Marcia Roepke
Trail Time

Trail Time – Life on the Gunflint Trail

Spring has come slowly to the Gunflint Trail, but it is happening like gangbusters now! The grouse are drumming day and night and Cross River is roaring and foaming on its way to Gunflint Lake. Some of the bigger lakes like Gunflint and Loon are still mostly frozen over, although there is open water near the shore. Little Iron and Poplar still have ice on them, with leads of open water steadily growing larger. Temperatures are predicted to be in the 70s over the next few days, so the warmer weather and the rain that is forecast ought to clear most of the ice on the lakes. But, who knows? It might all be gone by tomorrow. Water levels are high, especially on Seagull, where the water is four feet higher than it was last year. Fishing opener is this Saturday, May 14.

Spring has officially sprung for us when we hear the white-throated sparrow sing its little song. It’s a short song, and every year we hear a few variations. Sometimes the tune is shortened to just two notes. I did a little bit of research online and learned that not all white-throated sparrows sing the same song. The song is sometimes described as “Oh Sweet Canada Canada Canada.” It was with glad hearts that we heard that song a few days ago. We had spotted some white-throated sparrows foraging under our feeder, and it was a joy to finally hear that sweet little song again.

The plants are announcing spring as well. The minute hazel flowers are just starting to emerge, looking like bits of red thread sticking out from the buds. You can almost see them grow. The willow and aspen catkins are getting larger and hairier and soon there will be a lot of aspen fluff flying around. As I gazed at some elder blossoms today, my heart just swelled with happiness. I know some people hate these plants. I can’t. They win the prize for the most showy display. The little purple buds are bunched tight like tiny grapes. The slender dull green leaves, tinged with maroon, reach up to the sky as they uncurl toward the sun.

A few small gnats showed up last week, followed a few days later by some gnatcatchers. We’ve spotted a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and later on what we think was a Golden-Crowned Kinglet flitted around a clump of birches, darting in and out as it snatched insects from the air. That same morning we sat in the full sun, listening to the lovely song of the winter wren. An Evening Grosbeak and an Eastern Peewee both stopped by, the PeeWee checking out our canoe, hanging from the garage rafters, considering it for a nesting spot, I imagine.  One day as we were driving toward the end of the trail, we passed a woodcock doodling across the road, taking its time as it walked its very strange, samba-like walk. As I write, a kingfisher is calling outside my window. A barred owl also paid us a visit a few nights ago. It was delightful to hear one calling so close by.

We’ve seen lots of moose sign, but haven’t seen a moose in a while now. I have heard no reports of bear activity. We did spot a lynx hopping up some rocks beside the Trail last week, pausing and coolly looking at us over his shoulder. He was completely unfazed by our presence. And yesterday at Gull Lake we watched a loon dive down into the water over and over and then come up with a fish in its beak, which it quickly swallowed. There were big sheets of ice floating around the bay. They did not appear to bother the loon at all. René from Seagull Lake let me know that they spotted a hummingbird forward scout at their cabin just a few days ago.

We’ve seen a couple of early butterflies: the Compton Tortoiseshell and the Mourning Cloak. These butterflies overwinter in adult form. I see them lighting on wet gravel, drinking I suppose, as their wings gently open and close.

Nearby, a pileated woodpecker has been pounding away, making a cavity for a nest. The snow finally melted enough so I could check it out this morning without post-holing my way through the slush to that section of woods. Lars said it sounded like the woodpecker was hammering on a pole, not a tree, and he was right. The bird had carved out a home for a nest about ten feet down from the top of a utility pole. Only part of its tail feathers stuck out the hole, vibrating every time the woodpecker struck as it continued its carving, undisturbed by my presence down below. As I was walking toward the pole, my boots crunched over fallen sticks and the dry grass and I wondered why the bird hadn’t flown away. Here was my answer, with its head so deep in the hole, the woodpecker hadn’t noticed my approach.

This is such unique time of year, with blossoms, buds, birds and bees everywhere but NO BUGS! Well, no mosquitoes or black flies yet, anyway. Wherever you look, plants, trees, moss and the bird population are all changing.

Other things are changing, too. Trail Center is open once again. Poplar Haus will start serving this Friday and Loon Lake Lodge is offering dinner again this year. The mud season is over! Let the revelry begin!

Chik Wauk, the museum and nature center of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society will be open 10 am to 5 pm daily starting May 28. There is a small admission fee that helps support this important resource on the Gunflint Trail. On Sunday, May 29, there will be a celebration of the installation of the state-record walleye mount. The monster fish (17-1/2 pounds) was caught on Sunday, May 23, 1979, on the Seagull River by the late LeRoy Chiovitte. His family generously decided to donate the fish mount and it will be permanently displayed at Chick Wauk, very near to where it was caught. The big fish is coming home.

This is Marcia Roepke on the Gunflint Trail