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Shagawa River: Exploring – Observing – Reporting

by Bill Tefft

February 2024 ends and March will provide new experiences. In last week’s Ely Echo, Shagawa River was explored, daily observations reviewed and some of the February Shagawa occurrences reported. Many people pass, find parking on the side road, walk down to the river’s edge, take photos, hike the railroad grade, and then share their experiences with others.

During the weekend of the Great Backyard Bird Count, there were often waterfowl on the water upstream from the highway crossing. Trumpeter swan families were visible on warmer days. Then they were absent when an icy cover formed after a minus 10-degree night.

A swan family of two adults with one young born the previous year had arrived a week earlier and spent the days feeding in the open water and resting on the shoreline snow-covered ice. They probably moved farther upstream to open waters still open below some rapids.

However, the immature swan was noticed on Friday, Feb 16 on the unfrozen water below the culverts downstream on the east side of the highway. In the small pool of water that collects before flowing on through the black ash forest heading downstream, the swan stayed through the weekend. Since swans require a stretch of open water for a running lift-off and flight, observers wondered how the swan would get out of the pool.

No signs of injury were visible. Maybe the swan just dropped down into this open water basin when the river upstream froze over. It was observed feeding, preening, resting and not in immediate danger. Would it discover the need to walk up out of that basin to get back to the open river that had opened again on the other side of the highway?

Did this swan need some assistance? DNR Conservation Officer Sean Williams was contacted to report the situation and since it was a holiday on Monday, he planned to check on the swan and contact the local MN DNR Wildlife Manager and local Wildlife Rehabilitator.

On Monday morning I went back to the river which had become one of my locations for reporting birds over the Great Backyard Bird Count. The swan wasn’t in the pool. I walked the snowmobile trail (former railroad grade) downstream along the river searching for it. Seeing no swan, I went down and examined the edge of the pool and there was no swan alive or dead.

Later that morning, Sean called and described what he found while also visiting the river earlier. Although there was very little snow, he was able to locate swan tracks coming up out of the basin and along the highway guard rail on one side of the pool. I went back to the river and took photos of Sean and swan tracks along the guard rails on both sides of the highway.

On Tuesday, Feb 20, I talked with someone who was looking at six swans and some goldeneyes on the now open water of the river. As we watched other swans swam into view from the bend up the river until the swans numbered eleven.

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Newspapers are one of many ways to report the happenings that occur in places while exploring the Arrowhead Region from home or elsewhere. There have been many people in the Ely Field Naturalists Google Group that report and discuss their experiences and thoughts throughout the year. February and March seasonal transitions are especially rich in activity from seasonal changes. You can contact me ( if you would like more information about the Ely Field Naturalists. We strive to increase participation, enjoyment, learning, sharing and study to contribute to appreciation of the environment around us. Stop in and join us on Saturday Mornings from 9 p.m. until noon at the Naturalists Resource Center at 41 E. Chapman Street in Ely.

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