Sax Zim Bog in Minnesota to do some birding. This would happen on “International Bog’s Day Eve” or Saturday. Then, the following day I would drag my comrades Adam and Lucas on an adventure to Cable WI, to visit the Forest Lodge Trail. I read online that the trail was the best interpretive bog trail in Wisconsin. Then, on the day after International Bog Day, I would revisit Savanna Portage State Park for some camping…and you guessed it…a visit to a bog. Three days. Three bogs. No one can com”peat” with this bog day bonanza.
Day One: Bog’s Day Eve
Located about an hour and fifteen minutes north of Duluth, the Sax Zim Bog is one of the best birding spots in Minnesota. It happened that the Sax Zim Bog was hosting a Bio-blitz this past Saturday. The goal of the event was to take visitors on various field trips to count the biodiversity of the wetland. Field trips throughout the day logged such things as dragonflies, butterflies, spiders, wildflowers, birds, fish, etc. I decided that attending the birding field trip would be a great kick off for Bog Day and a way to add more birds to my birding list. So, I awoke very early. In fact, I hardly slept at all. I dragged myself out of bed at 3:30 am and headed out the door at 4:15 am. The morning was foggy and cool. I wanted to stop for coffee or a snack, but waited until I was out of Duluth to make a stop. Unfortunately, I waited too long to stop and the gas stations near Cotton, MN were still closed. I was the first to arrive for the 6 am birding field trip and felt a little groggy and thirsty. I nibbled on graham crackers from a previous camping trip and found a single lime La Croix in my backseat. Still, I felt that I was graduating into a more serious birder, as no normal person would wake up at 3:30 am for something they weren’t passionate about.
The early bird catches….the bird. (gray jay)
Our field trip began with a journey to where a Great gray owl was thought to be nesting. The Great gray owl is the world’s largest owl by length, though it is mostly a mass of fluffy gray feathers. Sure enough, we saw a family of Great gray owls. The mother took flight, moving a little deeper into the woods. It was astonishing to see an owl that looked to be the size of an eagle. It was my first time seeing a Great gray owl. We stayed there a while, also spotting a Black backed woodpecker. That was also a first for me. After observing two woodpeckers dart from tree to tree, we moved on to watch birds elsewhere. Three hours of birding yielded quite a few birds, including Sandhill cranes, a sedge wren, a swamp sparrow, a group of curious gray jays, a few alder flycatchers, black billed magpie, and others. I learned that the Sax Zim Bog is the eastern most range of the black billed magpie. I added seven birds to my life list. Also, I was again amazed at the other birders. They can easily spot and identify birds. I feel pretty dumb sometimes, but hope that with effort and time I will someday be as proficient.
Not the best photos, but offers a visual of what I saw…
Black backed woodpecker–can you tell? Nope. I couldn’t. But the other birders could…
Aside from the birds, I saw some pretty neat wildflowers. These included purple fringed orchids and a purple fringed +ragged fringed orchid hybrid. Another unusual flower was called Marsh grass of Parnassus. It is not actually a grass but a fen dwelling flower that is threatened in WI and declining in MN. I also learned that a lily that I had been calling Turk’s cap lily is actually called Michigan Lily (the former is found further south). We saw some Michigan lilies as well as a black-eyed susan with a goldenrod crab spider perched on a petal. I would have liked to have gone on the wild flower walk, but after birding for three hours on two hours of sleep (I could not sleep!) I decided to head home. I had some other social obligations on Saturday as well. Nevertheless, I hope that next year I can participate in the Bio blitz again- hopefully partaking in other field trips.
Marsh grass of Parnassus
Purple fringed orchid
Day Two: Forest Lodge Trail
On International Bog Day itself I set off with Lucas and Adam for Cable WI. I had read online that there is a bog north of Cable, WI that is supposed to be the best interpretative bog trail in Wisconsin. This is a tall order, but I had high hopes for an exciting bog adventure with my comrades. Unfortunately, I started the day off in a crabby mood. It was another early morning and I felt stressed out. My cellphone does not get very good reception in rural WI or rural anywhere. I had some printed maps, but I was the driver and no one was keen on navigating. I could have forced the issue, but ended up doing 98% of the navigating myself. Oh well, I should be proud of usurping gender roles as both the driver AND navigator. AND photographer. AND planner. Okay, so I became a bit of a Swamp Diva as the day progressed, as in the moment I could not find the joy in being so empowered. Sorry guys.
There were some snags in our adventure. For one, we hiked the trail, but did not see a bog board walk…as I had seen online. The bog itself seemed pretty ho-hum. It was a long drive for a bog and board walk that didn’t seem to exist and certainly not to the degree that I would call it the best in Wisconsin. However, the trail itself was nice. There was a variety of terrain and only one other pack of hikers. As we tried to find the trail, we stopped by the Gormusch Resort- a bizarre German themed petite-bourgeoisie lake resort. But, for all of our trials finding the trail and traveling the trail itself, we saw little more than a blanket of moss punctuated with swampy puddles. (I later learned that there is an extended trail…and the bog walk must be off of that. I also learned that the Natural History museum has trail booklets as the trail does not have posted information on signs).
