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April 1998

4/30/98 – Bill Hansen has returned from his trip to Alaska. While in Ketchikan he rented a sea kayak from Greg and Kim Thomas at Southeast Sea Kayaks. He highly recommends these fine folks if you are looking for a sea kayak adventure in breathtaking Southeast Alaska. Their hospitality, knowledge and good humor are top notch. Bill even saw humpback whales in the exact spot predicted by Greg.

4/27/98 – Blue skies and lovely sun continue. The few who are out paddling, have the BWCA Wilderness to themselves. No bugs, sunny warmth, basking turtles and deep silence. Sounds pretty good. Friends who paddled the granite river reported seeing lots of interesting ducks. The male Common Merganser is briefly in residence this time of year. After mating, the male mergansers migrate further, and the females have our lakes to themselves. I’m sure each of you would hold various opinions as to the optimality of a merganser social analogy for our human love affairs. A survey of our early arriving crew, all of whom are female, found the female mergansers’ situation to be somewhat dour.

The woods are very dry and have yet to green up. This leads us all to be very concerned about thunderstorms and wind, the primary agents of forest fire ignition and mobility. A small fire burned above Grand Marais yesterday. Luckily, no one was injured and no buildings were damaged. If we don’t receive some moisture soon, this may be our year for fire drama. We have fared well in recent years, but it is inevitable that fire will return.

4/25/98 –

Fun was had by all at the Sawbill Beach Club opener.

4/23/98 – The ice is gone, and no sooner than it’s disappearance, we have our first customers. Thank goodness for the diehards who prioritize flexibility in their schedules so as to meet nature on it’s terms. The ritualistic opening of the Sawbill beech club will occur later today. Stand by for the chilling madness that characterizes that bit of lunacy. The store and dome have been whipped into shape, and the canoes, awakened early from their hibernation in the woods, are piled on the stacks awaiting your use. The cash registers are the final topping, and momentarily, they will be brought from their den which protects their sensitive electronics from our unique Minnesota chill. There is a general buzz amongst the Sawbill crew as we anticipate the first canoe orientations and the Northwoods vacationers’ characteristic queries regarding weather, fishin’, and bears. Let the season begin!

4/22/98 – The ice hangs on! Much to our dismay, the majority of the lake is still covered with ice. We are enjoying a seventy degree day, cloudless skies and a light warm breeze. Computer problems and a fishing tackle pricing nightmare, drove Michele, Cindy, and OB to the parking lot for an impromptu game of frisbee. It is a novelty to have a parking lot completely devoid of snow and cars simultaneously. Jog bras and shorts were the attire for the occasion! Compared to the past two winters, we are enjoying an extra month of Spring. Just before sunset, OB opened the door to let the cat in and was greeted by the haunting call of the loon! Their first calls transform the landscape more than any other event. He heeded the call and had an interesting walk amongst a grove of cedars examining their roots. He found their exposed portions dry blood red in appearance. Our interest in the forest floor this time of year borders on the eccentric. It is long hidden by the snow’s blanket, and it’s emergence provides a rich canvas of colors and textures for our imaginations. Common golden eye and ring neck ducks visit us briefly this time of year. They have been a frequent sight on the ponds and lakes adjacent to the roads in our area.

4/20/98 –

Looking north from the public landing, Sawbill Lake – 4/20/98

The smart money is on the ice going out tomorrow. It is only about 5" thick, black, and honeycombed.

A national telephone poll commissioned by The Wilderness Society, shows broad national disapproval of putting trucks, jeeps and outboards back into the BWCA Wilderness.

4/16/98 – Bill Hansen had a chilling experience yesterday. He and Obie tried to sneak in one more ski expedition up Sawbill Lake. With a 15" ice thickness and a freezing night, it seemed like a safe bet. Skiing was pretty good until the first narrows near the wilderness boundary. An alarming amount of open water caused a pause for reconnaissance. Bill was skiing slowly east inspecting the narrows when the ice suddenly gave way and he plunged in – skis and all. He quickly removed his skis and, with some difficulty, hoisted himself back up onto the ice, rolled to more solid ice, then quickly skied home to a warm shower. Another lesson learned the hard way.

