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, July 15, 2018

Outrunning Migration - Part 15 - Grand Portage, Beastmode Pinnacle

Once my Devil's Kettle experience wrapped up I quickly hit the road to complete the last state park on the north shore. My strategy was to hit the last 2 of them so that on my return to home day I would be travelling back down the shore a bit for Cascade River and Temperance River State Parks. That being the case I enjoyed a nice drive up the shore with fewer and fewer cars moving about. It really was a joy driving up the shore and seeing the elevations rise a bit as the area got more and more wild with fewer small towns dotting the road.

That smile is something I like to see on myself. It is how I know I'm doing things I love and that fill me with joy. I need adventure in my life. 

I was prepared for a short hike to the main waterfall (High Falls) as the most tourist accessible location. The rest stop and grounds were well maintained and the paved trail in back lead towards the falls viewing area. Along the way I was able to make out Pine Siskin and several Golden-crowned Kinglets as well. I noted some viewing of the Pigeon River and planned to examine the waters more closely upon my return hike.

The Pigeon River and rocky edge of Canada. It is something with all of this talk of building a wall to the south and even with a good flow of water this river crossing would have been easy for most anyone really.

Some fun rock layers along the rivers edge I spotted. I always try to take time to the see the small things beyond just birds. The world is filled with wonder.

The paved segment eventually split towards the main falls and the middle falls hike. I followed the wooden decking to the right and quickly found Winter Wren singing on territory as I made my way toward some stairs that would position me for a great view of High Falls and Canada on the other side.

The water flow was excellent and the falls did not disappoint as the highest in the state. This short stroll is definitely viable for most all parties and was a lazy amble through some nice forest and river habitat.

High Falls showing some quality.
A bit of a different view showing the secondary rapids area as the water drops and then is pushed through a narrower area along the Pigeon River. Pretty awesome location to visit.

My species list was still a bit thin, but by this time I was sitting at May 17th and as far north on the shore as I could get without changing countries. I had out run migration for many species and actually later began to supplement my list with waterfowl with 9 total species.

After some pictures and a snap of the hiking club signage I returned to contemplate the middle falls hike I had read about online. The sign at the split indicated the trail was not an easy one and should be avoided by children for sure. With 1.75 miles each way and at least 300' of elevation gain and loss each direction this was certain to be a fun hike.

A sign I'm sure many skip over and as you will read below I came upon several that seemed to do just that. I may be short selling others, but don't do this if you don't regularly exercise and have the ability to go for 3 or more hours.

I got myself into full beastmode and started at a brisk pace. The trail was loaded with roots, muddy spots, some stairs of native rock and in other cases just a scramble up a steep slope with a few rocky perches to help along the way. I saw no others along the way and assumed if they were present I would have passed them rather quickly considering the challenge of this hike and my swift pace.

Yes, the shot on the left is the trail. At this point when coming up I was on hands and feet to keep from falling. The trail was loaded with these kinds of views or just a pure root laden section. Very little was just level ground with packed dirt.

After what felt like at least a mile or more of hiking I reached what appeared to be the peak elevation of the hike showing a view back to the south of the lake area. It was beautiful and even knowing you technically were facing a direction with a large road it was invisible in the view. 

The excellent view of the lake from the peak of the Middle Falls trail. Well worth even just this distance honestly. It was a good workout and a nice payoff.

I quickly found what 300' of elevation gain feels like when done in just .5 miles. The sign I found just past peak indicated I had 1.25 miles to go until middle falls. Determine not to take a beating I threw myself into the next segment ready for downhill effort. This was easier going for the most part however at a relatively low point the forest trail turned into a soft muddy mess like making my way through the swamps of Mordor. Once segment went for at least 200 yards as I picked my way along the edges, hopped really soft sections, moved into the thicker woods in others, and generally zig-zagged the entire way. Soon things straightened out as I birded by ear for long segments, rarely pausing, knowing I needed to make time and ensure this hike didn't last 4 hours.

