Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 6: Sax-Zim Bog-Golly We’re Back!

In 2022 we spent a month at the Sax-Zim Bog in Northern Minnesota. This 300+ sq mile area is home to a wide variety of winter birds and animals including great gray owls. We were incredibly fortunate with our sightings that month with 25 great grays, 8 barred owls, 4 snowy owls, one northern hawk owl, 8 bald eagles, two pine martens, multiple porcupines, a bobcat, a red fox, and many of the regular winter birds. 

pine marten (February 2022)

We knew we could never top our 2022 trip and debated whether to include a stop on our way home this year. But since we were practically driving right by, we booked a week at an Airbnb in Hibbing. Kalen’s place was perfect:  roomy and comfortable with everything we needed, plus conveniently located to both downtown Hibbing and the Sax-Zim Bog.

our Home Sweet Home for the week

You can find Kalen’s Airbnb listing here: Lovely 2 bedroom ground level rental unit – Apartments for Rent in Hibbing, Minnesota, United States – Airbnb

According to everyone we spoke to, great gray owl sightings were down this year. The resident owls were all seasoned hunters, snow totals less than half of what they should be in January, and temperatures warmer than normal.

much less snow and warmer temps than normal for January

This combination allowed the owls to catch their voles at the night, with no need to hunt alongside the road in the daytime. Owls were seen sporadically pre-dawn or at dusk, in extremely low light conditions. Of course, I was optimistic that we would see at least one before our week was over.

cars waiting for a GGO along Hwy 7 at sunset

On our first day, we did see a northern hawk owl, so far away it was only an owl-shaped outline even with my fully zoomed Nikon P900. Some people had blazed a trail through the snow to get closer and in doing so flushed her even further from view.

nothing more than an owl-shaped outline!

As fortunate as we were in 2022, we kept coming up owl-less on this visit. Not to be discouraged, we focused on some of the smaller bird species that had eluded us last year or that we wanted to improve upon.

snow buntings

There was a lovely flock of snow buntings at the gravel pits on Admiral Road and we caught them one morning in the bright sunshine.

snow buntings

TG was able to capture some beautiful images of a boreal chickadee at the Arkola Road feeders – another species that eluded him last year.

boreal chickadee

He also managed to catch a Canada Jay stretching a glob of peanut butter like saltwater taffy.

Canada jay with peanut butter!

I was able to spy both male and female evening grosbeaks together at the feeders on Admiral Road.

male and female evening grosbeaks

That was three new bird species for TG and two for me:  not bad for a week with “not much happening!”

freight train on Hwy 7

It snowed all day on Monday, January 16, and we woke up to six inches of new snow on Tuesday morning. We followed the snowplows through the bog,

following behind a snowplow

And accidentally flushed a barred owl in the pre-dawn light.

barred owl in flight

The fresh snow seemed to have picked up sightings and we caught several of the winter birds at the feeders around the Bog:

Black-capped chickadees,

black-capped chickadee

Evening and pine grosbeaks,

female pine grosbeak & male evening grosbeak

Multiple species of woodpeckers,

hairy woodpecker

And much to our delight the return of the northern hawk owl!

northern hawk owl

After spending some time with the hawk owl, we decided to head home but first detoured past the spot where we saw the barred owl earlier that morning. Imagine our surprise when she returned while we were chatting with two other men who happened to stop by at that same time.

barred owl

It was just the four of us, and she stayed long enough for us to snap a few photos before once again disappearing into the woods.

she patiently sat while we snapped a few pics and then disappeared into the woods

We decided to leave Hibbing a day early to shave a few hours off our drive on Friday. Wednesday the 18th was our last full day in the Bog. We were headed towards the Admiral Road snow buntings when something big caught our eye:  no sooner had we grabbed our cameras when she nose-dived into the snow and disappeared. It was a great gray owl. No photos but a thrill nonetheless!