Despite a disappointing bog, our spirits were lifted by a visit to Cable. Adam bought us brownies, which he called “bog cake” (even though he never knew I had wanted to bake a bog themed cake!). I found two geocaches and endured some teasing for my dorky, pointless hobby. Lucas went as far as to call it a petite bourgeois past time. The Natural History museum was closed, but we vowed to return and see it. Otherwise, we also paid a short visit to a community farm, where we were impressed by the resources that the community had put into developing a farm wherein the produce was donated to local food shelves. We decided to return to Cable again and set off to find the legendary Delta Diner. This is where my Swamp Diva nature climaxed. I was not paying close enough attention and had to back track twice. I cursed and grumbled about my inability to find the Delta Diner, which seemed to be the Brigadoon of restaurants. We eventually found it. Had I been more patient and attentive this would not have been an issue. As for the diner, it was a hipster oasis on rural WI. Interestingly, the diner has a no-tip policy as the prices are inflated 20% to make certain that the staff make a living wage. Despite my tantrum about getting turned around, I did enjoy the experience of eating there AND I did see a family of trumpeter swans along the way.
Finally, we set off back towards Superior. I was in better spirits. We stopped by the old King’s? school and a marsh off of HWY 13. We went for another short hike. I did some more birding while Adam and Lucas hid in the bushes, pretending to ambush me or something. I think they were planning military strategies. In order to get Lucas more engaged in the birding I told him it would be useful for “the revolution.” After all, it would improve his skills as spotting something unusual in the landscape, such as a bomb, mine, or sniper. I have zero sense of what is a useful “revolutionary skill”, but it seemed to work. Finally, we stopped by the Davidson windmill where I finally found my geocache (that I could not find before). Adam and Lucas wearily rested in the grass while I searched around the windmill. I also tried to convince Lucas that geocaching is a useful revolutionary skill, as it can help us become better at hiding and finding messages or packages. However, it seems there is a limit to how well I can pitch my hobbies as “useful to the revolution” before my manipulations become obvious. All and all, I had a fun day. I exhausted my poor comrades though.
Day Three: Savanna Portage and Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge-
Although my first two days of International Bog Day celebrations were rather exhausting, I didn’t feel that I had my fill of bogs. After all, I had yet to see a carnivorous plant and the Cable bog was a little lackluster. I mustered my strength for one final bog slog. However, I decided that camping was too much effort. So, I went on a day trip to Savanna Portage State park and the Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge. I nixed the camping, since packing, setting up a tent, and sleeping outside seemed overly ambitious.
I visited Savanna Portage State Park back in March, so I knew it had a decent bog walk. I was eager to see it in the summer, so I set off for a hiking and birding adventure. This turned out to be worth the drive, as once again, the park was pretty empty. It is nice to go somewhere and feel alone. I only met one other person on the trails, though a few people were there for canoeing and fishing. The first order of business was checking out the bog walk. This time, it was alive with vegetation. I saw what I thought was an unusual orchid, but it turned out that it was actually the flower of the pitcher plant. I never new that pitcher plants had flowers! I always thought that the pitcher plant was simply a pitcher shaped trap for insects. I was enamored with the elegant, nodding green and purple flower on a slender stem. The usual suspects, like cotton sedge, sphagnum moss, and Labrador tea also blanketed the bog in green.
After enjoying the bog, I walked around Lake Shumway. It seemed daunting to walk the perimeter of the lake, but it turned out to be a relatively short hike. Along the way, I saw what I thought was a hairy woodpecker. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was actually a yellow bellied sapsucker. I think it was worth taking a second look simply because it will help me to pay closer attention to details and become a better birder. After finishing the trek around the lake, I went on another short hike alone the Continental Divide Trail. Water to the west of the trail flows into the Mississippi River, whereas water to the east flows into Lake Superior. Again, it was nice to have the trail to myself. I definitely want to return to this state park in the fall and do some camping as it is quickly becoming one of my favorite state parks. It has nice trails, a quiet atmosphere, an awesome bog, and patchwork of lakes.
As a grand finale of the day, I went birding at Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge. I had planned on visiting my mother in the evening, but ended up staying at the refuge until sunset. The refuge contains lakes, forests…and bogs. It also is also a historically and culturally important area to Native Americans, who have inhabited the area since at least 1000 BC. Rice Lake, as the name suggests, is a source of wild rice, which is still harvested from the lake by local Ojibwe. On a previous visit last spring, there were Native Americans harvesting maple syrup at the refuge. I saw quite a few birds on my visit, including common loons, Great blue herons, trumpeter swans, bald eagles, unidentified fly catchers, eastern kingbird, belted kingfishers, common yellow throats, etc. Once again, I was the only person in the entire nature area. It was liberating to explore the refuge in the joy and solitude of my own company. The park closes at sunset, so I reluctantly left it behind and began the drive home.
I had a fun, if not exhausting, three days. Oddly enough, I spent today birding and hiking as well. Tomorrow, I will return to work (though, I won’t get bogged down by the stress should it arise). But, I feel that I have spent almost all of my time off in the outdoors. Summer is precious and short, so I don’t regret this marathon of bogs and hikes. As for bogs, I think they are worth celebrating. For one, bogs have really unique plants! As a child, I wanted to become a botanist- so bogs naturally interested me because they were home to carnivorous plants and orchids. Tamarack trees are also common in bogs! What’s not to love about a deciduous conifer tree or a tree that sheds its needles and grows them back! Heather is a type of bog plant, so, even my name has a bog connection. Although bogs are rich in peat, or layers upon layers of dead, slowly decomposed vegetation, they are acidic and oxygen poor-resulting in interesting adaptations for the plants that live there (such as carnivorous plants or stunted growth). Bogs are important carbon sinks (though as frozen bogs thaw or peat is burned, the carbon is released) and soak up water, thereby preventing floods. Culturally, bogs have been important as a source of fuel (peat) but also used to store food and a treasure trove of archaeological information (i.e. bog bodies). While I certainly have a lot more to learn about bogs, I think that they are a fragile and unique ecosystem that deserve appreciation.