I was utterly alone in the wilderness of northern MN, though just a mile or so from humanity at any given time. These types of hikes really fill me with excitement and wonder. I'm a safety conscious kind of dude and don't feel I really enjoy solitude to the point of being the only human around for dozens of miles. I want to know that if something happens I'll be able to figure my way out within the day so this hike fit a lot of my personal criteria. I arrived to the falls after what felt like an eternity of hiking. It was fascinating with a challenging trail can really feel like when you toss in elevation fluctuations on the order of what this trail offers. It is important to know that High Falls will fill you with awe and Middle will seem very tame by comparison. It might be best to do Middle first and then come back for the big dog honestly.

The first view of Middle Falls after a nice long hike. Looks inviting until you read the signage closely posted above that the river is filled with bacteria and likely to make you sicker than a dog. 

The view from the falls edge.

The middle falls trail is really more about the hike than anything. I did find it really funny when I arrived I could see a road and pull off on the Canada side of the border as if to say you just hiked over rough terrain when you could have just crossed and driven to the same point.

I rested for a short while making sure I was hydrated though the weather was mild enough that I was not sweating much out at the time. When I was ready to get back I for some reason decided it must be at a world beater type of pace. I put my camera away strapped the bins down and really tightened up the backpack and began to trail run. I have no idea why other than to say I really wish I could still run on a regular basis. More specifically I would love trail running and bouldering I think. My back has been doing very well since stopping full time running, but every now and then I just have to let the horses loose. I moved swiftly along the trail watching close my footfalls, grinning as I was sure I looked like a yeti moving about the north woods. I found myself slowing only for the swampy Mordor region and generally put some serious time down. Arriving back at the peak in what felt like a fraction of the time on the trip down. I was about to begin the trail run down when I happened upon an older gentlemen sitting on a rocky step. Asking if he planned the full hike he said it was the plan. I noted to myself he had zero water with him and the path was not friendly. I relayed what I could about the trail and recommended he reach the peak just behind me and look at the sign noting 1.25 miles left to go still. He was surprised by the distance remaining and I told him it was surprising and that anyone doing the trail should seriously consider if they have that much juice to do it all again when complete. I moved on and quickly found a group of 4 with a dog. Younger this time, but generally wearing beach/picnic attire and not a bottle of water amongst the group. I provided the same information and suggested a stop at the peak for a look at the view and then assess what they thought they could handle. Arrogance aside I told them was in peak condition with plenty of water and food should things go wrong. I also noted that I saw nobody else the entire time and doubted many hiked to the end this early in the season with the iffy trail conditions.

I set off down the mountain and began a rocky root laden run on par with one I loved at Harney Peak back in South Dakota. That hike and run down with Dave Bon was easily the best I have ever taken in my life. It was at my absolute best when it comes to running strength and I did that effort just 2 days after having hiking the entire peak for birding as well. (That hike is 1,100 feet of gain in 3.5 miles.) Perhaps the only other trail to match in quality and perhaps outstrip due to view was one Melissa and I took way back on our honeymoon while at Yosemite National Park. We did the Lower Yosemite Falls trail that gained about 1,100 feet of elevation and then returned due to time issues and opted to forgo the full 3,000 foot elevation gain over a 9 mile round trip hike. Just thinking about something that beastly stirs something deep within me that yearns to go back for those master level hikes. I must go back soon for some ultra beastmode.

Anyway, I moved very fast down the hill as I quickly came back to the trail split and flat ground finding myself making the return trip in just 35 minutes for a total of about 2 hours of hiking the trail. I was ravenous with hunger at this point having only snacked most of the morning after breakfast. I setup for a meal on the picnic tables off the parking lot and put as many calories in as I could thinking I could probably add a 3rd park on the day and ease my efforts for the next day. As I ate I noticed everyone I passed on the way back coming back to the parking lot. They had in fact turned around realizing the trail was more than they were prepared for. I was happy to perhaps saved them the trouble of getting in deeper than they could handle honestly.

