Lake Country, The Great Lakes Watershed
New England had been good to us. The birds, the granite cliffs and slopes, the green mountains, it invites coming back, but we have to leave. Our timetable asks, not demands, we work our way west, to reach Oregon by September and to do the trip with leisure and enjoyment. Of course, leaving New England now allows for a slow trip west, with our next days in the watershed of the five Great Lakes. Although there are marked routes that send travelers close to the shores of the lakes, our journey will be more distant from the water. Someday, we will do the lakeshore route. Before arriving at the Great Lakes, we must travel across northern Vermont and over the St. Lawrence, the mighty river flowing from the even mightier Great Lakes. Our route will take us from New York, across southern Ontario, upper Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, a distance of almost 1,000 miles.
Most people designate the central part of the United States as the Midwest. Technically, at least according to Mr. Webster, we will be in the Midwest until we reach the Rocky Mountains. Really!? That entire region is Midwestern. Of course, it is not, but the term, which originated decades ago, remains in our vernacular. We surmise we are in the region that is in the old Northwest.
To a westerner, which Linda and I consider ourselves, our route into Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan and most definitely, North Dakota and eastern Montana are in the northern-central part of the country. Sure, the region is west of east, but the West does not begin until reaching Montana. If the west begins in Montana, then we suppose Idaho might be Midwestern. It is, after all between Montana and the state of Washington, which is as far west as possible. It has long been a wonderment that the so-called Midwestern states are not designated the north-central states.
26 June 2015
Today is Friday and that day equates to the beginning of a weekend and summer crowds converging into most recreational sites, including New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch. Our luck in finding Bicknell’s Thrush yesterday helps us feel less reluctant to leave the beauty surrounding us. As we drive out of the campground, we see row upon row of empty cars parked along the access road to the interstate. Hikers, leaving their wheels, will be crunching the rocky trails while we motor southward and turn west on New Hampshire’s scenic highway 112. The White Mountains are in the side view mirrors as we meet U.S. Highway 302, drive through Woodsville, cross the Connecticut River and enter Vermont.
Our destination is a small town near Barre, which, according to locals, sounds like bear-ee. We had called ahead to a pharmacy in a neighboring settlement. As usual, one of the more unsavory tasks of traveling full-time by RV is keeping up with prescriptions. In today’s case, we transferred a refill from a pharmacy thousands of miles ago to a pharmacy a few miles from Barre and not far from Vermont’s capital Montpelier. We motor from the White Mountains and well into Vermont. The prescription refill left us ready for the nearest Walmart parking lot where we join other RVers making themselves at home.,
We always try to park near the fringe of a store. When it comes time to crank up the generator, the noise it makes goes unnoticed as it is most often drowns out by adjacent traffic. The generator sparks the microwave, our most used instrument for cooking, which ranges from a cup of tea to baked potatoes and more. We nuke dishes that come prepackaged by just adding water and usually canned chicken. When in a hurry, we microwave frozen dinners and, in the morning, cook scrambled eggs or oatmeal. Sprinkled into the diet is a daily salad, fresh fruit and an occasional hamburger. The salad we so enjoy comes from a prewashed mix of usually Romaine lettuce, a little shredded carrot and cabbage that comes in a bag. That may sound to be boring menu, but our fare is our feast and is keeping us healthy for the past eight months. We also are more trim than in the beginning. We feel well physically and emotionally.
Besides the obvious, the changing scenery, birding and fresh air, one emotional benefit has to do with glasses. Living in small quarters, losing one’s glasses, a common pass-time, is far less of a problem than when living in a larger, multi-roomed space. Not only is anxiety lessened, we same considerable time searching for misplaced items.
27-28 June 2015
Following a restful night, negotiating a few miles in Montpelier, and maybe thirty minutes of driving I-89 northwestward, we exit the fast pace and enter Little River State Park. It is Saturday, and although billed as one of the most popular parks in Vermont, we manage to find a campsite. Somewhere between last night and today, we enter the watershed emptying into the 120 mile-long Lake Champlain and ultimately into the St. Lawrence River. However, we will cross that bridge on a later date.
