The Margherita Preserve-Audubon Prairie is part of a network of preserves where the greater prairie chicken continues to live. It was dubbed one of the "Unlucky 13" grassland birds by The Nature Conservancy because its numbers have dwindled. Its populations in many parts of the United States are imperiled. Minnesota's populations of this bird, however, have been growing partially due to prairie restoration efforts.
The Conservancy, together with the Audubon Society, preserved and protected this land, which is located on the edge of the ancient Lake Agassiz. The shoreline of this glacial lake flanks the eastern edge of the preserve. The property, which gently slopes westward, is poorly drained with fine, silty soil.
Southwestern from Moorhead, drive east on U.S. Highway 10 for about 25 miles until you reach Hawley. Turn right on County Road 31 and drive five miles south to the intersection with Township Road 119. Turn west and travel three miles to the center of the east boundary of the preserve. The last one-quarter mile of the township road is in poor driving condition.
In some places, water seeps out through the sandy soils. In other places, it pools in shallow depressions. This mosaic of differing water regimes and soil conditions provide certain conditions that favor dry, mesic and wet prairie and aspen woodland.
In the mesic prairie area, for example, there is mat muhly, gayfeather and Canada goldenrod. Drier soil brings porcupine grass and pale-spike lobelia. Big bluestem, narrow-leaved meadowsweet and mountain mint dominate the wet mesic prairie, followed by fowl manna grass and fen muhly.
In wet prairie areas, reedgrass and prairie cordgrass are abundant, along with several sedges. In preserve swales where water often remains into summer, smooth scouring rush, cottongrass, dock and western water plantain can be found.
Margherita Preserve-Audubon Prairie is a place where migratory and rare prairie birds can be seen in abundance: greater prairie chicken, upland sandpiper, marbled godwit, bobolink, western meadowlark, brown-headed cowbird, savannah, grasshopper sparrow and clay-colored sparrow, eastern kingbird, least flycatcher, house wren, sedge wren, common yellowthroat and LeConte's sparrow.
More than a dozen butterfly species have been identified on the preserve including the common sulphur, silver-bordered fritillary, meadow fritillary, great spangled fritillary, monarch, Edwards inornate ringlet and the wood nymph. Butterflies seen less often on the preserve are the dusted skipper and the Melissa blue. The federally endangered poweshiek skipper has not been documented here in recent years.
Moose frequently feed in the brush-filled wet areas of the preserve..
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
Margherita Preserve-Audubon Prairie is part of a larger project where a diverse group of partners have come together to promote landscape-scale conservation. Research shows that large, protected landscapes can support the animals and plants needed to create a healthy ecosystem.
Together, this partnership creates the Bluestem Prairie Conservation Action Area, a 7,200-acre mosaic of prairie, wetlands and riverine woodlands. The Conservancy's partners include the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Prairie Restorations, Inc., a company specializing in restoring native plant communities.
Margherita Preserve-Audubon Prairie sits atop an ancient beach ridge. The topography and hydrology of the site provides a broad range of plant communities, including rare dry prairie and hydrologically unique fens.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
From caragana to Russian olive, Conservancy staff have removed exotic trees from the preserve. These efforts have opened up the prairie landscape and improved nesting habitat for the greater prairie chicken and other native grassland birds. These birds use this land to nest and raise their young.
Controlling invasive species is an important part of the work the Conservancy does here. To help stop the spread of leafy spurge, small beetles have been released that prey upon the root reserves and leaves of this exotic plant.
The Conservancy also uses prescribed fire at this preserve, which helps minimize the amount of brush and enhances the vigor of native prairie plants.