After the meal with an American Crow watching me for cast off snacks and a Merlin making a racket from a nest nearby I wanted take a look at the Pigeon river and see if any birds were moving about in the slower segments of the river. Using my Nikon P900 a few times I pulled out both Teal species and even an American Black Duck hanging out with some Mallards. Belted Kingfisher seemed to be establishing ownership of the area as well as I continued to add county and park birds for my all time lists.

My visit to Grand Portage was certainly met with a couple of great quality waterfalls, but the greatest boon was the outstanding hike I was able to get from a park with very few trail segments. You never know what you're going to get and this park gave me more than I hoped for at the time. I have tried to balance extreme research with just enjoying the moment and surprise value of some locations. I knew the Middle Falls hike from a distance standpoint and I always prep beyond what is needed for a situation to ensure I stay safe, but it was still filled with surprise and fun.

The Great: I needed a serious hike and really loved the Middle Falls trail. Don't take this if you don't have the juice for a multi-hour hike with elevation changes and some rough trail scrabbling conditions. Worth it by far, but not for everyone. This is the kind of trail that is a 10 of 10 for me and like a 0 of 10 for my wife. You don't want to be tripping over your own feet or roots on something like this.

The Meh: Important to realize that this park has only a couple trails to take. You get the easy road to the high falls or the challenge route to the Middle Falls. With a bit of a stroll along the Pigeon River to finish you are not looking at a network of options to keep you busy all day.

The Verdict: At least visit this park for the High Falls. Birding is good and I'd like to see it at peak time frames to get a gauge for what kind of game it brings then. Just a great option for those wanting to go on an adventure and see the highest falls in the state. May be a relatively small park, but as day visits go this is pretty solid.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Outrunning Migration - Part 14 - Judge Magney

The night before getting to Judge Magney I had finished George Crosby Manitou and also made a quick stop for lake scanning at Ray Berglund State Wayside.

Small waterfall hidden along an upper trail at the wayside.

This little rest stop actually provided some value with some nice elevated hiking/picnic spots, a small view of a waterfall and what appeared to be some additional hiking space I didn't expect. Mostly I looked over the lake and found several duck species present at long range helping to add to my county list in this area. (Gadwall, American Wigeon, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead.)

By 7:30AM I was ready to go at Judge Magney State Park. I had a slower start with serious hikes under me from the day before and wanted to pace myself at least a little bit.

Ready for some serious Devil's Kettle hiking.

A few cars in the lot indicated some overnight camping likely as I found the trails that would take me in the direction of Devil's Kettle. (The famous waterfall that splits in half with one half going underground never to be seen again. I'm pretty sure efforts to find the end point for the water have turned up very little.) I recalled from Bob Janssen's book that the parking lot traditionally had a number of Northern Parula on territory and that was indeed the case as I had a couple singing immediately upon getting out of the car and would end my visit with 13 challenged only by the 13 Black-throated Green Warblers I noted during my hikes.

This park is focused on the Brule River and The Superior Hiking Trail cuts through overlapping a large portion of the trail space. The hike out and back from both Upper Falls and Devil's Kettle were excellent elevation hikes and I can only imagine what the full swath of trails can give you on a full day of hiking. My out and back to the falls was loaded with stairs and root laden trails I had become used to at this point. I really do like these kinds of hikes that give great views, elevation changes, and the sounds of rushing water. Though the water suppressed a lot of bird noise I was still able to get a few really nice pictures including a singing Magnolia Warbler that has been set on my phone desktop background now for a while.

I'm sure the best photo and look I will get of a Magnolia Warbler. Really a stunning bird.  

Upper Falls presented a set of stairs down to the bottom of the falls with a heavy mist washing over the viewing area making things slick and a bit dangerous for those not so sure footed. This falls was very nice and I suspect the higher water flow rate for the time of year helped a lot also. I quickly snagged some pics and moved back up the stairway towards Devil's Kettle.

