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Birding in Southeastern Olmsted County

by Bob Ekblad


Locations
  1. Bear Creek Park
  2. 9th Ave SE
  3. Hwy 63 & 52 Area
  4. Chester Woods Cty Park & Reservoir
  5. Hwy 52 Pond (Bull Pond) & Cty 123 Pond
  6. Boy Scout Camp & Reservoir
  7. Simpson
  8. County 19
  9. Spring Rd Farm Pond
  10. Dover
  11. Vermilya WMA
Southeast Olmsted County


1
Bear Creek Park (and Bike Path)  Go To Top 

Directions: From Hwy 63 travel east on Hwy 14. Turn right on Hwy 36 (old Hwy 52) after you cross the river (Bear Creek) and then turn right into the park.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall

Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, warblers, waterfowl, osprey
Public access trails available Some trails are paved
Bear Creek Park

Bear Creek Park has a nice paved bike/hike path that runs adjacent to the creek. Although often busy with people, the area is good for warblers and thrushes. You can park in the lots near the picnic shelter or at the ball fields either across Highway 14 from Cub Foods or you can continue south on County 36 (Marion Road) down to Longfellow Grade School and park in the ball field parking lots behind the school.  The path runs from the entrance near Highway 14 all the way down (and across the river) to Pinewood Road (right at Pinewood School).

2 9th Ave SE
This location formerly had a fairly reliable Purple Martin colony but the best place to find them at present is in the SW part of Rochester.  Take 2nd St west of Hwy 52 to West Circle Drive, turn north there and then take the first right and an immediate left.  The martin house can be seen between houses a short distance down (on the west end of the lake).

3
Hwy 63 & 52 Area Go To Top 

Directions: South from downtown Rochester on Hwy 63. Turn left at the stoplight on 28th St. SE towards Shopko (before crossing under Hwy 52).
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall

Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, warblers, waterfowl
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63 & 52 map

The area at the end of the road behind Shopko South is sometimes good for warblers, shorebirds, waterfowl, and waders. This is probably the one of the most reliable locations for Bank Swallow, since this species nests high in the banks above the active quarry at the back of the (private) property on the south of the road.  The grassy area directly behind Shopko can be good for shorebirds in the fall since this area is used by the local canning factory to disperse the liquids left over after the canning process.

Hop back on Hwy 63 South, go under Hwy 52 and turn left at the stoplights (opposite Fleet Farm) into the Wood Lake Industrial Park.  The pond to the east of the buildings is usually productive for waterfowl in the spring. You may also find snipe, Virginia and Sora Rails, or Sedge or Marsh Wrens in the surrounding area. It is also a good place to listen to both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks singing! 


4
Chester Woods County Park & Reservoir Go To Top 

Directions:  East from Rochester on Hwy 14.  Turn right into the park less than 2 miles after passing through Chester.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, warblers, waterfowl
Public access trails available Canoeing - use boat dock at the first parking area
Chester Woods County Park

Chester Woods area has plenty of good habitat that makes this area good for many species.  The main portion of the park is accessed via Hwy 14.  After you pass by the entrance station to the park (fee) check the small pond and backwater areas for sparrows, herons and egrets.  There is a hiking trail that takes off from the first parking area (boat launch) and crosses over one of the many arms of water extending out from the main body of water held back by the dam.  Viewing access of the lake is a bit restricted because of trees so it can be a good plan to use a canoe to check out the lake. 

The undeveloped west side of the park is accessed via County 19 (south from Chester).  Turn east on County 131 and continue on to the end and park where you do not block the gates.  You can enter the park here and take advantage of the many trails.  If you proceed east for a half mile or so you will find good birds along the fence line that include Bob-o-link, Savannah, Grasshopper and Field Sparrows.  If you continue on until you are about 100 yards short of the turn in the trail you will be in the area where a rare Henslow's Sparrow was found in the spring of 1998.

