Birds of the Sioux Hustler

The SIOUX HUSTLER HIKING TRAIL is a backcountry backpacking trail located 17 miles down the Echo Trail from Buyck. The hiking trail starts just east of the Little Indian Sioux River. The 35 mile hiking trail makes a loop through the BWCAW taking you by the Devil’s Cascade water-feature and many small inland lakes including Hustler Lake, Range Line Lake and Shell Lake. It’s a beautiful trail that takes 3-4 days to complete its total loop. Many people take a day hike to Devil’s Cascade which is 6 miles (one way) from the trail-head. You need a day use permit to take the day trip and an overnight permit for camping. A topographic map and compass are a necessity. This is a challenging trail which can be littered with deadfalls and altered landscapes caused by Beaver activity. In fact there has been some pretty extensive changes in the last couple of years when you get in about 3/4 of a mile. The Beavers have flooded an area where the trail used to go. You have to go around the newly formed Beaver pond to find the trail on the other side. This gives one a good idea of what the trail might look like up ahead.

I hiked the trail a couple of falls ago and I remembered the thick alders that line the trail in the beginning. At that time I thought to myself that I must return in the Spring to see what birds like this habitat. I returned there several times this year and I was not disappointed.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

I was thrilled to immediately find a singing Tennessee Warbler, Vermivora peregrina, right by the trailhead. This diminutive Warbler does not have a very good name – they have nothing to do with the state of Tennessee other than migrating through there in the Spring and Fall. Although, their taxonomic name makes sense, Vermivora means tree-dweller and peregrina translates to wanderer or foreigner. Tennessee Warblers winter in Central and South America  and breed mostly in Canada. Dr. Alexander Skutch (co-author of the guide book Birds of Costa Ricaand respected conservationist in Costa Rica) suggested they should be called “Coffee Warbler” due to their affinity for coffee plantations (keep on buying that shade-grown coffee!). Here in the far northern part of Minnesota we are at the southern edge of their breeding territory. They love Alder swales, which we have in abundance around here.

Tennessee Warbler, Vermivora peregrina

Tennessee Warbler, Vermivora peregrina

This Warbler is really tiny just measuring 4.75 inches from beak to tail with a 7.75 inch wingspan. But for such a small bird he has a huge voice! This Warbler looks very similar to some of the Vireos that are in the area and they can sometimes be confused with Philadelphia and Warbling Vireos. They can be differentiated by their bill shape and of course their voice. A Tennessee Warbler has a sharp pointy beak, while the Vireo will have hooked tip on the upper mandible of their beak.

Sedge Wren

Sedge Wren

The Sioux-Hustler hiking trail runs along a big wetland giving good views of the surrounding sedge grasses. Here the feisty Sedge Wren has set up shop. Their sharp staccato song is loud – it’s amazing to find such a tiny birds making such large noises! There are two Wrens that may nest in the wetlands of Minnesota  – they are the Sedge and the Marsh Wren. The most reliable way to tell the two apart is by their voice. Also Sedge Wrens will not reside in the Cattails, whereas that is where you will find Marsh Wrens most times. Not too long ago they used to be called Small-billed and Long-billed Marsh Wrens. I’m glad they named the birds differently – it makes much more sense this way – it’d be extremely difficult to try and see if the Wren had a long or short bill, if you’re lucky enough to get a good look at this shy, secretive bird.

Alder Flycatcher

Alder Flycatcher

The other numerous bird that’s here is the Alder Flycatcher. Imagine that, a bird named after the habitat where they occur! This little non-descript bird is part of a group of birds called the Empidonax Flycatchers. This group of Flycatchers look so similar to each other that the only way to tell them apart is by their song! In the fall when the birds quit singing their territorial breeding calls they are nearly impossible to identify. For now, the birds are singing and the Alder Flycatcher has been said to say “free beer, free beer”. Pretty easy phrase to remember! This bird is very similar to the Willow Flycatcher, which mainly occurs west of here, but still in Minnesota. Habitat and voice will separate the two species.

The Sioux-Hustler hiking trail is a great place to explore the varied habitat and the associated animal life that we enjoy in this part of Voyageur Country. Did I mention that this is a great area to see and hear Moose?

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