Had we not been so lucky in finding Bicknell’s Thrush on Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire, we would have turned north to Mt. Mansfield. I am happy that a detour up Mt. Mansfield is unnecessary. Even so, our park tonight is part of the Mount Mansfield State Forest and the state park’s hilly relief of the Green Mountains reminds that miles northward elevations pass 4,000 feet. Here in the lowlands of abandoned farms that began in the early 1800’s, it is easy to imagine a Bicknell’s Thrush migrating north to higher elevations. Of course, that thrush might be a Gray-cheeked Thrush, all too morphologically similar to Bicknell’s Thrush. Soon, we do not have to imagine thrushes of different species inhabiting Little River State Park. A Veery is singing.
Although our campsite fee in the park is high, water and electricity are not on the agenda. Hot showers are available and a place to dump refuse and a RV dumping station is about a half-mile from camp. The Veery continues to sing and a Song Sparrow joins as dusk advances. The pitter-patter of rain, sometimes pounding with heavy drops, fills the night as we snuggle inside the RV.
The next morning is wet and clouds threaten to wash away any sleepiness. After tea, a couple of scrambled eggs each, we wash dishes and vacate our campsite. Up along the side of a ridge we find the waste disposal site, dump our collected garbage, and empty the RV wastewater tanks. Large deciduous trees might provide shadows were it not for the cloudy sky muting our vision. It is cool and fresh, even at the dumping site. Before we finish our tasks, an unseen Swainson’s Thrush and a Winter Wren sing, not separately, but at the same time. Beautiful cannot describe the duet.
Tomorrow, we plan to make the push to upper New York. Today, the threat of rain is a good time to catch up on shopping and a little “house” cleaning. We join four other RVers on the expansive Walmart parking lot in Williston, a village of 450 residents east of nearby Burlington.
29-30 June 2015
A narrow paved road takes us into Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. Driving passed the sign directing to a visitor center brings us to Stephen J. Young Marsh. The derivation of the name of the refuge is from Algonquin meaning large rocks at the mouth of the Missisquoi River. The rocks are not in view, but we briefly sample the marsh, a 900-acre bog, forests, grasslands and more of habitat of the 6,729-acre refuge. Exploring the marsh provides several entertaining Green Herons, in fact, more than I have ever seen in one place. I can hear Wilson’s Snipe displaying and startle a female Wood Duck escorting a flotilla of downy chicks.
Meanwhile, back at the visitor center, we find Green Herons, Bobolinks, more snipe, a healthy population of Yellow Warblers and Marsh Wren of the eastern persuasion. The wrens are possibly species distinct from the western populations of Marsh Wren. Having kept my ear to the ground, or should I say, to the marsh grass, people are working on the systematics of the eastern and western Marsh Wrens. Someday, we may know the truth, which we all know, is out there.
All those Yellow Warblers and our location remind me of the old days when I was deep in the taxonomy of Yellow Warblers. As we drive west from Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, we cross an arm of Lake Champlain and reconnect with U.S. Highway 2. Our route takes us within shouting distance of the Quebec border and spills us across a narrow finger of the lake near the beginning of the north flowing Richelieu River. We are essentially due south of Montreal, which catapults memories of the beautiful city, meeting friends at an AOU meeting, hearing papers on ornithological issues and thoughts about Yellow Warblers. Harry C. Oberholser, who I have discussed from time to time, published a paper on the type locality of a subspecies of Yellow Warbler collected along the St. Lawrence. His taxonomic conclusions did not agree with specimens from the region that were in the museum at Smithsonian. My study of the situation, including specimens and literature about the Eighteenth Century shore of the St. Lawrence River, helped me produce a better understanding of Yellow Warblers along the river and eventually provoked me to study the taxonomy of all populations of Yellow Warblers. The bird ranges from South American to North America including Alaska, birds that breed in the Caribbean Islands and, of course, those summering along the St. Lawrence River not far from Montreal. I hasten to state that in all probability, Yellow Warblers from Middle and South America, and possibly those from the Caribbean, represent species distinct from birds breeding in North America. Time and more study will surely settle the systematics of the complex. Again, the truth is out there.
