Sunday, June 23, 2013
The morning saw more rain. Tough as we are, we pressed on. Moving through Grand Rapids, the birthplace of Frances Ethel Gumm, we had a quick bite and found ourselves birding one of Minnesota’s premiere destinations.
Except it wasn’t….
At 61,000 acres, Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge is massive. Of course, that is nowhere near the size that the now gone glacial Lake Agassiz occupied. After the glacier’s final retreat about 13,000 years ago, the regions now known as Manitoba, northwestern Ontario, northern Minnesota, eastern North Dakota, and Saskatchewan were under water. At its greatest size, Lake Agassiz was 170,000 square miles (miles, folks, not acres!). When the glaciers moved north of Hudson Bay, the dam, so to speak, opened, and Lake Agassiz drained. It raised global sea level over 5 feet. That’s a lot of water.
Habitats within the refuge range from wetlands and bogs to fields and forest. Moose and wolves are there. With almost 300 birds species on the checklist, we had high hopes. Books were making this place sound like we should clean up. Eh, not really….
Sure, Natalie scored her Black-billed Magpie and super views of Sedge Wren (vindicating us from the situation at Sax Zim Bog). But there was not a grebe to be had. Five species of grebe? No way. We did not see a single grebe. Period. The MASSIVE Franklin’s Gull colony? Gone so far as we could tell. We struggled. Waterfowling was good, but overall, we struggled.
From a goofy standpoint, we were so sun-starved we took a picture of blue sky when it peaked from behind the clouds. Before long, the skies had cleared. We wept.
Interestingly enough, in terms of birds, we did better outside the refuge than in it. Within a few minutes, we had scored Natalie her life-bird Western Meadowlark and Marbled Godwit. Life birds? You can’t really complain about that!
Trying to maximize our time, we birded rather late (past usual dinner time). The closest realistic lodging was Bemidji. Trying to make up time on the road, the ‘ole Chevy Cruze cruise control was set at warp factor 7.3. That is bad considering the Red Lake Indian Reservation posted the speed limit at warp factor 5.5. I don’t care what people say – he was a very nice officer. He did not want to ruin my vacation. He said so himself.
Red Lake, by the way, turned out to be very pleasant. Zipping along (at warp factor 5.7), I saw white birds on the water out of the corner of my eye. Within seconds, Natalie and I were gawking at 30 or more Western Grebes. A detailed look of one bird confirmed less black on the head. Chalk that one up as a Clark’s. While we were scrutinizing the raft, a flock of Franklin’s Gulls diddled by. Go figure. All that time at Agassiz and we score a trifecta in one spot within 5 minutes.
By sunset, we were in Bemidji struggling to find food. The coolest place in town (with great beer and locally grown food) was closed for the night. We settled for…I’m embarrassed to say this….Applebee’s. We wept more.
Bemidji, by the way, claims they are the home of Paul Bunyan. Don’t tell that to Brainerd, Shelton, and Westwood (all in Minnesota), Bay City (Michigan), Eau Claire (Wisconsin), and Bangor (Maine). Even Wahoo (Nebraska) also claims the title.