Long known among serious birders as THE place to find northern owls and other boreal birds, the Sax-Zim Bog IBA is home to a unique array of species and habitats not found in other parts of the United States. The Sax Zim Bog has a bird list of over 240 species including northern rarities such as Great Gray Owl, Boreal Owl and Northern Hawk-Owl. Over 450 Great Grays were counted in one weekend in January 2005. Birders and others visiting this IBA are particularly important to the local economy. With its proximity to Duluth and its airport, hotels, restaurants, and rental vehicles ?V and its attraction from an aesthetic sense ?V this IBA is and attraction to birders from outside Minnesota who know they can safely visit the area during the winter.
The Sax Zim Bog IBA, located in St. Louis County, approximately 3 hours north of the Minneapolis/St Paul metro area, and 1 hr. west/northwest of Duluth, is bordered on the south by Co. Rd. 8, on the north by Co. Rd. 27, then Co. Rd. 7 to St Louis River, on the west by Co. Rds. 5 and 29, and on the east by US Hwys 33 and 53 (Figure 1). From the Twin Cities, take I-35 north to Hwy 33 into Cloquet, and then north on Hwy. 53. From Duluth, take Hwy 53 north.
This area includes a mixture of State, County and private land as well as the Cloquet Valley State Forest and the Whiteface River State Forest (Figure 2). Sax and Zim Wildlife Management Areas are found here, as well. Nichols, Murphy and Artichoke Lakes, as well as many others are located throughout the IBA. The Whiteface River bisects the IBA, and the St Louis River makes up part of the northern border of the site.
The Sax Zim Bog??s unique combinations of many diverse boreal forest habitats make it an ideal choice for birds, both migrants and breeding species. As outlined in the Traveler??s Guide to Wildlife in Minnesota, there is a mix of lowland spruce, tamarack, and northern white cedar bog. Norway pine, white spruce, aspen, birch, balsam, and jack pine are found in the upland. Level to gently rolling topography is characteristic of this region. The largest landform is a lake plain. Soils include extensive areas of histosols (peat) over both fine-textured, (silt and clay-rish) and sandy lacustrine deposits. Sedge meadows, lowland brush and hayfields are also found here. There are stemless lady??s slippers and other species of bog vegetation such as sundew, pitcher plant, leatherleaf, and bog birch. Other wildlife native to the Sax-Zim area includes black bear, moose, beaver, deer, pine martens and timber wolves.
There are currently hiking trails in McDavitt Township Park. The Minnesota Ornithologists?? Union is arranging for a six car parking area to be set up near the land they are leasing at the SW corner of section 21 in T.54.N ?V R.19W.
The Sax Zim Bog has a bird list that includes over 240 species, and is nationally known a great place to see northern owls such as the Great Gray Owl, Boreal Owl and Northern Hawk Owl in the fall and winter months. Over 450 Great Gray Owls were counted in a weekend in January 2005. Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Bald Eagles and Rough-legged Hawks are also founds and summer months bring Wilson??s Snipe, and several species of flycatchers, including Yellow-bellied Flycatchers and Alder Flycatchers. Warblers are in abundance and include Connecticut, Black-throated Green, Magnolia, Cape May, Canada, Blackburnian, Palm, and Black-and-White Warblers. Lincoln??s Sparrow, Pine Grosbeak, Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Northern Waterthrush, Sedge Wren, Black-billed Cuckoo, Northern Shrike, Sandhill Cranes, White-winged Crossbill, and LeConte??s Sparrow have also been recorded. A remnant population of Black-billed Magpies can be seen year round, and may be one of the most eastern populations in the United States. The A.B.A. consistently ranks the Yellow Rail in the Top Ten Birds people most want to see, and there are four records of nesting Yellow Rails since 1993.
