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Birding in Northwestern Olmsted County

by Bob Ekblad


Locations
 
  1. Oxbow County Park
  2. Landfill Reservoirs
  3. Douglas Trail
  4. Oronoco County Park
  5. Northern Hills
  6. Essex Park
  7. Foster-Arend Park
  8. Evergreen Acres
Northwest Olmsted County

1 Oxbow County Park Go To Top 

Directions: West from Rochester on Hwy 14 to Byron. Turn right onto Cty 5 at the traffic light in Byron. North on Cty 5 for 3 miles to Cty 4. Make a right on Cty 4 and then a quick left onto the gravel road that goes into/through the park.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
Primary Species:  Woodland birds,
     hawks, eagles, owls, herons (green
     and great blue), winter finches
Public access trails available
Olmsted County Park

Oxbow Park is located on the South Branch of the Middle Fork of the Zumbro River (once they got to the 'Z's they must have given up trying to think of new river names). The park has several access points off of the main road. The main picnic area is located inside of the oxbow in the river. From here you can cross the foot bridge and hike the trails to the west (away from the river) or follow the main trail that follows the river up to two additional bridge crossings. 

There is also a middle bridge picnic area, probably the best general area in the park, that is found by driving further north past the day camp area and then turning left through the gate.  Take the left turn before entering the nature center and zoo parking area and proceed on down to the picnic parking area.  From here you can go several directions.  To the south the Audubon trail heads through the woods next to the river to the day camp area.  Here you can look for woodpeckers, thrushes and warblers.  To the north, you can walk the river up to and through through the campground area and on up to the third bridge (same species).  The woodsy area along the river can be quite good for warblers and Winter Wren.  To the east (back up the road) you can walk through the pine and spruce tree area.  The area south of the road has been a good place to find White-winged and Red Crossbills in the winter (in the years when they get this far south).  To the west you can take the short walk across the bridge (away from the picnickers) to look for warblers and thrushes.  Look for Winter Wren in the tangles of downed trees in the low area along the river in April. If you climb to the top of the hill you may find Scarlet Tanager or Wood Thrush. 

Also found in the park are Eastern Bluebirds, Wood Duck and several species of sparrows and warblers. Several years ago a county first record White-eyed Vireo was found here. Turkeys can be found in the park as well and are often heard calling above the day camp area. Also, in the spring, American Woodcock can be heard calling at dusk in the pine area between the road and the day camp area or they may even be found in the open grassy area near the parking lot for the middle bridge.
.Trail Map of Oxbow County Park

2 Landfill Reservoirs (East & South) Go To Top 

Directions: West from Rochester on Hwy 14.  Right on Cty 104 and then left onto 156. At the first crossroads you can either proceed straight to view the South Landfill Reservoir or you can turn right to go to the East Landfill Reservoir.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Primary Species:  waterfowl, gulls, shorebirds, herons, egrets, sparrows, blackbirds
 
Landfill Reservoirs

EAST LANDFILL RESERVOIR  - This reservoir, one of the two best birding areas in the county, is located on the east side of 70th Ave NE right across the road from the landfill property.  If you stop at the top of the hill (south west side of the reservoir) you can use the height advantage to scope the back corner pools where there are often "good birds" (not coots).  In season, you can expect to see all kinds of diving and puddle ducks, Great Blue and Green Heron,  Marsh and Sedge Wren, Red-wing and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Bobolinks, Dickcissel, and Savannah, Field and Song Sparrows. Soaring overhead you may spot a Swainson's Hawk, Bald Eagle, or a Peregrine Falcon.   Juvenile Great Horned Owls have also been seen hunting this reservoir.  In migration look for Bonaparte's,  Ring-billed, Herring and Franklin's Gulls as well as Forster's, Black, Common and Caspian Terns.  You may also find a Common Loon or Pied-billed, Horned, Red-necked, Eared or Western Grebes (Clark's have not shown up this far east in the state - yet).  This is also one of the best locations for spotting shorebirds, although the finding is tough when the water level is high.  Good finds here, just in 1998, include Black-bellied Plover, American Golden-Plover and American Avocet.  Even more rare birds found in 1998 were Cattle Egret, Sandhill Crane, Little Blue Heron (first located at the South Landfill Reservoir) and a contingent of Le Conte's and Nelson Sharp-tailed Sparrows that stopped in (and hung around for over a week) during fall migration.

SOUTH LANDFILL RESERVOIR  - This reservoir is located directly across the road to the south of the landfill entrance. Viewing access is either from the road that runs along in front of the landfill entrance or from the road on the south side.  Viewing is best done with a scope.  A short drive to the west there is a field access where you can pull off the road and get a slightly better view the the more marsh-like part of the pond.  In addition to most of the birds listed as seen at the East Landfill Reservoir, look for Wilson's Phalarope, Greater White-fronted and Snow Geese and Rusty Blackbirds.  Dickcissel, Sedge Wren and Bobolink sing from the grasses very near the road (check closer to the intersection to the east if you don't find them closer to the reservoir).  Single Red-necked Phalaropes were seen here in the fall of 1996 and again in 1997.  Also, a Little Blue Heron was found here in in the spring of 1998 (adult bird) and again in the late summer of 1999 (almost pure white immature bird).


3 Douglas Trail Go To Top 

Directions: North from Rochester on Hwy 52.  Left on Cty 14 to Douglas.  The trail parking area is in the middle of town on the south side of Cty 14 (to the left).
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Primary Species:  warblers, flycatchers, Sedge Wren, Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
Public access trails available Some trails are paved

The Douglas Trail is a former railroad bed that extends from northwest Rochester to Pine Island.  The trail has a paved bike/walkway and also has a horse trail that runs adjacent that can also be used for walking. 