With that encouraging spy we agreed that, if we could get packed and ready, we would make one last run out to the Bog early Thursday morning. We left the house at 7 am, feeling drawn towards Overton Road where GGOs had recently been spotted. Overton Road is in the western section of the Bog, not heavily trafficked, and a long drive from most of the areas we had frequented over the week.

white-tailed deer on Overton Road

No sooner had we turned down the road when we got a message: “GGO on Overton. Look for the blue SUV.”  We were at the spot within ten minutes, the first car behind the ladies who had spied her.

great gray owl on Overton Road, January 19, 2023

We spent almost an hour with this magnificent creature, and I left crying tears of joy. A huge, heartfelt Thank You to Beth and Debbie who so kindly shared this sighting with us and the handful of folks who happened to be out that early — and close by!

January 19, 2023

Great grays, also called Phantoms of the North, are the largest owls in the US, and one of the most elusive. They tend to avoid areas with people and even in places like the Sax-Zim Bog it is a treat to see one. We feel fortunate that on this short trip we were able to spy two.

January 19, 2023

Final tally for the week: two sightings of a barred owl, two sightings of the northern hawk owl, a quick look at a great gray on Admiral Road, an hour-long visit with a great gray on Overton, and multiple winter birds around the Bog.

pine grosbeaks (male & female)

“There are few guarantees in the world of birds, but if you keep an open mind and an open heart, a winter day in the Sax-Zim Bog may be frozen, but like ice cream, it’s guaranteed to be sweet.” (Laura Erickson)

January 19, 2023

You can view all of our photos from this visit at our Flickr links below:


snow buntings-DeNoiseAI-low-light-gigapixel-standard-scale-2_00x
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any to open a new tab in Flickr


Sax-Zim Bog
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any to open a new tab in Flickr

Coming Soon:  Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 7:  Eastward Home!

heading home to sunny, warm Florida!

Westward Ho(ly cow)! Episode 7: Eastward Home!

On September 18, 2022, we left Florida for a 5 1/2 -month road trip, visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, New Mexico, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, and Minnesota. It was an ambitious itinerary and we were excited about checking many “must-sees” off our bucket list.

And … we’re off! (September 18, 2022)

Sometime in December, we decided that spending two more months in the cold, northern winter would be too much.  So, we cut our month in the Sax-Zim Bog down to just a week and pointed ourselves towards home at the end of January.

by mid-December we were done with the cold and snow!

By the time we pulled into our driveway in Okeechobee, we had traveled 22,614.6 miles for 130 days, visited 19 states and two Canadian provinces. 

22,614.6 miles later we were back home (trip odometer rolled over three times) January 25, 2023

In all those miles, we sat in traffic due to an accident just once:  ironically, it was outside of Orlando on our way home, less than 100 miles from Okeechobee.

Oscar and Maddie were amazingly good road trip pups!

We stayed at seven different Airbnbs and spent 15 nights in hotels while moving from one place to the next. TG fully packed and unpacked the car sixteen times, and partially unpacked/repacked it 30 times.  

TG had the packing & unpacking puzzle down to a science!

After we returned home, someone asked, “what was your favorite sighting?”  In 4 1/2 months of favorites, that’s an impossible question. 

Instead, we’ve compiled a list of the “Best/Worst” along with a few photos.  We’ve also put together a highlights video you will find at the end of this blog.

Best Drive: The roads from Canora, Saskatchewan to Fargo, North Dakota for the beautiful landscapes and all the wildlife we saw along the way.

What is left of Arena, ND, a ghost town between Minot and Fargo, January 6, 2023

Worst Drive: Teton Pass had TG white-knuckling it while I breathed into a paper bag. (Seriously!)

Teton Pass

Best AirBnB: Our cozy home in Canora, Saskatchewan. It had everything we needed and was laid out perfectly, with a fenced-in yard for Oscar and Maddie.

our cozy home in Canora, Saskatchewan

Worst AirBnB: None! They were all great!

Best Hotel: Hyatt House, Minot, North Dakota. Full size kitchens and complimentary washers & dryers!

Worst Hotel: Days Inn, Topeka, KS. Don’t even ask.

Best Meal: Huevos rancheros at the El Corral Café in Corona, New Mexico

Huevos Rancheros at the El Corral Cafe in Corona, New Mexico

Worst Meal: Thanksgiving, 2022. We wanted fancy cheeses but all we could find in Socorro were Kaukauna cheese balls.

