Welcome to the BWCAW blog of Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service!

See our websites at ElyOutfittingCompany.com and BoundaryWatersGuideService.com.

We are a Boundary Waters canoe trip outfitter, Quetico outfitter, and guide service in Ely, Minnesota. This Boundary Waters blog shares photos, stories, humor, skills, and naturalist insights from guiding in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

Most entries are from our founder and head guide, Jason Zabokrtsky. He is the Boundary Waters Blogger.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dragonflies Emerging From Fourtown Lake in the BWCAW

One of the great things about late spring and early summer in the Boundary Waters is the overwhelming sign of new life.  It seems everywhere you look there are birds on nests or with young in tow, flowers cover the forest floor, and insects such as these dragonflies are emerging to a new life of flight. 

We spotted a mass of hundreds of these dragonflies at the north end of Fourtown Lake in and around the reeds where the stream flows into the main lake.  These dragonflies spent possibly several years underwater in a nymph stage.  Then they crawled out of the water to a vertical surface - reads and blades of grass here.  Although they are difficult to positively ID at this stage, this dragonfly may be a member of the Baskettails genus that are known for mass emergences, a brown abdomen, and yellowish spots on their sides.  The below photo shows one of them back lit in the reads.  

The larval case that the above dragonfly is clinging to contained all of the much larger adult dragonfly body and wings earlier in the day.  It emerged from a break in the skin at the back of the head of the larval case, then pulled itself out, pumped blood into its wings to expand them, and waited for its wings to dry and its body to complete the metamorphosis.   

Although this dragonfly didn't take flight during our lunch stop, we watched a similar dragonfly emerge in our earlier campsite on Lake Agnes, and luckily caught a glimpse of its first flight.  The flight pattern looked erratic and dizzyingly loop-d-loop for the first twenty feet, and then it seemed to get the feel of flying and buzzed back into the woods. 

After dragonflies take flight, the empty larval shell, such as the one below, clings to the plant, rock or occasional camp utensil bag until the wind or rain knocks them loose.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Turtles are Venturing into BWCA Campsites to Lay Eggs Now

We found this snapping turtle in a BWCAW campsite on the Kawishiwi River recently.  The snapping turtles and painted turtles are venturing onto land right now to dig holes and lay their eggs.  We were surprised to see that this turtle had selected the area immediately adjacent to the campfire grate for its place to lay eggs.  The same campsite had a painted turtle digging about fifteen feet on the other side of the fire grate.  Snapping turtle eggs will hatch after two to three months.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father and Son Boundary Waters Canoe Trip

I spent a week in the BWCAW with Gary and his 18-year-old son, Blake, this month.  As a young Boy Scout in 1970, Gary traveled the Boundary Waters.  His youthful canoe trip experience really left a life-long impression on him.  He wanted his son to have a similar opportunity to explore the wilderness as a young man.

We planned a significant travel route for the trip - one that would challenge them physically and include travel on a variety of small, medium, and large lakes.  The trip launched at the Moose River North (Entry Point 16) landing, and ended six days, and fifty miles, later at the Mudro Lake entry point.  One of the highlights of the route is spectacular Curtain Falls (below) on the international border.

June is a glorious time to be in the Boundary Waters.  It is a time of much new growth and change.  The symbol of change is similar to that of a young man transitioning from life at home to moving away for college.

One of the intriguing things about traveling at this time of year is that you see plants at all stages of development.  Gary and Blake enjoyed learning about the various plants of the area.  Depending on soil types and locations, we saw many plants at different stages of development.  For example, we passed many Clintonia plants (below).  We saw them just poking through the ground, at a stage of larger leaves, and also with their yellowish-green flowers.  Later this summer the flower will be replaced by a blue berry.

Although the berry is not edible, the young leaves are edible and taste a lot like cucumber.  Blake is a fan of the Survivor Man television show and enjoyed learning about edible wilderness plants, and eating them.

Another one of the interesting plants we saw at various stages of growth is the sarsaparilla plant.  This is the "not poison ivy" plant.  It is often confused with poison ivy because it has three leaves at the end of its stems.  When it is young, the leaves have a reddish hue, and then they become green, and grow interesting spheres of flowers (below).

And the ferns ranged from the stage of youthful, unfurling fiddleheads to showing as fully opened.

We also saw a variety of spectacular wildflowers, including these bunchberry plants, now showing their white flowers....

...and these pink ladyslippers...

...and this columbine.

The trip involved a significant amount of portaging, and the related time for looking at the plants along the trail.  But, we also spent a significant amount of time ramping up North Woods fishing skills, and wetting lines.  Gary didn't catch a fish on the 1970 trip, and we were determined to improve on that this time around.  We did.  Blake pulled in this 18.5" lunker smallmouth bass on Iron Lake with a number 8 Rapala Shad Rap in perch color, and a trophy 27.5" walleye on Crooked Lake trolling another Rapala.

These deeper, larger lakes still held cold water temps of only about 54-55 degrees.  The shallow bays and smaller lakes held warmer temps up to about 64 degrees.  On the larger lakes, the smallmouth were deeper and not close to shore on their beds.  The cold temps made for refreshing swims. Here are Gary and Blake at the north end of Friday Bay on Crooked Lake.  The swim didn't last long.

In addition to the fish, we met some interesting critters.  For example, we watched a muskrat swim under our canoe, and Blake went toe to toe with a grouse on a portage trail.  Blake first thought the bird was going to attack him.  She was in defender mode - defending her nest of eggs laid only a few feet off the portage trail between Bullet and Moosecamp Lakes.

We also paddled past this Canada Goose laying on her eggs atop an old beaver lodge.

A trip in the Boundary Waters is a special thing for parents to share with their children.  A father-son experience, such as this one I had the privilege of guiding, can be a powerful and life-changing event.  It can develop confidence and trust in one another, and provide a platform for continued sharing.  It is certainly a life event that will be relived and retold at family events over the years to come.

Friday, June 3, 2011

"Northern Exposure" in Real Life: Moose in Ely

Many might remember television's Northern Exposure, with its wandering moose in the opening credits. Ely has its own moose, seen earlier this week walking the streets of downtown.  The yellowish sign in the background with the arched lettering is Britton's Cafe on Chapman Street in downtown.  Photo by Amy Kireta.