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Birding in Southwestern Olmsted County

by Bob Ekblad


Locations
  1. Zumbro Bike Path
  2. Mayowood Lake
  3. Izaak Walton Wetlands & Old Valley Road
  4. Meadow Crossing Road
  5. Cty 104
  6. Salem Corners
  7. Willow Creek Reservoir
  8. Keller WMA (Cty 15)
  9. Rock Dell
  10. Nelson Fen
  11. Cty 3 & Cty 6
  12. High Forest WMA
  13. Stewartville & Bear Cave Park
Southwest Olmsted County

1
Zumbro Bike Path Go To Top 

Directions: West from Hwy 63 on Hwy 14 to the Apache Mall area.  Continue straight onto Cty 25 / Cty 8 where Hwy 14 goes north.  Turn south on Cty 8 where Cty 25 goes straight.  Park off the road just after the bridge (near the power station).
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, warblers, waterfowl
Public access trails available Some trails are paved
Zumbro River Bike Path

The bike/hike path runs along the Zumbro River from downtown Rochester out to Mayowood.  The area of the path west of town (starting south of 20th St. SE and continuing out to Mayowood Lake can be a nice walk where you may spot warblers and even see some waterfowl on the lake by the Salem Sound housing development. The lake often has a variety of waterfowl during migration including the usual "dippers and divers".  Other species include Pied-billed and Horned Grebes and usually a Common Loon can be found sometime during migration.  Be sure to watch the skies for Osprey.

There are several points of access to the path including 1) just south of the bridge on County 8 (see directions above) 2) the north end of Mayowood Lake, and 3) by the soccer fields on Mayowood Road east of County 8.  Don't be afraid to wander off the path toward the river; you may find more birds (and less bikes).


2
Mayowood Lake Go To Top 

Directions: West from Hwy 63 on Hwy 14 to the Apache Mall area.  Continue straight onto Cty 25 / Cty 8 where Hwy 14 goes north.  Continue straight where Cty 8 turns south and stay on Cty 25 where West Circle Drive heads north (bear to the left at the curve).  Take the first left turn (after the gravel pit area) into the Mayowood area.  Note that the bridge is no longer open for use so the road dead-ends at that point.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall
Winter
 --
Primary Species:  Waterfowl, owls
.
Mayowood Lake

The Mayowood area is a good spot for those "deciduous" species in addition to the usual water birds on the lake.  Be sure to check out the Osprey nesting platform that was erected by the island near the road.  All three species of mergansers are often found here in the spring.  Also look for Bald Eagles perching or soaring along the river, especially in the winter.    A rare Little Blue Heron was spotted along the lake shore near the lake in 1985 and Long-eared Owls were found in the pines north of the lake in 1987 and again in 1994.

3
Izaak Walton Wetlands & Old Valley Road Go To Top 

Directions: West from Hwy 63 on Hwy 14 to the Apache Mall area.  Continue straight onto Cty 25 / Cty 8 where Hwy 14 goes north.  Continue straight where Cty 8 turns south and stay on Cty 25 where West Circle Drive heads north (bear to the left at the curve).  Continue west for approximately 2 miles to the point where you see evergreens on both sides of the road.  Park off of the road near the Izaak Walton sign.  The Old Valley Road is just a short distance past the evergreens.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, warblers, waterfowl
Public access trails available
Izaak Walton Wetlands

The Izaak Walton Wetlands on County 25 always seems to be a productive place to find birds.  On the north side of the road there is a wetland marsh that is usually good for a Sora and possibly Virginia Rail or a few water birds.  The area to the south of the road has a new raised trail on the west side and then circles the trenched wetland (crosshatched waterways). The trail loops around and comes back out through the pine plantation (good for Northern Saw-whet Owl and other owls).  The trail is good for warblers, thrushes and sparrows during migration (spring and fall).  There are also additional trails to the south of the main loop trail that take you to the Zumbro River.  During peak warbler migration (approximately May 5th through May 15th), you may find waves of warblers while wandering around in this area.  In 1989, a "big day" team found a White-eyed Vireo down by the river.  Also, Red-shouldered Hawks are found in the area to the west of the stream that flows from the wetland to the river.  Listen for the call that sounds like a crow but is much more consistent and repetitive.

