Recent News

Article for MOU Newsletter: I wrote a new piece on Blue Mounds State Park and birding in rough weather. MOU members only.

Article for St. Croix Lowdown: I wrote a piece on the bird soundscape of William O'Brien State Park. Hope you enjoy.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Scenic State Park - Weather Finally Breaks

The weather reports all agreed that Saturday the 20th would be warm all over the state and without snow/rain fall. I initially thought I'd look at a north shore 2 day circuit, but Sunday was much more up in the air weather-wise so I committed to a single day effort.

I had previously cancelled plans to investigate Scenic and McCarthy Beach so I put them back on the schedule for my "off" weekend.

My alarm ripped me out of sleep at 4AM and I quickly hit the road by 4:20AM looking to get into Scenic State Park sometime just after sunrise. The plan worked as I rolled into the entrance driving along Scenic Highway about 30 minutes after sunrise.


I snagged a map at the entrance station, but had an idea that I would likely hike and check out Chase Point due to the peninsula between Sandwick and Coon Lakes.

Chase Point Trail I hiked. 

I first drove the length of the main road all the way to the final boat launch and parked to get a view of the foggy and quiet lake.

Coon Lake at Scenic State Park 

The spell of quiet was broken quickly as a stream of ice fishing people rolled in via a caravan of cars to the lot looking to off-load a snowmobile and equipment.

I hopped back in the car and set my sights on the Chase Point Trail parking lot. While pulling on my Yak Trax I heard multiple Common Raven causing a stir nearby and noted a persistent machine noise from off property. It wasn't hyper pervasive, but it definitely sounded like a logging operation was going somewhere in the adjacent National or State Forest land. Just after getting on the main stretch of trail I paused and quickly heard at least a couple Red Crossbill calling overhead. They sounded as though they were moving to a new tree and attempts to record the flight call were fruitless, but I already had a new State Park bird after the 4 hour drive.

As I looked around I noticed some bare pine branches down slope that looked like they had been stripped of bark. I suspected immediately Porcupine and was rewarded with 2 North American Porcupine casually starring at me while they lounged on the branches. This was excellent, my first personally found Porcupine and a great add for the big year Mammal list.

One of 2 Porcupine. 

A sure sign of Porcupine activity is stripped branches on only the top sides. 

A short ways down the trail I noticed a tree showing some bark flaking that elicited thoughts of Black-backed or American Three-toed Woodpecker. Though no such bird was found I made note of the flaking and took some pictures to share. I eventually found 3 different types of debris around tree bases that lent a great opportunity to reflect on how much you can add to your knowledge over time. Below are examples of bark flaking, chewed up pine cone pieces, and wood pulp pieces along with thoughts on what likely caused each of them.

Notice these bark flakes right at the base of the tree and that they are not pieces of things like Pine Cone. They are simply bark pieces.

Then observe the tree itself and see a patchwork of bark pealed off, but not really any fresh holes like we would expect from other Woodpeckers. Being on top of the snow it would indicate this activity was fresh in the last week from either a Black-backed or American Three-toed Woodpecker.

Now notice this debris cast off and what it appears to consist of, instead of bark flakes. As we zoom in closer you can see they are scales from a pine cone. The most likely culprit being Red Squirrel, as these little dudes can make large piles or wide cast off areas like above when shredding pine cones to get at the seeds.

This final cast off is localized to the base of a tree and you can tell even from this distance it is made up of bark pieces and also pulp pieces. This is a sure sign of more woodpecker activity, but more likely one of the larger boring woodpeckers. Pileated, Red-bellied, and Hairy. Though considering how far north I was Red-bellied is less likely.

My hike went well as I strolled along the ridge (lakes on either side of me) enjoying the solitude and natural setting. At the end a fresh set of stairs led down to the lake level. I found the distant fire tower and noted my future desire to make the Tall Pines hike and add the tower climb to my efforts. I briefly thought about returning on the trail, but decided instead to slog across the frozen lake so I could add more trail space to my hike. A large boardwalk is set below the main campground and I was able to pick up the trail back towards the parking area. I had Red-Breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches making a racket during this time along with Hairy Woodpecker and Black-capped Chickadee.

In total I hiked just about 2.5 miles in 6" to 10" snow pack, but this park offers a minimum 14 miles of trail space so I just can't imagine not coming back when the snow is gone. I feel like this is one of those seriously under birded spaces with several trails being a long trek in one direction. I look forward to exploring more of this space in the warmer months.

Having a second park on my list for the day I counted the effort good and headed out to McCarthy Beach state park next.

The Great: Chase Point trail was a lot of fun and had some nice interpretive signs along the way. Finding my own Porcupines was super awesome and the views in the park were very nice.

The Meh: A constant din from logging was a bit off-putting and the winter map available at the entrance station does not match the one seen online. The website maps shows all trails as hiking and not groomed in winter, but the onsite printed map showed all of them as Cross Country Ski or Snowmobile. It wasn't a big deal though since very few people use the trails in this park. In fact I did not find another non-fishing person in the park the entire morning. It is worth noting that no bird feed station is setup and the park appears to run at minimal staffing during the winter and no trail grooming exists for any of the winter sports.

The Verdict: I completed my hike with Yak Trax, but in a normal snow year I bet it would have been a herculean hike to do so. With much of the major hiking being large far out loops I might council waiting until spring and summer to hit this park. It is a true adventure though and I would not trade the experience for anything.

2 comments:

  1. Out of all the photos you've taken and posted on your adventures, the picture of you with the Scenic SP sign is my absolute favorite. You have this look/expression that exudes contentment that I love. And yay for porcupine! I personally found one in Sax-Zim almost 3 summers ago now while I was cruising around by myself and it was amazing as I was able to get quite close.

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    1. A part of this big year is certainly to find out what speaks to my heart. What in nature makes me feel alive. I could tell also how happy I was to be in that park and surrounded by nature.

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