We continue westward, following US 11, turn north on New York state route 420 to Massena and then head up the St. Lawrence River. Ring-billed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants dot the waterway. One cormorant stands out. Double-crested Cormorants are small and in flight, kink their neck. The mystery cormorant’s thick neck is not kinked and its blocky head and chunky bill are characters that only another Great Cormorant could love. What is this bird doing here? It turns out that Great Cormorant may occur up the St. Lawrence River, but vacate the interior in spring. A rather unsatisfactory but identifiable photo goes in the scrapbook.
Now, in far northeastern New York, our goal today is Cole Creek State Park as we head further up one of the world’s longest rivers, the 760-mile long St. Lawrence, and cross-stream after stream flowing into the river that is fed also by Lake Ontario and ultimately the remaining Great Lakes. The St. Lawrence River has a watershed of 3 million square miles and, near Cole Creek, a water flow of 246,000 cubic feet per second. That is slightly under the flow of the Columbia River that averages 265,000 cubic feet per second, and is, of course, less than the Mississippi River that averages 593,000 cubic feet per second.
For many miles to come, we will be in the glacier scoured basin of the Great Lakes. Actually, we could have begun our tour of the Great Lakes with Lake Champlain. In 1998, President Clinton signed a Senate bill, originating from a senator from Vermont, which proclaims Lake Champlain as the sixth Great Lake. The move angered legislatures representing states around the other Great Lakes and 18 days later Lake Champlain lost its status as a Great Lake. The vote is clear, but why all the fuss. Funding or more to the point, the fuss had lots to do with money. Besides supplying drinking water to over 200,000 people, some regard the lake as providing the best bass fishing anywhere and is a great place to go camping, boating and the lake even has its own Loc Ness style monster with the surprising name of Champ. Winter ice on the lake also attracts tourist dollars, but, this time, not surprising, Lake Champlain freezes over less and less and some winters it does not freeze.
Linda and I will not be in the watershed of the official Great Lakes for a couple more days and are happy to have enjoyed our time along Lake Champlain that regardless of status leaves an impression owing to its beauty and magnitude. Tucked between the Green Mountains to the east, the Adirondack Mountains to the west and Taconic Mountains to the south, Lake Champlain is long, with 587 miles of shoreline around the eighth largest body of fresh water in North America. The lake averages only 15 feet deep in Missisquoi Bay near our location yesterday, but water filling two parallel faults and a deep valley miles to the south reach to a depth of 426 feet. Lake Champlain and the Great Lakes are the descendants of the powerful erosive forces of advancing ice and of geologic faulting and more. Ice Age glaciers over a mile thick gouged their way through the terrain, the depth of the carving dependent on the thickness of the ice and hardness of the bedrock below and what happened as the ice receded. One obvious answer is the melt water from the ice drained into the basins left behind. Another answer is as the glacier receded, the landmass, without all that weight of frozen water, rose in elevation. The northeastern part of the US is geologically stable or at least more stable than the western US. However, if one looks closely, the east is not as static as it seems. The Adirondack Mountains, which are not part of the Appalachian Mountains, are actually gaining in elevation every day. Of course, the rise is miniscule, but it is happening. Linda recalls feeling tremors in Utica near southern edge of the Adirondacks. Minor earthquakes occurred under Lake Ontario, but that may be the extent of recent tectonics.