The Upper Falls, I did not linger long as the rocks were slick and I had no interest in slipping in some way and ending my hiking early.
If you are not ready for a lot of this, then some of these waterfall hikes are not for you. The stairs make it a very hikable trail and much safer, but this many stairways can be a daunting effort for those not in great condition.

I soon found the viewing areas around the Kettle were getting overgrown enough that a direct unobstructed view doesn't seem possible any longer. From a photographic standpoint a direct iconic view wasn't easy to come by so I did the best I could and found myself marveling at the distant half of the falls that simply took in every drop of water it could and sent it underground. Even with the obstructed looks this falls was worth the effort and something I'd recommend for anyone that has the juice to take such a trail. It will wear you out and challenge the average person, but the payoff is something you won't soon forget.

An early view of Devil's Kettle with the Kettle itself showing half the falls just disappearing for the most part and the other half continuing down river.

Several views looked like this. The rushing water was great soundscape, but views were a bit rough.

Right before the plunge into the Kettle.

On my direct return I paused only briefly covering the same ground twice and got myself back to the parking lot and looked to take another trail segment. I picked up the interpretive trail loop and enjoyed a less elevation intense location as it stayed far enough from the river to produce excellent listening space. At one point a downed spruce tree showed fresh signs of Black-backed Woodpecker use, but I was not able to track down the culprit by sight or sound. At just 22 species identified I knew I was getting out past the bulk of migrants and was only really experiencing the earlier warbler species on territory while missing many of the migrant sparrows that have vacated further north.

Back at the car I ran into a fellow birder from Washington County (John Z) as he was in the area birding while his wife hiked the Superior Trail. We chatted for a bit and I directed him towards the great views along the Devil's Kettle hike. Amazing who you can run into while birding in far flung places.

The Great: A couple of outstanding waterfalls along with Northern Parula ground zero made this park a win for me. I liked the elevation changes and the landscape was excellent as well.

The Meh: Another in the chain of arriving a bit early even showed me Marsh Marigold that were still many days away from blooming. This is one of the early bloomers for really wet areas often fed by springs. I had seen this plant complete it's bloom in the far south and most were done in the cities already so this was a certain sign that the seasons change very differently this far north in the state.

The Verdict: I would love to spend the day at this park and really hike some of the spaces all day. Though the trail offerings are seriously limited I see some extra long hikes that are out and back type of efforts that one would need the whole day to accomplish properly. Given maybe another week or two forward in time I would like to do one of those big hikes again and see what kind of number I can put up for bird species. True wilderness really awaits the further down the trail you get.

Outrunning Migration - Part 13 - Bus loads of George Crosby

Being 2 park days for my entire north shore run I figured on George Crosby being a slower deal after having blasted out a serious session at Tettegouche to the tune of 8 miles of hiking. It looks close to the lakeshore, but George Crosby is off the beaten path a ways and a good deal of dirt road. You get remote fast in this park and realize you are deep in the wilderness.

The most humorous part though was driving down the pothole marked entrance road and seeing 3 giant van loads of girls and boys slinging packs on their backs in the parking lot. The whole crew appeared to be doing an overnight hike on some section of the superior hiking trail and this was their start point. It was funny to hike all morning at Tettegouche and see nobody the entire time and then come further off the main roads and find a good 30+ on top of another dude getting out on his own for a big hike. I opted then for doing the boardwalk hike around the lake first. This hike is on a wooden boardwalk just in from the lake edge the entire way around. It was a neat way to setup a trail and keep erosion down on the lake shore.

This wood plank walk went for 1 mile around the lake. Better pay attention though, would be easy to walk off of it and wrench an ankle pretty easy. Fun trail idea though.  

By this time it was really hot and I needed a bit of a relaxing go of things and this did wonders for me physically. I was able plod along slowly and pick up a few birds along the way all while being in the shade of the trees. Sometimes you can rest while still walking as I put on just about a mile of distance on this trail and recharged myself a bit from the serious morning hikes.