A portion of the Zumbro bottomlands upriver from Mayowood and the Izaak Walton wetlands can be accessed via Old Valley Road just off of County 25.  Warbler watching can be good from the small stream crossing to the parking area near where the bridge used to be.  Look for Eastern Phoebes and flycatchers perched in the snags.  Please stay along the road right-of-way and do not enter the woods to the east from the stream crossing down to the turnaround.  The owner is sensitive to recent dumping and has asked for no entry. 

In the spring also check out the flooded fields to the west of the wetland for anything from shorebirds to Tundra Swans.  The field by the "long driveway" can be very productive in the years when it is flooded.

To the east of the wetlands is the areas is the area known to local birders as the "Historical Society pond" that was actually a flooded field mud-flat on County 25 just west of the Historical Society.  This was one of the best spots in the county in the spring for shorebirds but, alas, now is housing development and a church.  The church has added three fairly good sized ponds (not just runoff containment) near the road and left the center of the "flooded field" area as a shallow wetland.  Unfortunately, water tends to drain out of that area (and into one of the front ponds) so it ends up being overgrown with grasses and is not as attractive to shorebirds as it once was.  Hopefully something will be done in the future to improve the water retention to bring birds back into the area.  Memories include sightings of Western Kingbird, Northern Mockingbird, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper, all very rare in the county.


4
Meadow Crossing Road Go To Top 

Directions: West from Hwy 63 on Hwy 14 to the Apache Mall area.  Continue straight onto Cty 25 / Cty 8 where Hwy 14 goes north.  Turn south on Cty 8 where Cty 25 goes straight.  Continue south past the school and turn right onto Meadow Crossing Road ( the second right turn)
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, Wood Thrush, Rufous-sided Towhee, Scarlet Tanager.
Public access trails available
Izaak Walton Wetlands

Meadow Crossing Road will take you to the upriver portion of Mayowood.  Vesper and Savannah Sparrows and Eastern Bluebirds can be found along the upper "meadow".  As the road winds down the hill into the valley, look for Scarlet Tanager in summer or warblers in migration.  Also, Whip-poor-will have been heard calling here or further down in the valley during early morning or at dusk during migration.  The road is blocked off a short distance before the river, but the closed stretch of the old road is a good place to find migrating sparrows and warblers.  Look for Eastern Phoebes near the bridge and flycatchers perched in the snags near the now missing bridge (the opposite side is Old Valley Road).  The path to the east runs parallel to the river and passes a good warbler area near a stand of pines.  This is a good area to find (or at least hear) Ovenbird.  A rare Worm-eating Warbler was located in this area way back in 1985 (and none has been reported in the county since).

5
Cty 104 Go To Top 

Directions:  West from Hwy 63 on Hwy 14 to the Apache Mall area.  Continue straight onto Cty 25 / Cty 8 where Hwy 14 goes north.  Continue straight where Cty 8 turns south and stay on Cty 25 where West Circle Drive heads north (bear to the left at the curve).  Continue west past the Izaak Walton Wetland to Cty 104.  You can also access 104 further north where it crosses Hwy 14 west of Rochester.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall

Winter
 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, warblers, Screech Owl
.
Cty 104 map

County 104 north of County 25 (up to County 34) has been a good birding road.  Swainson's and Red- tailed Hawks, Eastern Bluebirds, and a rare Western Kingbird have been seen here.  During the winter months Screech Owls have also been found calling here early in the morning.  The best spots to listen for the owls are 1/2 mile north of Cty 25 and 1 mile north of Cty 25.

County 104 south of County 25 down to County 117 is also an interesting road.  The small bridge over the Zumbro River is a good spot to find nesting Eastern Phoebe.  There are also some fields in the area that flood in the spring and attract shorebirds.  Northern Shrike as well as Rough-legged Hawk have been found in the winter along County 117 to the east.


6
Salem Corners Go To Top 

Directions: West from Rochester on Hwy 14.  South on Cty 3 to Salem Corners.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall
Winter
 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, Lapland Longspurs, Snow Buntings
.
Salem Corners

The gravel roads north from County 25 and west to County 3 are often good in the winter for Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur, and Snow Bunting.  These roads are often called the Salem Corners bypass by local birders since they can be used to bypass the "big city" traffic.  In some winters in the past there have been Short-eared Owls found actively hunting at dusk at the intersection of these roads.

