We set up our camp in the same location as last year. Ty Smedes, wildlife photographer and writer wanted to be near the loon nesting sites he studied, recorded, and photographed in the past. Mike Delaney and I wanted to be near the good fishing spots we found in previous years. This was our fourth trip to Ensign Lake, twenty miles east of Ely, Minnesota in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. This year Mike’s son, 29 year old Connor, joined us this year. He was eager to camp anywhere there was good fishing. We were pleased to have him with us this on this trip; he volunteered to portage the heavy aluminum canoes. Our chosen campsite was on a large oval shaped bay that had two narrow openings. One opening was on the south end and the other was on the northeast shore line. At each entrance there was a large dead tree that frequently served as an observation perch for a bald eagle. The wild critters that lived at the campsite seemed to be familiar with campers- a pair of chipmunks would scurry between our feet while we were eating, looking for crumbs of food that we might have dropped. A male Yellow Warbler was constantly singing in the nearby trees and would frequently fly under our awning crossing the campsite from one tree to another. It was hunting in the trees for insects and caterpillars. He seemed especially interested in the little green inchworms; I saw two in its beak at one time. At the open edge of the campsite there was a cluster of small pin cherry trees. Cedar Wax-wings would feed on the cherries in late afternoon. The chipmunks also liked the pin cherries. I sampled a few of them- they had a sweet-tart flavor. However, I liked the taste of the wild blueberries better. We picked a pint of them one morning and added them to our breakfast pancakes. While we were fishing we were able to hear and observe other kinds of wildlife. We recorded thirty-one species of birds during our five day camping trip. The songs of the white-throated sparrow and the song sparrow served as constant background music as we fished around the lake. The most interesting bird that I saw was an American Bittern. It is in the heron family, a bird that I have only seen twice before. When I was fishing close to shore it startled me when it flew out of a bed of tall weeds, squawking loudly. We discovered a pair of adult loons with two babies. We observed them for some time watching the adults dive and then surface with food for their young. The babies would quickly slurp down the minnows but the crayfish were a struggle for them to eat. Twice we saw a pair of otters swimming near the south entrance of the bay and late every evening a pair of beaver could be seen swimming in the open water, sometimes they were carrying freshly cut birch branches back to their lodge.
One morning when Ty and I were fishing we saw a mink leave a small rock outcropping and it swam toward our canoe as it headed across the lake. The mink did not seem concerned about the large “silver log” floating on the water. It came about ten feet from our canoe, so close that I could see its shiny black eyes. It finally dove and surfaced on the shore of another island about fifty feet away. It walked on the rocks a few feet, shook the water out it fur, and slowly walked into the brush.
Besides observing the birds and wildlife, we caught a lot of fish. We kept enough for two meals and released the rest unharmed. It was a great week of fishing in some of the cleanest water in the USA, located in the wilderness of Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. We are looking forward to returning next summer.