I had just 31 species in the park, but had entered the middle of the day with some heat that surely suppressed bird action a bit. Blue-headed Vireo was active and I was able to identify the call and then see the bird, which is one of 2 vireo that has been a challenge for me. (Not sure I'll ever know Philadelphia Vireo well enough.) I also picked up both Kinglet species during this hike, which was nice to see as well.

After my more relaxed stroll around the lake I decided I would start hiking towards the one mapped waterfall in the park. This was the direction all the crowd had gone earlier, but I figured catching them at this point would not be a thing since they had a good hour head start on me. The trail was loaded with roots and elevation changes so it was slow going and I stopped at shelter along the trail to listen to a Northern Parula and snag some photos as well.

At each point I stopped and asked myself if I had the juice for more plus the entire return trip. I kept moving forward and eventually found myself at the falls and for a rest. I had caught up to at least one group of the hiking kids at this point. Not sure what their destination was, but it was clear I was moving in beastmode speed and they were at a much more relaxed pace.

Fun little waterfall along the trail. Not 100% sure what this one was named.

Probably something I can see doing in the future if I can settle down enough to just focus on a single park for a couple day and hike the entire thing while canvassing for bird species.

I returned along the same route as it would be a bit shorter and I didn't want to double up that distance considering multiple days ahead of me yet for hiking and I would already be at around 12 miles on the day. A quick view point spur I took offered me a great look at the park pointing out towards Lake Superior. Though it is worth mentioning the park signage was dated and did not reflect some details and this viewpoint spur trail seemed be neglected a bit with the view getting over grown a bit. It was still worth the look and honestly it is hard to imagine picking a bad trail in this park. It is true wilderness when not running into groups of 30 plus hiking kids and I enjoyed the entire 3 hours I spent.

A distant view of the lake and plenty of wilderness between.

The Great: Outstanding hiking conditions and even a reasonable lake walk for those that just can't put in big elevation change hikes. The park is remote and I'm sure offers awesome birding when migration is complete with all birds on territory. Timing is key as I learned, but I have no issue getting such a lesson as it helps complete a picture of what to expect at what times.

The Meh: Being early for many migrants did suppress numbers and I clearly was early for some of the numbers. I think my full enjoyment of the trails was hindered by my 8 mile morning at Tettegouche so a more reasonable approach would be to hike in this park in the morning with a full tank of gas instead of doing it after running close to empty.

The Verdict: This is another super easy return to location. So much trail space left to hit in this park and I'm jacked to get another effort in the future where it is my primary effort for the day to really take it all in on like a 6 hour span. Low bird counts (31) can't take away from the beauty of such a place.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Outrunning Migration - Part 12 - Tettegouche

In roughly 4 hours on the morning of May 16th I was able to answer a question. Can you outrun migration? The answer appears to be maybe. My planning for window of opportunity on the north shore was set based on my own historical counts for species variety in the month of May. I used my day by day counts to target the highest average window to be hitting the north shore. This turned out to be a great education that really started to sink in by the time my day at Tettegouche occurred.

I seriously hope they are working on a new sign for the park as I could not find an official park sign at all. This one for my lunch break was all that was present. I doubt I missed a large entrance sign as I visited 3 major parking areas.

My number one target for this park was in fact Black-throated Blue Warbler, but I also had designs on Mourning Warbler, Canada Warbler, and certainly a few other as well. I had a prior trip to this park with friend Kevin Manley that was later in the season where we yielded the prior mentioned trio on territory while hiking up the long incline of Tettegouche Camp road.

This sign gives a small taste of the straight line hike if you head up to the camp. Once reaching the peak I then added multiple miles in other hikes, got to the camp eventually and then added another loop and eventually hiked from camp back to the parking lot.

Some of these are late arrivals in general and I certainly found that to be the case as my entire visit to this park did not yield those particular target species. This education was excellent as it helped me to understand a little bit more about warbler migration and what it looks like on breeding territory as opposed to in the twin cities area.