MN ?V 1 (e) Species Diversity ?V Sax Zim supports a wide range of breeding and migrating birds. The Audubon Christmas Bird Count reported 52 species during the past 20 seasons. A Sax Zim Bog bird checklist compiled in January 2004 by the Minnesota Ornithologists Union listed 236 species historically seen in the area. A Saint Louis County bird checklist completed in 2005 added six more species to the Sax Zim Bog area, bringing the total to 242. Data sheets from bird surveys carried out in lowland conifer areas recorded 17 species of singing warblers, sparrows and others. Dancing Sharp tailed grouse are counted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in the spring.
MN ?V 1 (f) Significant numbers. ?V Great Gray Owls have historically been seen in the Sax Zim area every fall and winter, with larger numbers present during irruption years. There are several nesting records of Great Grays in the area, as well. The fall and winter of 2004/2005 saw an unprecedented number of Great Gray Owls in the state of Minnesota. The Sax Zim Bog was the first site in Minnesota to see non-resident Great Gray Owls in October 2004. As reported by Minnesota Ornithologists Union President Mark Alt, in a State of the Owls Report on February 22, 2005, there were 450 Great Gray Owls counted in a January weekend in the Sax Zim Bog area. An estimated 2500 Great Gray Owls were recorded in Minnesota during the winter of 2004/2005, so it is possible that the Sax Zim Bog may have hosted almost 20% of the irruption population. These numbers are in stark contrast to the 28 Great Gray owls counted for the Sax Zim Bog in a single winter season as the highest numbers previously recorded. There were 70 Great Grays counted in the 2004/2005 Sax Zim Bog Christmas Bird Count.
With information from the April 04 Birding magazine, it has been estimated that there are 30,000 Great Gray Owls world-wide, and that about 83%, or just under 25,000 are in North America. D. Duncan estimated that the Manitoba population is somewhere between 500 and 3000 Great Grays, and that likely 10% of the North American population was in the state of Minnesota in 2004-5. Forty-two Northern Hawk-Owls were counted in Sax Zim in the Christmas Bird Count 2004/2005, as compared to nine of these birds as a previous Minnesota state season record.
MN ?V 2a ?V Species of Special Conservation Concern (federally Endangered, Threatened, or of Special Concern). ?V
Yellow Rails - There have bee four documented nesting areas of Yellow Rails in the Sax Zim Bog area since 1993. This is perhaps only one of three sites of recorded Yellow Rail nesting areas in the state. The MNDNR Natural Heritage database lists approximately 195 total Minnesota records.
MN ?V 2b ?V Species of Special Conservation Concern
American Bittern ?V There are four documented records of American Bittern in the Sax Zim Bog area, and approximately 290 records for the state.
Sharp-tailed Grouse ?V the DNR has six leks that have recorded dancing birds there since 1990.
Great Gray Owls ?V At least three nesting records in the area since 1983. Great Gray Owls have historically been seen in the Sax Zim area every fall and winter, with larger numbers present during irruption years. As reported by Minnesota Ornithologists Union President Mark Alt, in a State of the Owls Report on February 22, 2005, there were 450 Great Gray Owls counted in a January weekend in the Sax Zim Bog area.
Connecticut Warbler ?V Several birds were recorded singing in summer of 2004 in a breeding bird survey carried out by the MNDNR.
- Reduction in land management ? Sax Zim plant communities are fire dependent. The open character of the landscape must be maintained through natural or man-made disturbance. Fire exclusion is detrimental.
- Succession ? Fire, mowing, shearing, farming, grazing, haying and logging are required to set back succession.
- Non-native plant species ? Species such as hybrid poplar are a threat to the open landscapes through the Sax Zim IBA.
- Fragments of the open landscape through tree planting and increased development are threats to this IBA.
Habitat management in the area emphasizes maintaining brushlands, and other open land native plant communities with prescribed fire. Combinations of periodic shearing and burning in selected areas emphasizes Sharp-tailed Grouse management. Harvesting for timber generally occurs in the winter to not disturb breeding birds.
The Sax Zim Bog has a history of agriculture on the better upland soils. Small grain farming and cattle raising were the predominate and uses for the past 100 years. The area has an extensive system of ditches that provide riparian habitat. The area is slowly being reclaimed by native plant communities as farming disappears on the landscape.