Today, water levels of the Great Lakes are relatively stable, erosion continues, pollution levels are safer than in previous years. On the other hand, some believe water levels of the lakes may have been less than today as suggested by a report of people 7,000 years ago leaving evidence now far under water. Regardless of levels, the lakes are deep enough for shipping and shallow enough to become polluted. In 1962, I swam in Lake Erie, which, at the time, was nastily hazardous, but apparently, the water was not so bad that my daughter has the correct number and shape of appendages.
As usual, I am getting ahead of the story. We have a few miles before entering the Great Lakes watershed. In the meantime, we are happy about our sightings of a Red-headed Woodpecker and Sora when leaving Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge and finding the New York Great Cormorant and, flying over our highway, several Common Terns and Great Blue Herons.
Our day almost over, the 1,800 acre Coles Creek State Park offers a camp site with electricity and a view of trees standing over neatly trimmed grass and Lake St. Lawrence. The lake, formed in 1958, is the result of efforts to generate electricity and improve navigation along the river by accommodating more and larger ships. Large vessels ply the water from the mouth of the St. Lawrence to Lake Superior and still larger freighters, including container ships, may sail the St. Lawrence Seaway in years to come.
The Seaway is not the only part of the scene that is wet. Dark gray clouds swirl amid an ominous palate of paler gray and whitish overcast as a sprinkle reminds us the sky means business. Would be swimmers take heed and abandon a small-designated beach at the edge of Lake St. Lawrence. A Common Tern ignores the weather while looking our way from a small shoreline perch. It is a good time to enjoy the safe and cozy confines of our RV.
1 July 2015
Rain falls during the early morning. Large clouds continue to cover the sky and mute the sounds of any birds in the mood to advertise themselves to prospective mates or defend their territories. It is too wet.
2 July 2015
We wake in Ogdensburg, New York, at the edge of a Lowes parking lot. During our stay, we take advantage of their free Wi-Fi and catch up on emails. Blue sky ushers the temperature to the low 70’s by 10 o’clock.
Driving a couple of miles east, we turn north and cross the toll bridge spanning the St. Lawrence River, enter Ontario and pull into the border crossing. We appear to be the only people entering Canada at the time. A border agent directs us to a parking spot where he tells us to come inside to answer some questions while two agents proceed to check the contents of the RV. We are surprised at the attention and the seriousness of the agents. Previous crossings into Canada have been friendly and enjoyable, but not today. The staff seems more like the unwelcoming US border agents. Perhaps Canada is stricter about RVs. This is our first crossing in an RV. We recall witnessing a few years ago, an RV being ordered to turn around because the occupant had a gun onboard. We have no guns, but maybe I look suspicious or the staff is bored. They tell us we were chosen at random for the extensive check. Was our number really up? For whatever reason, we are, one hour later, on our way north into Canada.
As we approach Ottawa, my thoughts again are of Henri Ouellet, of Bicknell’s Thrush and of visiting the Canadian Museum of Nature while working on gulls with Dick Banks and meeting W. Earl Godfrey, then Curator Emeritus at the museum. I had long marveled and used as a reference his 1966 book, Birds of Canada. On the way out of the capital city, I briefly amuse myself about Godfrey and others, including myself, who use their middle name and use an initial for their first name. Abbreviating the first name is often a problem, forcing anyone accustomed in using their middle name to enter on a form their first name followed by an initial for the middle name. I do not usually answer to Marvin, but often keep an ear out for my first given name even though my by line, legal and other signatures, checks, etc., is historically M. Ralph, not Marvin R. Growing up, when my parents called me Marvin Ralph; I knew I was in trouble. Today and still growing up, calling me anything but Ralph causes me trouble.