I rolled into the parking area on the far back side of the park that provides the hike up to Tettegouche Camp around 6AM. The day was breezy and overcast allowing me to wear a light jacket. The camp road/trail is 1.7 miles with 300' of elevation gain along the way and I planned to add a diversion trail that would put me in the general area of prior known Black-throated Blue Warblers. The morning was generally quiet and I could tell immediately I was on the early side of migration for this far north. Now that doesn't mean birds weren't present and making noise, I just remember what a day in June was like and how different it felt on this mid-May day. Ruffed Grouse continued to provide the background drumming I was already accustomed to along the north shore. This welcome beat always makes me smile as I hear it so infrequently in the south. Winter Wren provided the non-stop song of the early hike chattering away in the wet wooded areas. Above Red-Breasted Nuthatch added their 2 cents worth and White-throated Sparrows welcomed the new day.

Later in the hike this Red-breasted Nuthatch sat on the side of the tree watching me like I had just taken out a package of seeds for eating.

I stopped often on the hike up to listen noting so far the absence of Mourning Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler, but that Blackburnian Warbler and Cape May Warbler were both present. Later I would find Northern Parula starting to stake out territory in a couple select locations. I was generally aware that the Parula would perhaps have a stronger showing further north and I looked forward to getting a sense of their density and distribution.

As I reached the peak of the hike I turned left and came up empty on Black-throated Blue while wrapping around towards the noted main camp site. Along the way a sign noted beaver activity creating wet trail conditions and that was certainly true as I found the trail to be floating and non-viable as I picked my way around via the woods eventually coming back to the trail itself.

Along this stretch I gained good song opportunity from Cape May Warbler and then from Purple Finches. It was very gratifying to have the chance to listen to Purple Finches on territory singing as opposed to seeing them visit a bird feeder in the dead of winter down south. It is amazing just a few hours north and you get the chance to see breeding/singing activity of a species you only get as a winter migrant otherwise.

A nice male Purple Finch singing during the early portion of my hike at Tettegouche.

I dropped into Camp Tettegouche to near silence. I was the only human around and it had a weird horror movie vibe the whole time. I found the serene Mic Mac Lake with light peaking through some darker clouds as Common Loon cried out on the water.

The quiet Mic Mac Lake by Tettegouche Camp was almost creepy in the morning light as I sat alone but for a Common Loon, Beaver, and a few Spotted Sandpiper.

It was graveyard quiet beyond that as I moved through the camp finding a Harris's Sparrow moving about the short grass along with a couple summer coat Snowshoe Hares. Back on the lake a Beaver floated under the dock and pulled up near me and had a morning snack.

North American Beaver stopping to visit at Mic Mac Lake in Tettegouche Camp. This one was no further than 10' away from me enjoying a morning bite to eat.

A few Spotted Sandpiper moved along the shore as well peeping just a few times at each other. After resting a bit and enjoying the solitude I found another trail segment and looked to hike towards Floating Bog Bay and see what else might be moving about. This added a couple more Common Loon and Magnolia Warbler to my list.

By the end of this first 4 hour, 5 mile hike I would check off 41 species of birds. The most pervasive of the warblers were Ovenbirds fully entrenched in every space possible along with regular activity from Nashville and Black-and-White Warblers. With solid numbers I knew though that I was technically early for critical mass of species. I neither saw nor heard from Chestnut-sided Warbler and would have expected a number of them to be present. (Though to be fair, I could have been hearing them and not realized their song. I still have trouble fully separating those from American Redstart and a few others.)

As I got back to the car I spotted a Cape May Warbler down the road in a tree. This was my only actual visual of the species during my north shore trip, proving how evasive some of these species really can be regardless of how many times you hear them sing.

The long distance view of a Cape May Warbler.

I moved now to a less publicized trail that is just a spur location taking you to Illgen Falls. This small pull off parking location is along highway 1 and was well worth the effort as I started picking up many Black-throated Green Warblers and had a great time seeing the falls. For a short spur trail this is a nice bonus waterfall for anyone chasing those in numbers along the north shore or looking to minimize the stress and strain of some of the larger hikes.

Illgen Falls at Tettegouche State Park

Nice rock formation just above the falls.