Thanksgiving dinner, 2022

Funniest Moment: See Worst Meal. I asked the salesperson if they had any brie and she replied, “is that a type of alcohol?”

Scariest Moment: Driving the Norris-Canyon Road in Yellowstone National Park on a sheet of solid ice.

the icy, snowy roads through Yellowstone National Park

Favorite Sighting: Huck, the huge grizzly bear we spotted crossing the Snake River while driving the Rockefeller Parkway between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. “It’s a bear!!!! In the water!!!”

Huck, named by the locals for the nearby Huckleberry Mountain

Favorite Landscape: Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Favorite Night Sky: The Northern Lights in the wee hours of January 4, 2023

Around 2:00 am, January 4, 2023

Most Memorable: Our week at the McReynolds Blacktail Cabins in Grand Teton

a view of the Grand Tetons from our shower!

Our Bucket List:

Grizzly and black bears √

black bear, Grand Teton National Park

Moose √

moose bull and cow, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features √

Old Faithful timelapse, Yellowstone National Park

Bear and bison jams in Yellowstone √

bison jam, Yellowstone National Park

You can read all about our visit to Yellowstone in Episode 1: Walk on the Wild Side


Mormon Row √

Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Milky Way over the T.A. Moulton Barn at Mormon Row √

the Milky Way over the T.A. Moulton Barn, Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton landscapes √

Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park

You can read all about our visit to Grand Teton in Episode 2: The Grand Splurge


Bighorn sheep √

bighorn rams, Badlands National Park

You can read all about our visit to the Badlands in Episode 3.5: The Big Surprise


Northern lights √

Canora, Saskatchewan January 4, 2023

You can read all about our trip to Saskatchewan in Episode 4: Christmas Lights, Northern Style


Saw-whet owls √

Northern saw-whet owl, Fargo, North Dakota

You can read all about our trip to Fargo in Episode 5: Saw-Whet, Say What?!?


Great gray owls √

great gray owl, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

You can read all about our trip to the Sax-Zim Bog in Episode 6: Sax-Zim Bog-Golly, We’re Back!


We also had some delightfully unexpected surprises. The first was when I had taken a turn driving and said, “I’ll just go to the next rest area.” Little did we know that rest area was home to the beautiful sculpture, “Dignity.”

the 50ft high Dignity (a.k.a. Dignity of Earth & Sky) sculpture on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River near Chamberlain, South Dakota

Both TG and I had the opportunity to meet up with several schoolmates along the way.

Welcome sign for TG at his grade school friend’s pub in Lawrence, KA

And many surprises in New Mexico where we spent a lot of time driving around the state during our month-long stay:

Gallup and the El Rancho Hotel

El Rancho Hotel, Gallup, New Mexico

Valley of Fires

Valley of Fires, Carrizozo, New Mexico

Gila National Forest

Gila National Forest, New Mexico

Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande Gorge, Taos, New Mexico

The Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque

Rattlesnake Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico

You can read all about our trip to New Mexico in Episode 3: Back to the Bosque


We were also smitten with the rolling hills in both South and North Dakota and the beauty of Saskatchewan including the hoarfrost, all of the wildlife we saw while driving around, the “prairie sentinels” that dot the landscape, and the delicious Ukrainian food!

Ukrainian skuffles (a type of tiny cinnamon roll) O.M.G.

And a few final stats:

Windshields replaced: 1

nice chip in the windshield driving through Albuquerque, New Mexico

Times stuck in snow: 0

waiting for the roads to open after someone else went off the road, Yellowstone National Park

Times car would not start: 0

Oil Changes and tire rotations: 2 (Bozeman, MT & Albuquerque, NM)

Stickers on car from places visited: several dozen

we were planning to take them off when we got home but have grown to like them!

Refrigerator magnets: several dozen

quite the collection!

New T-shirts: a dozen or so

Westward Ho(lights)! video from our trip (click to open a new tab in Vimeo):


When we left Okeechobee back in September, we said to each other “at the end of this trip, we’re either going to arrive back home saying NEVER again or let’s GO again!”

Stayed tuned … we’re already planning our next trip!

22,000-mile punchiness: “Take a little trip, take a little trip with me-ee”