Owl researcher Bill Lane has been haunting the night woods around here lately. The following is an excerpt from his journal of observations:

On Friday (10 April) I completed my second round of surveys for northern forest
owls in northeast Minnesota. Conditions during the period were mostly favorable
and characterized by clear, calm weather patterns. My work is supported by the
Superior National Forest, Tofte District, the MN DNR Natural Heritage and
Nongame Research Program, but most importantly, by my wife Oksana.

Only seven new boreal owls were detected during what historically, has been my
most productive survey period (1-15 April). Since 15 March, nine boreal owls
have been located during 301 miles of surveys (3 min stops @ 0.5 mile
intervals). Adding to the relatively bleak survey scenario is the fact that no
new owls have been located outside of surveys, despite my persistent presence in
the woods. Should this pattern continue, boreal owl detections will be at their
second lowest since 1987 (two owls heard in 1996; 18 in 1990). No females have
been observed on territories, although vocalizations by a male on Thursday
indicated a female was present. Similarly, northern saw-whet numbers are near
record lows (9 located in 1996), with eight males heard during surveys and three
located outside nocturnal survey protocol. Barred owl numbers are down
considerably from the last two years, with 20 located (45+ in both 1996 and
1997). One great gray, but no great-horned or long-eared owls have been
detected. However, two additional great grays and a nesting pair of
great-horned owls have been found outside the scope of surveys.

Perched Atop a Soapbox
A preliminary assessment of population trends for boreal owls, based on 9 years
of survey data (survey protocol was not utilized from 1993-95), suggests that
there has been a decline in boreal owl numbers in my study area since 1987.
Good years are not as good, while bad years are worse then they once were.
Concurrently, the acreage of old forest aspen harvests has increased, especially
adjacent to spruce lowlands, a critical habitat feature for boreal owls. Is
there a relationship? Absolutely. Is there a simple analogy? Put 100 families
in 100 houses. Then remove 10 houses each year. What happens to the displaced
families (pardon the anthropomorphism)? It is a simplistic viewpoint but one
that I feel appropriately describes the situation for both boreal and northern
saw-whet owls. Being obligate secondary cavity nesters implies two things: the
owls have to nest in cavities, and they don’t create those cavities. Continued
removal of older aspen will have long-term, negative impacts on boreal owl and
northern saw-whet owl populations throughout northeast Minnesota’s managed

The Aesthetic Side of My Research
Last year, boreal owls were very viewer friendly. Several nights were spent
conveniently perched atop the hood of my truck watching courtship and nesting
activities. There, my thermos stood at-the-ready and the shows were better-than
cable. Throw in shimmering auroras’ and my role as an owl voyeur has been
established. This year, however, field work entails just that. It is work and
often without the cooperation of the owls. Walk-ins to six of the nine owls
have been arduous, with 1 mile inland jaunts the rule, rather than the
exception. Twice this year I have entered the BWCAW (no permit required), to
determine the status of owls’ located during earlier surveys. Last night, armed
with an aerial photograph and compass, I undertook another journey, skirting
streams and windfall to get to my destination ridge. Once there I waited, and
relaxed. The North Woods opened its doors. Oils of conifers traveled atop
wisps of wind, mingling with the organic aroma of reawakened mosses, creating a
hedonistic smell of spring. At sunset, song sparrows sang their last melodious
notes, while the robins complained; they are always complaining. A ruffed
grouse dined on swollen aspen buds, framed by a fat, rising moon. Darkness came
and with it, only silence. The owl did not appear; didn’t send me scurrying
wildly on a direct-line through alder and snow. Perhaps it was best that way.

If you have questions or comments, please direct them to:
. I will be happy to respond. Bill Lane
Schroeder, and points-north.

No change in ice depth today. 15" and holding.

4/15/98 – Two Bald Eagles wheeled high in their mating dance as we measured the ice this morning. Wing to wing, they flew intricate maneuvers in perfect synchrony, the sun flashing off the brilliant white of head and tail. A chill northeast wind solidified the slush layer overnight. There was no change in ice depth in the last 24 hours – still 15". We may try a ski expedition this afternoon when the sun softens the lake surface a bit.

4/14/98 – At noon, Sawbill Lake’s ice was 15" thick, 3" of slush and 12" of clear, hard ice.