More rocks and trees above the falls hike.

I now moved my car again and setup in the main body of the park looking to hike even more and track down a couple more waterfalls (High Falls and Two Step Falls), which would have to leave Cascade Falls for another day. It is truly unreal how much hiking exists as this park and how many sights are to be seen. If Tettegouche is not my favorite State Park then it is number 2 as I can see spending a week in this place and never getting bored. Man is it a fun place to just lose yourself.

My hiking was now loaded with tons of wooden stairs, roots, elevation changes, and just plain old awesome.

So many stair sections to the falls it was like hitting the gym for a crazy stairway montage or something. If you have the juice all of it is worth the effort.

I spent the vast majority of my time alone and enjoying the company of rushing water and the interspersed song of warblers and other woodland species. I added on another 3 miles of trail time over a 2 hours period picking up views of the falls and truly enjoying everything mother nature had to offer on this day. I didn't even get to the Shovel Point trail with unreal views of the lake this day and was more than satisfied.

The top of High Falls at Tettegouche State Park, the scenery is amazing and I had it all to myself on this day.

The cable suspension bridge over the river at High Falls.

High Falls itself was a great waterfall. You can see the other side viewing platform near the top of the image. The hike in comes along that whole other side ridge line and then curls around on the cable bridge in the prior photo.

Further up from High Falls is Two-Step Falls that offers a nice secluded view of the river as it continues to drop down towards the lake. Truly a next level awesome hike.

As I wrapped up my 8th mile of hiking on the morning I went and found a secluded beach named Pedersen Beach. This little pull off location along the highway has a short walk in and provided me a chance to each lunch and sit by the lake. Having arrived in the area just on the front end of the tourist season I spent the picnic time alone and grateful for my early timing, despite some bird species misses. I picked up a Palm Warbler still likely moving north at this small location and even a Killdeer to add to my Tettegouche park list. I remember smiling and being excited that I have been starting lists for every park I visit this year. I'm setting myself up for a lifetime of park listing and visiting beautiful spaces. This year has been a gift to myself that will continue to pay off for years to come.

My lunch spot on the beach looking out at the lake.

The Great: Um, the words above pretty much say everything. This place is unreal and has so many places to hike and explore that even in my 2nd visit with many hours and miles under my belt it has so much left to offer that I want to go back and stay for several days of hiking and exploration. This is a top 5 park in the state of MN and would likely only be outclassed by some of the national parks when it comes to the level of awesome it brings to the table.

The Meh: My only complaint is my own timing being days ahead of the later warbler arrivals. This was as great education that sometimes is hard to swallow, but it was a fine education on how and when some species arrive for breeding. This adds context to what we see in the Twin Cities area and how migration manifests itself 3 hours north of us so I'll still call it a win.

The Verdict: Explore this park! Gooseberry and Splitrock get a lot of buzz as they are closer to the south end of the north shore and they have a great waterfall and lighthouse respectively, but Tettegouche is that first space that makes you just say, wow I can get lost in this park and see something new every day I visit.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Follow Migration - Part 11 - Split Rock Lighthouse Views

I did expect Split Rock Lighthouse to be roughly similar in feel to Gooseberry Falls in the sense of what I would find for birds. That generally held true even into the middle of the day as I picked up 33 species of birds, just 1 short of what I found at Gooseberry in the morning. The mix of birds did vary enough though that the 2 locations complimented each other very well.

Split Rock had its sign game on serious point with 3 quality designs at various entry points. I made sure to selfie all of them like a boss.

The first thing I did was not actually in the main park though as I stopped at a roadside hiking point and did a .5 mile spur trail that meets up with the Split Rock River. This segment brought me to a nice waterfall and gave me a chance to track down a couple Hermit Thrush on territory. The small waterfall hidden up the trail was perhaps named Split Rock River Falls, though that is hard to tell for certain after the fact. It apparently has many falls along this stretch depending on your length of hike.