Parking lots are located at the southern most point of the trail on Cty 4 (Valleyhigh Drive) just a short distance east of Cty 22 (West Circle Drive), at a park located northeast of downtown Pine Island and at the town of Douglas.  There are also several access points along the way (any place that it crosses a road). 

The area north of Douglas is excellent for several species due to a varied habitat of deciduous trees, shrubs, open fields, and a small sedge marsh. 

Douglas Trail

Birds found here include Sedge Wrens, Willow Flycatcher, Clay-colored Sparrow, Dickcissel, and for a several years up until 1984, a pair of Bell's Vireos (but who knows if they might show up again).

You may also want to check the trail further north where it crosses the river.  Birds may be found hanging around the river and also along the trail on the north side of Cty 3.  In addition to the species mentioned above, you may also find Black-billed Cuckoo and possibly even  Yellow-billed Cuckoos in this area. 

Just south of Douglas, about a mile from the trail, is a private pond area complete with Wood Duck houses. The pond is a short distance to the west of County 3 on the first road south of Douglas. The pond is excellent for waterfowl in spring. One day there were 10 species of waterfowl on this small pond.


4 Oronoco County Park Go To Top 

Directions: North from Rochester on Hwy 52. Turn right on Cty 12 after you pass by the lake.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall
Winter

 --
Primary Species:  waterfowl
Public access trails available
Oronoco County Park

Oronoco Park is located on Shady Lake near the northern border of the county. This lake is known for attracting Red-breasted and Common Mergansers, Common Loon and gulls. Some birds can be seen on the lake from Highway 52, but it is safer to go to the north edge of the lake and turn east on County 12.  Just a short distance after the turn there is a good spot for viewing the lake from your car. The entrance to the park is ahead on the right. The marshy area west of Highway 52 can be viewed from the access road across from County 12.  Also be sure to check the area on the west side of Highway 52 for Great Egret and other birds that like less exposed areas.

5 Northern Hills Go To Top 

Directions: North from Rochester on Hwy 52. Turn left on 55th St. (Cty 22).  Bear to the right at the curve to stay on 55th St.  Cross over the Douglas Trail and turn left at the next crossroads.  Proceed south to the stream crossing.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 --
Primary Species:  Clay-colored Sparrow
 
Northern Hills


The north-south avenues on either side of Northern Hills Golf Course (off 55th St. NW) are usually productive for owls, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Gray Partridge. Later in the spring, the areas along the pine plantation are good places to find Clay-colored Sparrow. Usually their buzz-buzz-buzz is heard before they are spotted perched out on the end of a branch.

6 Essex Park Go To Top 

Directions: North from Rochester on Hwy 52 to 55th street exit.  Right on 55th and proceed east to 18th street.  Straight at the stop sign on 18th. Turn right into the park after about a mile.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall
Winter

 --
Primary Species:  sparrows, warblers, thrushes 
Public access trails available Some trails are paved
Essex Park


Essex Park is about a mile north of 37th St. NW on West River Boulevard. It can also be reached by going north on 18th Ave and turning right on 55th Street. This area is good for early thrushes and warblers. There are several good trails but if you are short of time, you can either take the paved trail east of the foot bridge near the park entrance (good for sparrows and thrushes) or the loop trail that heads west from the picnic area (best for warblers, especially along the creek).

7 Foster-Arend Park  Go To Top 

Directions:  North from downtown Rochester on Hwy 63.  Left on 37th St. (Cty 22).  Right at the stoplight and then left into the park parking lot.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall

Winter

 --
Primary Species:  waterfowl, sparrows, warblers, thrushes 
Public access trails available Some trails are paved
Foster-Arend Park


The Foster-Arend Park is located just north of Rochester off of 37th St. at East River Road. Since the park is a "swimming and fishing hole" it is best to get there early in the day. You may find diving ducks, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Black-crowned Night Heron, hawks, Common Loon, and Pied-billed and Horned Grebes (and possibly a Red-necked Grebe - if you're lucky).  You can park in the lot and take a hike around the pond or you can drive on the road to the gravel pit on the north to get a view of the pond.  The gravel pit on the other side of this road may also be productive for shorebirds or Bank Swallows, but, because this is an active pit, the landscape here is ever changing and may be good sometimes and barren the next.

8 Evergreen Acres  Go To Top 

Directions:  North from Rochester on Hwy 63.  Left onto Cty 14.  Right on 20th Ave NE (gravel road) heading north.  Left into Evergreen Acres at the second road to left. 
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring

Summer
Fall

Winter
 --
Primary Species:  shrike, winter finches, owls, turkey 
Canoeing possible on the river
Evergreen Acres

The road heading north from County 14 between the river and Highway 63 is good in winter for Northern Shrike and Wild Turkey.  Watch for Wild Turkey on the west side of the road about a mile north of Cty 14.  About 2 miles up, there are several large pine plantations that are good for owls and, in winter, a chance of Evening Grosbeaks, Red or White-winged Crossbills.

In the summer, you can take advantage of the birding along the river.  You can either drive down the dead-end road to the old bridge (Frank's Ford bridge) and view the birds from there or you can get "up close and personal" with a canoe trip down the river.  You can put in at  the Cty 14 (park by the bridge and haul your canoe down on the west side of the bridge) and canoe to the old bridge (approximately 2-3/4 mi) or even go all the way into the lake to the Sandy Point landing just short of the big Cty 12 bridge (an additional 4 miles).


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Oxbow Park & Nature CenterLandfill Reservoirs (East & South)Douglas TrailOronoco County ParkNorthern HillsEssex County ParkFoster-Arend County ParkEvergreen Acres