Year around Sawbill resident and ace weather observer, Ruthie Hansen, has been accepted into the literary arts program at the prestigious and competitive Minnesota Arts High School beginning this Fall. She will be residing at the school in the Twin Cities during her junior and senior years and returning to Sawbill in the summers to join the Sawbill crew. Congratulations Ruthie!

4/13/98 – At 8 A. M. the ice was 18" thick with 12" of clear ice and 6" of slush on top. A canoe was needed to reach the firm ice which is separated from shore and is now floating. Usually, the ice goes out about a week to ten days after it floats up. Flickers, red winged blackbirds and red polls have returned to the northwoods.

4/12/98 – We drilled a hole in the ice on Sawbill Lake last night. The ice went from solid and white on Saturday morning (see photo below) to 18" of water and slush around the edges Saturday night. Nothing like 65 degree temperatures to soften things up. The ice depth is 22". Approximately 12" of hard ice and 10" of slush on top.

Cindy Hansen and Michele Thieman saw a wolf at close range while walking this morning. The wolf walked out on the road 20 – 30 yards ahead of them, paused to look at them, and then bounded away. It was very near to the two golden retrievers, Gust and Sunny, but showed no interest.

We received the following poem along an outfitting reservation from Bob Ingwalson of the Washington D.C. area:

——————- BWCA BOUND ———————
For over a year, we’ve been planning
To canoe the waters of solitude, in Northern Minnesota
To listen to the Loon sing his song in the morning mist
To sit in awe, while watching the eagle soar
To visit the land of moose and wolves
And lay spellbound beneath open stars, as the Northern Lights dance
across the sky.
Now the time is near
To complete our plans and accept our challenge
To assemble our group and head for Sawbill
To meet Cindy and Bill, face to face
To live our dreams, while we build our memories
And complete our journey, before we exit the wilderness – without a

4/11/98 –

Looking south from the far north end of Sawbill Lake – 4/11/98

4/9/98 – This may be the last gasp for cross country skiing this year. The four inches of snow that fell on Tuesday has settled down to a dense one inch on the lake. An overnight low of 23 degrees set it up for skiing perfection. Bill skied the Kelso Loop (approx. 5 miles) in 30 minutes this morning. Another cold night is predicted for tonight and that, along with a nearly full moon, should make for sublime night skiing. Giddy Up!

4/4/98 – Gorgeous today! Fifty-five degrees and sunny. The warm weather is being enjoyed by some migrating crows. We have at least three of them around curiously surveying our home. Crows are not common here, and it is fun to compare them to the ravens which are here for the entire paddling season. The crows are smaller, have a different tail feather arrangement and are much more gregarious. The bright sun today is giving these visitors a slight purple hue – quite beautiful birds. There is such an obvious intelligence with the crows and ravens compared to the other feathered denizens of the Northwoods. The crows have been doing their funky walk between the buildings and seem quite pleased to have discovered the feeder. The other birds do not share my enthusiasm for the crows. They are out of sight when the crows are exploring.

Obie returned from Utah with glowing reports about the beauty and solitude provided by our red rock wilderness. Clare and Carl reoriented him to the snow conditions in the woods. He provided them with much entertainment, as he was crushed in a game of follow the leader, discovering the snow conditions crusty enough to hold children but not Obies. The snow depth is still adequate to fill pack boots, and Clare and Carl squealed in delight as Obie examined his soaking socks and pruned toes. We try to provide a challenging work environment for our only year round crew member!

4/1/98 – So, the ice is out and the canoeing season has begun! The leaves are rustling on the trees and even a few mosquitoes have been sighted. April fools! Reality is five inches of fresh wet snow over night along with 40 mph winds. The lake ice is still 16+" thick and quite solid. Obie is back from Utah, although he still hasn’t truly made it back to Sawbill yet. He got stranded in Two Harbors by the storm last night. Bill, Ruthie, Clare and Carl Hansen were stopped in their tracks by a large tree blown across the road while driving home last night. Usually this is not a noteworthy event, causing only a brief delay, while the bow saw is uncased and the offending tree reduced to movable chunks. Last night however, the trusty saw had been removed from the vehicle by parties who wish to remain anonymous. After a half hour of semi-ingenious efforts to remove the tree without a saw, they gave up and backtracked 60 miles.