The falls showing a nice curtain of ice to the left still as this was tucked back in a canyon a good half mile and seemed to be shaded most of the day for that ice anyway. A fun little bonus hike.

Wanting to hit the main park body I just hiked to this first falls, still loaded with some ice curtains in the middle of May and then got myself back out to the road. Predictably I've never really hiked at Split Rock before as my trips were all reserved for viewing and entering the lighthouse itself. This time though I set my sights on most of the hiking club trail that would have me edging the lake shore area for a nice loop.

Early in the hike I was able to edge along Pebble Beach with nice views of the Lighthouse that I've not seen before.

Based on angle and location many different compositions are possible for the lighthouse and this trip added a large number of them for me as I hiked to several viewpoints I'd never seen before.

A tighter shot shows the lighthouse leading out front with support buildings behind and the rocky cliff below. I can only imagine what this place feels like when the waves are hitting hard from the lake.

Walk a bit further and you can begin framing in the island on the edge of the bay. In low water times I imagine this is more a peninsula, but these days the higher water has it isolated.

The bay area in this location had Common and Red-breasted Merganser moving about along with an Eastern Phoebe. For some reason a few humans were setting up on the beach so one of them could be video taped jumping into the lake. It was easily the strangest thing seen on the day and I quickly moved on to other park locations. In a few spots along this part of the park and down much further along Gitchi-Gami State Trail I was able to find Franklin's Ground Squirrel, which was a first sighting for me of this particular mammal.

These dudes almost seemed tame as I was within just 5 feet or so at some points and they largely ignored my presence. Really cool coat pattern on the back with the light barring they have.

I stumbled upon a few White-crowned Sparrows still slowly heading north for the breeding season and eventually found a spur trail to take me up to a great view point where a man made fireplace stood on a rock. The story tells a tale of love since lost back around 1900 by businessman Frank Day as he build the fireplace to be the location of a home for he and his love. When that fell through the fireplace would be the only thing ever built and it stands to this day. The view is outstanding and you can see the Lighthouse off to the north pretty well. About this time I called my wife since the elevation gave me full bars of strength. To be a bit of a smart ass I video chatted with her and showed the view from my perch knowing it was not a location she would willingly hike to in the future.

My initial view of the lighthouse while standing with the fireplace to my back. This was a great elevation hike with outstanding surrounding view. Well worth the effort.

I imagine with the some serious camera gear a person could put some pretty amazing pictures together from these longer hike points. It seemed on this day I was the only one out hiking this far from the parking lots.

The longer view you can see the bay where I had pictures from above in this post and the island mentioned as well. What a great day of hiking.

My hike was outstanding with nice sun and a cool breeze helping keep things reasonable off the lake. Most birds were expected and nothing really seriously jumped out at me the rest of the time I was moving about. Though my path did take me up and down a boat load of wooden stairs I wasn't terribly taxed on my hike. (Worth noting this hiking club trail is taxing though if you aren't in shape with the exception of the paved Gitchi-Gami trail.)

The Great: The hike along the lake was loaded with great views of rocky coast line and the beautiful lighthouse perched atop the cliffs. This was a very peaceful hike and visit and I'd highly recommend it if you can handle the elevation changes and stairs. Birds again weren't that thick and it almost started to feel like I had outrun migration to a degree. Now birds like Black-throated Green Warblers were still in place in numbers, but I somehow expected more density of birds that I really experienced. That may not be a reality that exists in this park, but it was interested to see what I did and I look forward to more visits at different times to get a true vibe for the whole area.

The Meh: I don't see a huge number of hikes left on the park, but I do see another couple trips that will have me out on the trails. The lighthouse and the lake are truly the big pieces of the park. I'll look to do a larger River Loop and catch the Merrill Logging Trail hike as well, but not a lot else sits waiting.

The Verdict: This is an easy return with the beauty of the north shore and the views provided by the hiking club trail. I can say though this is not likely going to be a birding focus point in the future. I get the impression that further up the north shore is where the true action is at, but this will be a nice property to visit and see what is happening at different times of the year.