The Nature Conservancy is celebrating this annual pageant of nature with a listing of the “Top Five Must-See Migrations” in Minnesota. The Conservancy is releasing similar lists in states across the country.
“The journeys of wild animals are a source of inspiration and remind us that we need to protect nature at both the local and global scale,” said Peggy Ladner, director of The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota.
“The most visible spring migrants in Minnesota are birds,” Ladner added. “Our state is a stopover point for many of these birds that overwinter to our south and nest to our north. They need suitable habitat not only in Minnesota but also at all their destinations during their seasonal journeys.
“There are many excellent birdwatching locations throughout the state and we’d like to share a few of the best places we know of within the state this spring to see waterfowl, raptors, cranes, waders and songbirds.”
The Top Five Must-See Migrations for Minnesota are:
Ducks and geese are among the earliest of Minnesota’s spring migrants, and their numbers can be impressive. Lakes that open early in the season, such as Lakes Okabena, Ocheda and Bella near Worthington in southwestern Minnesota, attract 25 or more different species of waterfowl including concentrations of snow and Canada geese that can number in the thousands. About 100 miles further north in the Minnesota River valley, Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area is a great destination for watching waterfowl and other water birds. White pelicans and cormorants that arrive here in the spring stay to form huge nesting colonies. The Mississippi River in the southeastern corner of the state is another good location for watching waterfowl, especially along Lake Pepin, a widening of the river that forms behind its confluence with Wisconsin’s Chippewa River. The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge attracts waterfowl and overlooks near Minneiska and Brownsville provide good vantage points for watching the refuge’s birds. Come back to the refuge in November to witness the thousands of tundra swans that stop here during their fall migration.
The Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota is also a good location to watch bald eagles in early spring. Many eagles overwinter there, and those birds are joined by additional eagles returning from points further south. Look for eagles perched in trees by the river shore or flying over the river in search of fish. Wabasha is home to the National Eagle Center that offers interpretive programs about the river’s eagles. With the arrival of warmer weather, the eagles disperse to their nesting sites throughout Minnesota.
Sandhill cranes return to Minnesota early in spring, and are among the most spectacular of the state’s spring migrants. They are conspicuous large birds, standing five feet tall with seven foot wingspans that make loud bugling calls. Sandhill cranes nest in wetlands in the state, notably at Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge near Little Falls. Other good locations to watch cranes are the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area in Anoka County, and The Nature Conservancy’s Glacial Ridge Project in northwestern Minnesota.
Most shorebirds arrive in Minnesota in April and can be found anywhere there are exposed mudflats, including wet depressions along rural roads that may last only a few days and are commonplace in the spring. More predictable locations that are good for shorebirds are Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge near Detroit Lakes and Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge near Thief River Falls– Agassiz is also known for its water birds and waterfowl. Salt Lake Wildlife Management Area on the South Dakota border in Lac qui Parle County near Marietta is well-known for its shorebirds, especially for avocets, phalaropes and other species that are uncommon in Minnesota and attracted to this unusual alkali lake. Other shorebirds that can be seen in April include many kinds of sandpipers, plovers, and godwits that can be found at Nature Conservancy preserves such as Chippewa Prairie and Plover Prairie near Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area, and on lands being restored as part of the Glacial Ridge Project in Polk County.
The earliest migrating warblers arrive in Minnesota in mid-April, but warmer weather in May brings the greatest number and variety. Exactly when and where varies with the timing of the season – warblers eat insects and so depend upon the warm weather that makes their prey abundant. Wooded areas are the best locations for warblers and isolated patches of forest in agricultural areas can concentrate the birds. A good location for warblers in the Minnesota River valley is The Nature Conservancy’s Ottawa Bluffs preserve near St. Peter or the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge stretching southwest from Bloomington. Nerstand Big Woods State Park, which the Conservancy helped protect, is another great location for spotting warblers. In north central Minnesota, visit the Conservancy’s Lake Alexander Preserve. Perhaps the most popular spot for warbler watching is Frontenac State Park, where mixed flocks of many kinds can be found in the woods near Lake Pepin. Many different warblers visit the state: blackburnian, magnolia, black-throated green, blackpoll, and chestnut-sided are just a few examples of these colorful woodland birds. Some nest in the state, typically in boreal forests, and Conservancy preserves in the Arrowhead region are good places to look for these birds. The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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