Biking & Boreal Birding

Massawepie Mire & Beyond

Joan Collins

A great way to explore and bird Massawepie Mire is via bicycle. I recently biked 14 miles round trip through the mire and beyond on a beautiful fall afternoon.

Trailhead for Massawepie Mire

Most of the route is along an old railroad bed that is now a dirt road. There is only one place where the railroad ties stick up enough to make the ride bumpy, and it is a short walk to get around them.

Dirt road trail at Massawepie Mire

Biking at the Mire

The first 1.5 miles through the open bog is very straight. Finches, including Purple Finches, Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches, could be heard and observed throughout the afternoon.

Just before the bridge, over the South Branch of the Grass River, I spotted a Snow Bunting foraging near a Ruffed Grouse in the dirt road. Snow Buntings nest in the high arctic and move south into our area in the fall and winter.

Snow Bunting at Massawepie Mire

While observing the beautiful Snow Bunting, a flock of vocalizing Pine Siskins landed near me.

Pine Siskin peering down at Massawepie Mire

Bridge Over the South Branch of the Grass River

The bridge over the South Branch of the Grass River is an open, scenic spot to take a break. Strangely enough, the bridge was covered with ladybugs. As I stood on the bridge to admire the views, ladybugs climbed on me too! Grays Jays could be heard vocalizing along the river.

Bridge over the South Branch of the Grass River at Massawepie Mire

View from the bridge over the South Branch of the Grass River

Close Encounter with a Snowshoe Hare

After crossing the river, more birds were heard, so I stopped. Glancing back toward the bridge, I spotted an animal running toward me. Binoculars revealed a Snowshoe Hare, just beginning to transition to white from its summer brown color, hopping in my direction! It finally saw me and turned around. Biking back across the bridge, I spotted the hare on a downed tree along the river. There have been many times, almost always when I am alone, when I have been able to get very close to an animal in the wild. Crouching low to the ground to photograph the hare, I kept moving closer. Staying very quiet and still, it seemed fine with my presence. Midday lighting is usually not good for photography, but I was so close to the hare, that the photos came out nice.

Snowshoe Hare at Massawepie Mire

Snowshoe Hare at Massawepie Mire

Snowshoe Hare at Massawepie Mire

This long, close encounter with the Snowshoe Hare was a highlight of the trip. Leaving the hare to its preening, I continued the bike ride.

Dirt road trail at Massawepie Mire

In an area past a sandpit, where rare Spruce Grouse can sometimes be found, two Boreal Chickadees were heard. Another Gray Jay called.

Continuing on, I spotted yet another Snow Bunting by a Ruffed Grouse. Many Ruffed Grouse were encountered along the bike ride with 12 tallied during the afternoon!

Ruffed Grouse

Two more Gray Jays were found in a boreal area before Silver Brook. They came out to the dirt road curious about my presence as they foraged.

Gray Jay

Silver Brook, which is about 3 miles in along the trail, is another scenic place to take a break.

Grass River Flow

After leaving Silver Brook, the dirt road continues through boreal and mixed forests. Eventually, the Grass River Flow can be observed to the right.

Trail at Massawepie Mire

Grass River Flow

At about the 5 mile point along the trail, a metal gate is found. (Between the trailhead gate and this gate 5 miles in, stay on the main dirt road - any side roads are on private property owned by the Grass River Club.)

Gate 5 miles in on the trail through Massawepie Mire

I continued beyond the gate staying on the main road. A large intersection with signs for snowmobilers is found not long after leaving the gated area.

One of the signs at an intersection of trails

Trail intersection sign

There is an option to go left or continue straight. I continued straight (toward Shurtleff) for a short distance and then encountered lovely, open views of the Grass River Flow to the right. There is a bridge that crosses the outlet of the flow with several small waterfalls. On the hill before the bridge, a Pileated Woodpecker called, and then a Black-backed Woodpecker called as it flew toward me. I photographed this female Black-backed Woodpecker as it foraged just a few feet away.

Female Black-backed Woodpecker near the Grass River Flow outlet

Heading down to the bridge, the views of the flow are beautiful.

View of the Grass River Flow from the bridge over the outlet

After crossing the bridge, head uphill to another gate. From this gate, you can see Route 3, but the gate is as far as you can go. The small grassy area from the gate to the highway is private property.

Heading West

Biking back to the snowmobile intersection, I took the turn west where you can eventually intersect the highway. This section of dirt road has some small to moderate hills and parallels the Grass River. There was a huge glacial erratic boulder right in the middle of the river.

Glacial erratic boulder in the Grass River

Along the route, there are signs for local businesses.

Sign for the Thirsty Moose Pub and Grub

Sign for Seveys Point

Unlimited Options

I biked a couple miles, but the light was fading, so I turned around before intersecting Route 3. The dirt roads in this area are all open for biking/hiking/skiing/snowmobiling and there are unlimited options! There are circular routes between the Massawepie and Cranberry Lake areas, but unfortunately, no maps other than topo maps to help with navigation.

Back on the main dirt road once again, I took a break at the bridge over the South Branch of the Grass River. A large flock of approximately 50 Common Grackles were heard and observed heading south along the river.

Continuing back across the open mire, a foraging woodpecker was heard in a stand of coniferous trees. It was another female Black-backed Woodpecker.

The afternoon had been yet another exciting adventure at Massawepie Mire observing boreal birds and other wildlife in a beautiful setting that is always hard to leave!

If you'd like to explore Massawepie Mire, whether on bike or foot, there are great places in nearby Tupper Lake to find delicious food and comfortable lodging.

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