Dismantling the irksome business of given names, Linda and I take in scenery of the remote route toward Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. This is far more interesting route than our alternative southern route. We are also shaving off about 260 miles to arrive at the same destination. We wonder if the border agents, upon hearing our destination, were miffed that we are taking a shortcut across their country. Our northern journey will help avoid the more heavily populated US, keep us off the tiresome interstates and we will not have to cross the frightfully tall Mackinaw Bridge from Lower to Upper Michigan. The driving surface is 200 feet above the water. Back in the day, crossing that bridge did not bother me. After all, acrophobia was not in my vocabulary and crossing into Lower Michigan meant meeting Sewall Pettingill, renowned ornithologist, teacher and perhaps the father of bird finding guides, and seeing the rare Kirtland’s Warbler. All that happened, but this year, we will not cross the bridge and we may not see Kirtland’s Warbler. I do have a lead on the species since Kirtland’s Warbler is actually less rare than yesteryear and may breed in Wisconsin, which is on our route.
On our way to Pembroke, Ontario, we follow the Ottawa River. While stopping for lunch, we meet a French Canadian couple from Quebec, who are traveling home on motorcycles. They are moteling and having a great time, although they tell us that while in Vancouver, they experienced 102-degree temperatures. They mention hearing that our hometown Medford, Oregon, reported a high of 108 degrees. Linda and I remind ourselves we will not be in Medford until September when it should be comparatively cool.
Our day’s destination is Pembroke, which has a population around 17,000. Sitting on Trans-Canada Highway 17, Pembroke attracts tourist, especially those into nearby white water rafting. Lumber and related services probably employ many people that we see today trading at the local Walmart. The friendly manager tells us we are welcome to join the other RVs on the parking lot.
3-4 July 2015
North Bay, 133 miles west on Trans-Canada 17 is our destination today. A roadside stop near the Ottawa River promises good birding, but does not fulfill our expectations. A pine, perhaps 10 inches thick, is riddled from a woodpecker hammering into the trunk. The incomplete cavities remind us of Black-backed Woodpecker excavations. No amount of searching conjures up a woodpecker of any kind.
We travel along the Ottawa River until a few miles east of North Bay resting on the north shore of Lake Nipissing. North Bay, with a population of around 54,000 was established in 1891, decades later than Pembroke. The economy of North Bay is from the college and university and what Linda and I call the Medical Industrial Complex, which appears to be successful for human health in Canada and successful for making money in the US. We spend a few tourist dollars, as do other RVers, by stocking up on groceries at the local Walmart. The super center parking lot is full of people as this is the only such store within about 75 miles. Several RVs set neatly on the west side of the lot. We pick a spot, not too far and not too close to the other trailers and motor homes.
Lake Nipissing, bordering North Bay, averages only 15 feet and drains into Lake Huron. At last, we are officially inside the Great Lakes watershed. Now, we travel among 40 million or more people who live in the Great Lakes region, including 25% of all Canadians and 18% of all Americans. Most of the populations are, thankfully in regions we are now avoiding.
Late the next morning, we motor westward, realizing we had missed Canada Day when we were in New York. This was not by design. On the other hand, we did plan our short time in Canada to avoid the US Fourth of July. We are as patriotic as most, but had decided to avoid the fireworks scene. More than once in years past, we had to protect our property from wayward illegal fireworks. More than once, we found remains of illegal fireworks at July campsites smack in the middle of dry coniferous forests. Of course, a recent discovery is that Canadians compete with US people in carelessness and recklessness in setting off dangerous, if not illegal fireworks and in burning down and blowing up structures and by injuring body parts that ought to be safe from harm. Only nudist living in a dry forest or grassland are reliable candidates for not misusing fireworks. We read that importation of fireworks just in a few years has risen by 800% in Canada. That may be important in measuring income from sales, but what about the cost of putting out fires and sewing up wounds? In the US in 2013, fireworks caused 15,600 fires, including 1,400 structural fires, 200 burning vehicles and 14,000 fires in woodlands, grassy fields and elsewhere.
With the thought of fireworks on the fourth, we only drive 72 miles for a night in Sudbury. We could go further, but that might mean a night in Michigan and we are not ready for sparklers sparking a grass fire, Roman candle embers roaming to dry leaf litter or cherry bombs rattling our windows.