If you backtrack to the west from the "parking gate" you will find some sandy soil areas that are not often found in the rest of the county.  Some luck people have even found Lark Sparrow (very rare in the county) in this area.  There are also Ruffed Grouse in this area as well.


If you are headed east from the park you may want to take Cty 143 (past Cty 11) and drive by the former Boy Scout Camp (Camp Kahler) and listen for the Rufous-sided Towhee that always seems to be found there each spring (usually on the opposite side of the road from the park). You may also find a Great Horned Owl, Goshawk, Cooper's Hawk, or Broad-winged Hawk in or around the camp. .Trail Map of Chester Woods County Park

5
Hwy 52 Pond (Bull Pond) & Cty 123 Pond Go To Top 

Directions:  South from Rochester on Hwy 63 to Hwy 52.  Take the Hwy 52 entrance eastbound toward Preston.  Watch carefully for the pond approximately 2 miles after passing the Cty 1 exit.  Pull off of the roadway onto the grass (if the grass is not too soft) just after crossing over the small stream.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall
Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Shorebirds, waterfowl
.

Hwy 52 Pond

The Hwy 52 Pond (aka bull pond) on the south side of Highway 52 just west of the Marion exit is good for waterfowl, waders, and shorebirds.  This pond is only viewable from the eastbound lane of Hwy 52.   Although there is still some water in the pond, the dam has washed out in recent years. The area is still good for shorebirds but the quantity of waterfowl that used to use the pond is less now. In 1985, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was seen on the fence near the pond.

County 101, which cuts around behind the pond can also be quite productive. It is reached via the Cty 36 exit off of Highway 52 (the first exit after the Hwy 52 Pond. Turn south at the exit and then turn to the right on County 101. Watch for Savannah and Vesper Sparrow, Eastern and Western Meadowlark and Dickcissel in the fields along the first section of road. Shrikes have also been seen along this road (but don't expect them). The road is especially good because it passes by three farm ponds (somewhat hidden from view) and is a feeding spot for migratory birds moving through the area. The road eventually comes out on the back side of the hill behind the pond.

Another small pond is in the same general area that can also be quite good for shorebirds is located on a dead end road just off of Cty 123 on the north side of I90 and Hwy 52.  To get to the Cty 123 Pond, go north from the Cty 36 exit on Hwy 52 (cross over Hwy 52) and make the first right turn onto Cty 123.  Continue straight onto the dead end road where Cty 123 turns north.  The pond is ahead on the left. 


6
Boy Scout Camp & Reservoir Go To Top 

Directions: South from Rochester on Hwy 63 to Hwy 52.  Take the Hwy 52 entrance eastbound toward Chatfield.  Take the Cty 1 exit (1 mile) and turn south (right) on Cty 1.  Proceed south approximately 2 miles to the camp.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall

Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, warblers, waterfowl
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Boy Scout Reservior

The main feature at this location is one of the flood control reservoirs.  Access to view the reservoir is via a path from a parking lot along the road on the south side.  This reservoir is not birded much, and when it has been, not much of interest has been found.

7
Simpson Go To Top 

Directions: South from Rochester on Hwy 63 to Hwy 52.  Take the Hwy 52 entrance eastbound toward Chatfield.  Take the Cty 1 exit (1 mile) and turn south (right) on Cty 1.  Proceed south approximately 3,5 miles to 60th St. SE, about a half mile north of Simpson.
Seasonal Ratings:
Spring
Summer

Fall

Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, swallows
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Simpson

The dead end 60th St. is sometimes called "sparrow road".  The brushy roadside is quite good for sparrows and Bobolink, all the way up to the end of the road.   In the winter you can also check the area for Lapland Longspur or Snow Bunting.

Just south of Simpson, County 1 ducks under Interstate 90 and crosses over a small stream. The cement culvert at the stream is a reliable spot to find Cliff Swallows. Since the birds like to build their nests on the walls of the culvert, they can usually be found flying in and out of the culvert and over and around the water. There is no access via I90.  Further south, the bridge at the bottom of the hill can be a good place to stop and look for warblers, sparrows and thrushes.


