Trip Reports

Sax Zim Bog Photography Tour – Trip Report

By Dawn Wilson

Before I get too far into spring and my calendar gets too hectic, I want to revisit some of the trips from this past winter, and there were a bunch. 

Let’s start with a trip in early February to Sax-Zim Bog in northern Minnesota. 

A location known for the wintering owls, it is also a beautiful location full of mystique and shy mammals. 

Normally this far north has a thick coat of snow in February. Due to the El Nino pattern this year, snow was pretty limited. It was actually the worst I had ever seen it up there. As a result, it meant the birds of Canada didn’t need to migrate as far south like typical winters in this area.

Even without the snow, however, my group had an amazing trip with plenty of opportunities to see and photograph great gray owls, a northern hawk owl, a few pine grosbeaks, a black-backed woodpecker (a highlight of trips to SZB for many birders), rough-legged hawks and hoary redpolls scattered among large flocks of common redpolls. On one morning I photographed a boreal chickadee too.

The local non-migrants were abundant as well, like black-capped chickadees, an abundance of ruffed grouse, hairy woodpeckers and Canada jays.

Although the area is a birding hotspot, it can also be a wonderful place to see and photograph mammals. Many of these are pretty shy, and with the thick tamarack and black spruce forest providing exceptional coverage for hiding, they can be hard to find, but we had several sightings that we were excited to witness; a few were even photographed. 

We saw several short-tailed weasels, which are referred to as ermine in the winter. With the lack of snow, their white coats made them stand out as they darted across the forest floor. The lack of snow also made it easier for our cameras to lock on the fast animal.

The pine martens were a hit with the group. Although it can take some time to wait for these shy animals to make an appearance in their favorite locations, the time with them when they do are some of the best of the visit to the Bog. They are exceptional hunters that have one of the most adorable faces, in my humble opinion, of the North American mammals. 

One afternoon, after photographing birds on the north edge of the Bog, we were driving past a large farm. At the far edge of the farm where the forest met the field we saw what we thought was a coyote running through the field. After a closer inspection of the images, it turns out it was a wolf! Yes, a wolf sighting! 

Not much can top a wolf sighting, but another mammal that is a bit easier to photograph are the red squirrels. Abundant in the area, and a reason why martens and ermine are also abundant, they provide many opportunities for photographs while waiting for other birds and mammals.

If interested in visiting this birding hotspot and adding a few new species to your life list, join me next year for a return trip. Booked through Women in Wildlife Photography, there are still spots available for this womens-only adventure on the first set of dates (January 27-30, 2025). Sax Zim Bog Birds and Mammals.

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