Monday, September 5, 2016


I find I am not clever enough in my old age to design a title associating "black flies" with the Common Loon.  So the title of this story has little to do with loon and tick content, but possibly a slight connection to the two canoeists and their many escapades.

During the spring and summer months, my friend Paul and I usually photograph many wildlife adventures together.  In the month of May, we photographed the Sharp-tailed Grouse dancing on their lek in a hayfield south of Biwabik.  

June found us in my "speed canoe", named by my youngest son.  It is a Grumman sport boat that he cruised around in, with a 6 horse outboard motor which proved to be properly named.  I decided to use it to photograph ducks and shore birds, so I attached an electric motor with adequate thrust to cruise the arrowhead lakes in silence.

Paul had photographed a nesting loon on one of the Gunflint lakes for a number of years, until a dead spruce fell on their nesting site.  This obstruction caused the nesting pair to abdicate the site.  We decided to take the speed canoe up to the lake and see if they found a different nesting site.  It was a gorgeous June day, sunshine and no wind which was conducive to perfect photography weather.  The only "fly in the ointment" were millions of the dreaded black flies hovering over the lake.  

We spotted two loons far out in the lake.  They were a considerable distance from the small island they previously nested on.  We surmised that they were not the nesting pair from past years... but we were soon proved to be wrong.  I cut the speed on the electric motor and we cruised toward the closest of the two islands.  Much to our surprise, the two loons came toward us and followed  parallel to the canoe.  Heading slowly to the first island, the female loon swam under the canoe and led us to a spot on the shore of the island.  She slid up the bank into a nest nearly in the water.  We immediately thought we had found their nest and she was going to sit on her eggs.  But it was strange they had been so far out on the lake away from their nest and eggs. 

Paul took out his binoculars and found out why.  He saw that there was an odd shaped egg in the nest and that she was trying to lift it up with her bill.  The loon turned to face us and slide down the slight bank into the water.  We saw that in her bill, she had part of a damaged egg and was carrying it out into deeper water.

Burying Egg
She swam right past the canoe and dove with the egg and buried it in the deep water.  I have seen many different wildlife scenarios in my photographic life, but nothing as bizarre as this.  First of all, why did the loons not clean out the predator damaged eggs before our arrival?  Secondly, why did she want us to observe her disposing and burying the egg?  This was quite dumbfounding to us, but to witness this event was certainly one in a million.

We took many photos of the two loons, all depicting the black fly horror that the wildlife has to endure this time of the year in the wilderness.  When they dove and surfaced, they were immediately covered with black flies.  In some areas, they are driven off their nest by these flies and their nests are abandoned. 

Loon and Black Flies
Loon and Black Flies

Loon and Black Flies

Humans can dress properly, but the wildlife can do little until the vicious #$*%&^# disappear in the fall freeze. 

Bug Shirt
Paul and I found the loons previous nesting site and cleared out the debris of the dead spruce that covered their old site.  We wanted to get back to the lake later to see if they re-nested and laid new eggs, but other summer adventures prevented a return.

Hopefully they will return next spring and use their old nesting spot that was in a much better location.

"One of the wildest and most striking of all the wilderness sounds, a strange, sad, mournful, unearthly cry, half laughing, half wailing."  John Muir on the Loon.


Monday, July 11, 2016


 After a three year hiatus, "A Door to the Superior National Forest" is open again.  Lot's of "fur and feathers" have passed in front of my camera lens during the layoff.  Hopefully in the coming days, I can catch up on some of the more interesting events associated with the birds and animals of the arrowhead.

2014 was the most brutal winter I have ever encountered in my 75 years of Minnesota winters.  In the  Minnesota arrowhead, 90 days of below zero temperatures were recorded that winter.  On our Cedar Ridge we had 144 total inches of snow.  Over the ridges of the Sawtooth Mountains, more than 200 inches of snow fell; with blizzard like winds that seemed unending.  I used to love Minnesota winters, but this was plain awful. 

I still managed to get out and photograph, but my snowshoe activity was curtailed because of the deep snow.  The constant below zero temps never allowed any gradient snow melting, so when I tried walking in my snowshoes I sunk to my knees.  This was not good winter transportation for an old dude.  

The deer were having equal problems in the deep snow.  Many were walking the plowed gravel and forestry roads, trying to reach the browse in that manner.  I witnessed a deer jumping into a ditch and sunk up to her shoulders in the soft snow.  It was not fit for man or beast.

My gray fox were seldom seen and I worried how they were doing in the deep snow.  I would seldom see a fisher or a pine marten, but I managed to get good shots of a lynx in February.

That winter, we had many of our "usual suspect" birds that we enjoyed watching and feeding.  However, the new years treat for Cedar Ridge was the January day our friend "Bernie the Boreal Chickadee" flew in.

Bernie showed up every day for seeds and his favorite food, peanut butter. 

Bernie was the first Boreal Chickadee we ever had at our feeders.  It seemed strange that living in a boreal forest, for years we had to drive 100 miles to Sax-Zim Bog in order to see this species of chickadee.

This tough little bird stayed until almost the end of March.  When the weather got warmer, he took off for parts unknown.  We were hoping he would return in the winter of 2015, but we never saw him again.

"The chickadee and nuthatch are more inspiring society than statesmen and philosophers, and we shall return to these last as to more vulgar companions." Henry David Thoreau