8
County 19 Go To Top 

Directions: South from Rochester on Hwy 63 to Hwy 52.  Take the Hwy 52 entrance eastbound toward Chatfield. Go past the "Hwy 52 Pond" and continue under I90 and through Marion.  Turn right onto Cty 19 approximately 1 mile after Marion.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 --
Primary Species:  Tufted Titmouse, Wild Turkey, Bald Eagle, warblers, sparrows, thrushes, hawks
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County 19 map

County 19 has been the most reliable spot in the county for finding Tufted Titmouse. People in the area (at the second bend in the road south of Highway 52) feed the birds. Don't just look for the shy titmouse; listen for its "peter-peter-peter" call. If you are lucky, you may spot the turkeys walking through the woods. Although these birds are big, they are not easy to find (sometimes they camouflage themselves as boulders or tree stumps). They are more often heard in the spring - just over the ridge and out of sight. The Kinney Creek valley is also one of the best places for finding Blue-winged and Cerulean Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrush have even been found there. County 19 continues south and crosses the Root River where you may find Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle and hawks taking advantage of updrafts.

9
Spring Rd Farm Pond Go To Top 

Directions: South from Rochester on Hwy 63 to Hwy 52.  Take the Hwy 52 entrance eastbound toward Chatfield. Go past the "Hwy 52 Pond" and continue under I90 and through Marion.  Turn right on Cty 7 as you descend down the hill and then make the first left onto Spring Rd.  The pond is approximately 1/2 mile down the road.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall

Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Rails, waterfowl, sparrows, warblers
.
Spring Road Farm Pond

The farm pond found along this gravel road connecting County 7 with Highway 52 often plays host to waterfowl as well as other birds that like to hang around water - including Yellow-headed Blackbird and Great Blue Heron.  Orchard Orioles (rare in the county) had previously nested in the shrubs on the hillside east of the pond up to and around the farm driveway.

While you are in the area, take the short trip down to Chatfield on Hwy 52 to the Savanna Spring Nature Area which is located NW of the Chosen Valley High School across the highway from the implement dealer.  Make a quick left turn into the nature area parking lot just after turning in toward the school.  The area has upland, pine and prairie habitats that should support many different species of birds.  There is also a spring right near the beginning of the paved trail that should attract birds as well.

10
Dover Go To Top 

Directions: East from Rochester on Hwy 14.  Right (south) on Cty 32 for one mile. Left (east) on 40th St SE. Left on 160th Ave. Right on 7th St SW.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows
.
Dover

This short road has lots of good habitat all along the road edge that is good for attracting sparrows and other song birds.  It may not be a primary destination, but it should be checked periodically, especially during migration. Also watch along 40th St to the west for migrating or wandering Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings .

11
Vermilya WMA Go To Top 

Directions: Southeast from Rochester on Hwy 52 to I90. East on I90 to Cty 10 exit south of Dover.  Exit onto Cty 10 and proceed to your right (south). Left on Cty 30 and immediately turn left on 60th St. Right (south) on 195th Ave.  The parking area for the WMA is one mile down the road.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, warblers, waterfowl
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Vermilya

This Wildlife Management Area looks like it has great potential, especially due to the diverse habitat consisting of prairie, woods and a nice sized pond. 

Also be sure to check out the dead end road (60th St) that goes behind the WMA.  The birding along the roadside should be good for sparrows (and maybe some Common Redpolls) since the area doesn't seem to be pastured and lots of weeds produce lots of seeds for the birds.  The area should be good for warblers in the spring as well.

In addition, be sure to scrutinize the junipers on the hillsides south of the WMA on 195th Ave all the way down to Cty 30.  This area looks like it has good potential for a second county record Townsend's Solitaire.

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