Sudbury is quiet for a city three times more populated North Bay. Over 160,000 live in diversified Sudbury, once, since around late 1800, a lumbering town and later, a thriving mining community. Two Walmarts do business in Sudbury. Although we are more than ready for something different, we settle for a Walmart at the south and less congested side of town.
The bridge from Canada to Michigan and locks at Sault Ste. Marie
5-6 July 2015
It is 200 miles to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Getting there requires driving over narrow toll bridges too high off the ground for comfort. At least entering the country, the US, is easy, with few questions to answer and no searches. I-75, the interstate last seen in Florida, routes us south to Michigan highway 86 and to the turn off to Brimley State Park. There is a day use fee of $9.00 and camping will cost $23.00 per night. That earlier toll bridge, at $6.00 plus the state park fees comes to a grand total of $38.00. The campground has 237 sites and each site is crowded tightly next to the others. It is elbow to elbow or something like that. At least there are showers and electricity.
Our campsite is about 25 feet from the shore of Whitefish Bay of Lake Superior. Besides being the largest of the Great Lakes, it is also the deepest, with its lowest point several 100 feet below sea level. At 9 AM the next morning, Linda hears water lapping at the shore. We are not sure, but the wake of a passing ship must have created delayed waves. The park was otherwise quiet except for sounds of people, especially children, and of a singing Yellow Warbler and a Red-eyed Vireo.
Continuing westward on highway 28, we turn into Seney National Wildlife Refuge. I visited there in early July 1962. Checking back on that time (Birder Interrupted, Ch. 9, Mosquito Coasts) is mention of me seeing Rusty Blackbird in Seney. How is that possible? Several sources, including two editions of the AOU Check-list, do not include Michigan in the breeding range of Rusty Blackbird. The text of some other sources that exclude Michigan in the breeding range of Rusty Blackbird, show, on range maps, that the species does breed in Upper Michigan. According to the range map in my trusty Geographic field guide, Rusty Blackbird breeds in the state. Still wondering about my summer record, I eventually unearthed a couple of websites actually stating Upper Michigan as within the breeding range of Rusty Blackbird. One is a report by Laura Deming and another site by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Whew. I am exonerated. I think. Breeding Rusty Blackbirds in Michigan are said to be rare. In fact, the species, throughout its range, is in steep decline.
My 1962 visit to Seney National Wildlife Refuge on the first day of July lasted from 9:30 AM to 2 PM. Trumpeter Swan, a species that at the time had a limited range and limited number of individuals in the US was not on the refuge checklist, but today, we see Trumpeter Swans. While, in 1962, following a circular route that traverses the eastern side of the refuge, I found only 37 species out of 199 species of the checklist. Yellow Rail was not among the nearly three dozen species. Today, the refuge checklist contains 211 species.
Seney National Wildlife Refuge embraces a mosaic of habitats, some appearing more pristine than others do. The region generally classified as boreal hardwood transition. Trees range from maple, beech, birch, and two species of pine. There is marsh, bog, and open water, the habitat surviving earlier efforts to drain it. Closure of one of the major drainage ditches did not occur until 2002.
The refuge continues to run tours oriented to finding Yellow Rail, a species listed as uncommon today as it was in 1962. A Yellow Rail would add a new species to Linda’s burgeoning life list. Of course, I cannot recognize any part of the refuge and should not have been surprised that trees growing over the auto tour are hanging down too low for our tall RV to negotiate. Of course, the tour route may not even be the one I drove all so many tree rings ago. Although it is disappointing, we cannot do the tour to add Yellow Rail, but we find Sedge Wrens to add to our trip and year lists. Four Trumpeter Swans and chicks are the highlight of our visit to Seney.