Another area north of the "big city" on County 3 (about halfway between County 34 and County 25) is a relatively flat area just north of a small bridge.  This spot is usually a good location to find Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur, and Snow Bunting  in the winter and very early spring.


7
Willow Creek Reservoir Go To Top 

Directions: South from Rochester on Hwy 63. Right on 40th St. SW and then left on Cty 147 (before the golf course).  Turn right on Lone Pine Drive and proceed past the houses to the parking lot.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall
Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, waterfowl, shorebirds, herons
Public access trails available Canoeing available - use the boat ramp by the east end of the dam
Willow Creek Reservoir

The Willow Creek impoundment created as part of the Rochester flood control project has open access to the reservoir as a place for fishing (including handicap access), complete with fishing pier.  Park in the lot at the top of the hill and scan the lake for migrating waterfowl   Be sure to walk down to the lake (or make a quick drive down to the lower parking area) so you can check the dead trees on the west side of the lake for cormorants and terns.  In 1993 an Oldsquaw (now called Long-tailed Duck) hung around here for several weeks in May.  Orchard Orioles have been found in the shrubby area near the parking lot and the road down to the handicap parking area.

An alternate access to the southeast corner of the lake is via 60th St SW where you can park near the gate and walk the trail that connects with the trail that circles the lake.

The west side of the lake is accessible via the walking trail or via the dead end County 148 that comes in from the west.  Cty 148 heads east from County 8 through areas good for Horned Larks or, if you are lucky, Common Redpolls, in the winter.  The area near the intersection at County 8 is also good for Bobolink, especially in early spring.  You may also find Grasshopper and Savannah Sparrow in the area as well.  Further up the road past the farmhouse and small gravel pit is a brushy area (complete with an overgrown pond) that is good for warblers and flycatchers in early May.  During the spring migration of 1985 there was a Yellow-breasted Chat in the area on the south side of County 148. 

Continue east on County 148.  After you pass through the intersection stop at the small pond, called the "Rusty Pond" by local birders.  This pond may host Green Heron or a few shorebirds in the spring.  It was named for the fact that, for several years, Rusty Blackbirds were found here or in the trees to the east during spring migration. 

From the pond, continue east a bit further on County 148 to get to the Willow Creek Reservoir property.  Although you may be a bit intimidated by the gate, you can climb over it and walk in on the road.  Be sure to park away from the gate and not in the farmer's driveway.  The trees along the old road are good for warblers and other migrating species.  Be sure to look for Orchard Oriole as they have been seen here in the past.  The road takes you right up to the water where shorebirds can be found in the spring (along with most regular waterfowl species, including Common Loon).


8
Keller WMA (Cty 15) Go To Top 

Directions: West from Rochester on County 25.  Turn south (left) on Cty 15 for approximately 4 miles.  The parking area is on the left.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall

Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, warblers
Public access trails available
Keller WMA

This Wildlife Management Area on is a large and diverse area.  There is a parking area at the top of the hill (note the sign).  From here you can head out on foot and check out the trails and the bird life - but not during deer hunting season.  Birds reported from this area include Yellow-billed Cuckoo (the less common cuckoo), American Woodcock and Whip-poor-will.  People in the nearby houses feed the birds and enjoy quite a wide variety of winter birds (as well as a Northern Goshawk early in 1998). 

9
Rock Dell Go To Top 

Directions: West from Rochester on Hwy 14.  South on Cty 3 approximately 9 miles to Rock Dell.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall

Winter
 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, warblers
.
Rock Dell

Route 26 east from Rock Dell can be good for warblers in the spring in the trees and shrubs along the river as it runs parallel to the road.  A Prairie Warbler was found right near the small bridge in 1996.  Look for Northern Shrike in the winter and Loggerhead Shrike in the summer anywhere along the road, particularly at the corner on 80th Ave.  Also check for Dickcissels on the power lines in early summer on 90th Ave, south of Cty 126. 

