Bird watching

Bird and wildlife watching

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Mille Lacs Kathio State Park

Scout for black terns on Ogechie Lake and red-winged blackbirds in the vast cattail marsh that lies between Shakopee and Onamia Lakes. Forest songbirds are abundant–watch for indigo buntings, Baltimore orioles, American redstarts, black-capped chickadees, red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches, fox and white-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, pine and evening grosbeaks, common redpolls, pine siskins, American goldfinches, purple finches and red-headed, red-bellied, downy, hairy and pileated woodpeckers. Don’t be surprised if you scare up ruffed grouse while walking in the woods. During most of the year the best way to see animals is to drive slowly through the park at dawn or dusk. Look for deer along meadow edges and porcupines lumbering across the road. Black bears are common, but tend to be reclusive during the park’s busy times. Although beavers are not often seen, you might notice their lodges and chiselings. In autumn scan the skies for winged migrants, the forest floor for tracks, tree bark for deer rubs and sheltered spots for critters basking in the waning heat of the season. Climb the observation tower for a panoramic view of the spectacular, color-splashed foliage. Look for footprints, scat, wing marks and bedding sites in the snow. Stop by the park’s visitor center where wildlife is drawn to stock feeders.

Suggested Birding Areas:

  • Lake Ogechie Trail, heading north from main campground (trail sign next to campsite #A-4).
  • Kathio Highlands Trail, beginning at orientation Panels near park entrance.
  • Rum River Trail (Hiking Club Trail), beginning at Interpretive Center.
  • From a canoe on the Rum River. Canoe rental available at the park.

Best Viewing Times: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall

Father Hennepin State Park

Spring hikers enjoy a colorful array of wildflowers, and abundant sugar maples provide a particularly beautiful autumn surrounding. Watch for beaver, raccoon, mink and deer in the snow or soft earth, listen to squirrels and chipmunks scurry in the leaves and anticipate ruffed grouse to explode into the air as you walk the trails. You may even catch a glimpse of the albino deer. Suggested Birding Areas: Wetland area near the park entrance. Mille Lacs shoreline trails. Woodland trails.

Best Viewing Times: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall

Mille Lacs Wildlife Management Area

Much of the area’s attraction is due to the variety of wildlife found here, including ruffed grouse, red-tailed and rough-legged hawks, waterfowl, owls, song and marsh birds, deer, raccoon, beaver, mink and muskrat. Check out Dewitt or Ernst Pools to see bald eagle, osprey or possibly even a trumpeter swan or frolicking otter. Listen for the low, loud musical rattle of the sandhill cranes, which nest on the unit, and look for signs of the black bear as you hike or bike the trails. Everything from woodcock to warblers to woodpeckers frequent the woods and wetlands. Be sure to ask for the bird checklist at the headquarters or view it at this site.

Best View Times: Summer and Fall
Hunting allowed. Call ahead for hunting season dates.

If you’re looking for easy bird watching, then this drive along the north shore of Lake Mille Lacs is perfect. Terns and gulls drift above the big lake and shorebirds scurry along the rocky shore. Look for eagles sitting in trees bordering the highway–at peak times there may be one every 100 yards.

You could spot ospreys, double-crested cormorants, common and Caspian terns and ring billed and herring gulls. During migration, watch for American white pelicans, tundra and trumpeter swans, as well as concentrations of common loons and Bonaparte’s gulls–particularly in the fall. The adjacent Wealthwood State Forest provides habitat for deer, black bears, gray squirrels and other small mammals, ruffed grouse and many songbirds. You might even see a sharp-tailed grouse, sandhill crane or short-eared owl. Maple, basswood and oak dominate the forested shoreline and tamarack, black spruce, aspen and black ash prevail in the lowlands. Highway 18, along the entire 76 mile shoreline, is a spectacular drive in autumn when the forest is painted in shades of rust, scarlet, pumpkin and gold. While the north shore is residential and has narrow shoulders in some places, there are some areas where you can pull over. There is also a swimming beach and a municipal park near Malmo. Parking areas and rustic roads into the interior of the Wealthwood State Forest are used by birders, hikers, loggers and hunters.

The same glacial action that produced the hills of the Mille Lacs Moraine formed two unique bolder island in the lake. Both Spirit and Hennepin Islands are devoid of soil, and provide unique bird nesting habitat. Together they are designated as the Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge as a haven for colony-nesting birds. Early recognition of the importance of protecting this fragile boulder environment for the not-so-common tern was critical. The common tern population dropped dramatically through the years, from more than 2600 nesting pairs in Minnesota to fewer than 400 pairs in 1992. Efforts to monitor and manage the population and habitat have brought some success. There are now about 800 nesting pairs and of these, a dozen or so use Spirit Island and about a hundred pairs occupy Hennepin Island. The islands comprise one of the few places in Minnesota where Caspian Terns nest, and are among only five remaining Common tern nesting areas in the state. To continue to protect these sensitive sanctuaries, marker buoys instruct people to stay 100 feet away from shoreline. But, that need not discourage you from experiencing these special assets–use binoculars or telescopes to see from a boat or the main lake shore.

Spirit Island is located just off the southwest shore of Lake Mille Lacs and Hennepin Island is located off the southeast shore.