Another disappointment is possibly missing our chance to see a wolf. According to literature on Seney, gray wolves are not common, but that it is not uncommon to see their tracks. My visit to Upper Michigan in 1962 might have resulted in a wolf observation had I gone to Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, but the island was not on my agenda. Around that time, I read that “only a few lone wolves” occur on the mainland of Upper Michigan. It seems improbable to use few and lone in such juxtaposition, but the meaning is understandable. Today, protection of wolves at the state and federal levels has helped increase once human targeted wolves. A census in the winter of 2013-2014 counted 636 wolves in Upper Michigan and 2,221 (one being a lone wolf?) in Minnesota. Perhaps we will see a wolf there.
Iris, Seney and Au Train Lake
7-8 July 2015
Campgrounds near Seney National Wildlife Refuge should lure us to stay around, but the tug to continue westward places us in Au Train Lake Campground in Hiawatha National Forest. Au Train campground is near Au Train Lake, which is accessible by taking Au Train Forest Service Lake Road south of Au Train, the town. We are about three miles south of Lake Superior. Au Train Lake is visible from our campsite and so are mosquitoes and raindrops. The former are awful and the latter wets our arrival into the evening and the night. Perplexed by the Au Train, we manage to discover from a camper that the term comes from trainerant, which is French for drag. It seems the Au Train River spewed out so much sand and alluvial that the mouth of the river required dragging. The river was important since it provided access from Lake Superior to Au Train Lake and canoe portages between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. We suppose the canoeists had to carry their canoes along portages.
The next day is less rainy and the mosquitoes are unable to drag themselves from their hiding places to our tender skin thanks to a steady breeze. The thermometer hovers around a comfortable 65 degrees for training the scope on a female Red-breasted Merganser as she herds her chicks on Au Train Lake. Several American Redstarts and Northern Yellowthroats are along the shore and two Swamp Sparrows sing in the wind.
9-10 July 2015
Last night, we parked our home on a Walmart lot in Marquette, a town of interesting architecture. We especially like the former Marquette City Hall building, constructed in 1875 with thick red exterior to outlast the rigors of cold lakeside winters. Marquette is large enough to have my INR level checked so I do not bleed to death or have a stroke or worse die from a pesky blood clot. The whole process makes me see red. We also do laundry and make a phone call about finding Kirtland’s Warbler in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, we will miss the species.
Continuing west on US highway 41 from Marquette brings us to Wakefield. The significance of Wakefield, at least to us this day, is this is where US 41 junctures with US highway 2. Highway 2 is the route we chose to begin our way west from Maine and the highway across the country to another small town on the border of eastern Washington and western Idaho where we leave highway 2 for a path less traveled. US 2 essentially runs from Bangor, Maine, to Everett, Washington, on Puget Sound. However, unlike most federal highways, US 2 is unique since it occurs as two segments, with a chunk of the country from the border of northern Vermont and New York to Upper Michigan where US 2 does not exist. The shortest distance between the two ends is across part of southern Ontario. Highway numbering convention could not allow US 2 to locate as far south as Detroit and the highway could not, of course be routed through Canada. Linda and I filled in the gap, bridging the ends of the segments of US 2 by invading Ontario and having a much more scenic and peaceful journey. Map-readers suffering confusion about the missing segment of US 2 should rest and know that you can get there from here, but by a different route number.
Concerning route numbers, everyone knows odd numbers are for federal highways running north and south and even numbers are for highways running east and west. We discover US 2 was once the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway. The route of TR’s highway also includes portions of several other currently numbered routes and highways in Ontario, but not as far north as our travels this July. US 2 is also sometimes known as the Great Northern Highway and is part of the historical National Parks Highway. Other sources point out it is one of America’s longest highways (2,571 miles) and also the most stunning. We, thus far, agree.
Our drive on US 2 takes us into Wisconsin and to Odanah in the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of the Chippewa Indian Reservation. We ask if it is okay to park on the casino lot for the night. It is. We find a suitable spot away from the building and park not to close to another RV on the parking lot. We then take a tour of the casino. It is early, but there are customers gambling. Some patrons appear to be having fun while some look disgruntled, bored or perhaps trapped by an addiction. Linda and I like to use our money for enjoyable activities like traveling, birding and the steak dinner we order. So much meat is not part of our usual diet, but for a change, it tastes wonderful. Tomorrow we will have double salads.
10 July 2015
We might not have had the luxury of touring the casino in its more relaxed and comfortable state tonight, the night Garth Brooks is to entertain. It is doubtful there would have been room to park on the huge lot, but this morning, we glide out and onto our chosen highway for days to come and head west on U.S. 2. Our approach to Superior, Wisconsin, reminds me of a story. Just thinking that phrase “reminds me of a story” brings me warm thoughts of Dr. Wetmore. He might be in the presence of full shelves of ornithological texts inside the Division of Birds library or standing on the bird range looking over a series of tanagers from Panama. He would follow the phrase with a courteously two-phrased chuckle and then proceed by telling one of his entertaining and educational stories. My story is one from the past and first heard on the shore of Lake Superior.
While traveling the shore of Lake Superior in 1962, someone, I am not sure who or where, perhaps a person in Duluth or Superior asked if I had heard of the man who studies birds from a ship sailing in Lake Superior. No, I had not. Later and back in Oregon, I read in Audubon Magazine about Captain J.P. Perk Perkins, who, from 1930 to 1970, set up small artificial forests of trees on board ships working for the U.S. Steel Corporation. His forest included trees up to 10 feet high, with several species of evergreens, dead snags for woodpeckers and large birds, and deciduous bushes and trees, some of which had fruit, to make a suitable habitat for migrants needing a rest while crossing the water. Root balls of the trees were usually wrapped in burlap and kept in bushel baskets to move them off cargo hatches. According to earlier popular belief, birds seen onboard freighters on Lake Superior were individual waifs, birds lost from their usual flight patterns. Perkins proved this incorrect. In fact, he found that multitudes of birds migrate across Lakes Superior, Michigan, Erie and Huron. Perkins discovered 200 species using 17 distinct flyways across the aforementioned lakes. How wonderful it would have been to be aboard one of those cruises.
After hours of searching for research or even a mere mention of Perkin’s studies, I find no acknowledgements of his discoveries other than a brief description of what he did. There appear to be no mention of his years of data. His treasure of decades of observations seems to have become the junk of the next generations. We all hope that does not happen to our collections of data or our chronicles of discovery.
A 2003 paper in AOU’s journal Auk, authored by Robert Diehl and others, employing radar in their study, found birds commonly migrate over the Great Lakes. He emailed that he did not become aware of Perkins until after publication of his papers on migration in the Great Lakes region and sent copies of a two-part story ran in Audubon Magazine in 1964 and 1965. As mentioned, I had read those accounts by Perkins when the 10 pages of print became available, but I forgot most of the content. Unfortunately, the information in those articles are brief summaries, partly due to constraints for space by the magazine and limited in detail due to the non-scientific readership of the magazine. Data and its analysis belong in a different sort of publication. Nonetheless, the articles are engaging, tantalizing, informative and well worth the read.
Birds are probably not migrating today in July, as we give full attention while traversing Duluth, Minnesota. Road construction is in process, signage is barely up to date, and a missing or wrongly placed sign causes us to make a wrong turn. Eventually, we free ourselves from the confusing mixture of old and new byways. The last time I had been in Duluth was on a plane full of mostly blond passengers flying from Washington, DC. Since then, 1990, the populations of Duluth and twin city, Superior, Wisconsin, have hardly grown. I wonder why there is so much construction of the highway infrastructure.
From the southern tip of Lake Superior, the western most shore of the Great Lakes and the city of Duluth, we continue on US 2, angling northwest and cross the Mississippi River at Grand Rapids. The mighty river is narrower than at our crossing in southern Louisiana in March. A nearly forty-mile drive takes us across the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe – Leech Lake Band Reservation, much of which is in Chippewa National Forest. There are opportunities along the way for camping, but we complete our 150 miles drive from Duluth to Bemidji and call it a day. We will soon be leaving lake country.