There is also a good area for flycatchers and warblers one mile west of Rock Dell and then 1.3 miles south on 110th Ave.  Willow and Least Flycatchers should be around spring and summer.  You may also find Alder Flycatcher if you are lucky.  Although Alder Flycatchers are quite uncommon in the county, they have been found here as they migrate through to points further north - even as late as the second week in June.
 


10
Nelson Fen WMA Go To Top 

Directions: South from Rochester on Hwy 63.  Right on Hwy 30.  The parking lot is approximately 2.5 miles west of Cty 15 (before you get to Cty 3).
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, warblers, cuckoos, flycatchers
Public access trails available
Nelson Fen

The Nelson Fen is a fairly good sized DNR preserve with open brush, grassland and mixture of deciduous trees.  Hike the old road north from the parking lot along the east border of the property. Watch anywhere along the way for warblers and sparrows, especially during the spring.  Willow and Least Flycatcher should be in the shrubs along the way in spring and summer.  Alder Flycatcher have been found here also during migration.  Be sure to watch for Green Heron hanging around the small pond by the big pines.  A little further north, where the shrubs thin out and give way to a more grassy area, you should be able to find Vesper and  Clay-colored Sparrows. (in the open field area to the back).  In the shrub area in the west part of the preserve, Black-billed Cuckoo and Gray Catbird can usually be found in the summer.  A Yellow-breasted Chat was found here in 1996 (second county record).  Also, a pair of Bell's Vireos was found here in the summer of 1994, possibly attempting to nest.

The Suess Wildlife Management Area is south of the next intersection to the east.  This has been a good spot to find Willow and Alder Flycatchers.  In addition, Bell's Vireos have been found (in 2013-2016) further south in the WMA where a woodsy area is on the west side of the road.

Another location near the fen that you may want to check is the area around the intersection of 80th St and 80th Ave.  The habitat along the small stream that runs parallel to 80th Ave should have good birds in it.  An Orchard Oriole was found here in the spring of 1999.  An even better find in 2015 was a Yellow-breasted Chat (as well as a Bell's Vireo) right along the road to the south of the stream.  The land is private property but these birds were found and seen right from the road. 


11
Cty 3 & Cty 6 Go To Top 

Directions: South from Rochester on Hwy 63.  Right on Hwy 30.  Left on Cty 3.  Proceed south to Cty 6.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring

Summer
Fall

Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Upland Sandpiper
.
Cty 3 & Cty 6 map

The area to the north and west of the intersection (up near the curve sign by the bridge) has been a good place in the past several years to find Upland Sandpiper.  Although the pair were not located in 1998, probably due to crop rotation, it still is the most reliable location to find the Upland Sandpiper in the county.

While in the area, be sure to check out the grassland area to the west of the County 3 and Cty 148 area for Dickcissel, Bobolink and Sedge Wren.


12
High Forest WMA Go To Top 

Directions: South from Rochester on Hwy 63.  West on I90.  Exit I90 at High Forest (Cty 6) and turn west on Cty 6.  Right on Cty 8.  Bear left onto 55th Ave after one mile.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall

Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, Northern Harrier
High Forest WMA

The Wildlife Area north of High Forest is usually wet and is therefore good for Common Snipe, Sora and Virginia Rails, Swamp Sparrow, Willow Flycatcher, and Sedge Wren.  You may also see a Northern Harrier flying low over the open grasslands.

13
Stewartville & Bear Cave Park Go To Top 

Directions: South from Rochester on Hwy 63 to Stewartville.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer

Fall

Winter

 --
Primary Species:  Sparrows, warblers, waterfowl
Public access trails available
Stewartville

County 6 runs west from Hwy 63 on the south edge of town where it crosses the south edge of the former Lake Florence (the dam washed out and the lake no longer exists).  The area by the bridge may be productive for terns or shorebirds (Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral and other sandpipers) during migration.  You can also check the grassy area to the east of the bridge as well where Willets, Black-bellied Plovers and American Golden-Plovers have been seen in the past.  You may also find the habitat on the south side of the road productive and find shorebirds, a few ducks, and maybe even a rail.

Bear Cave Park, located north and west of on County 35 Stewartville, has several types of habitat including wooded, open grassy areas, and access to the river so you can expect to find a variety of species from warblers to ducks.  The entrance to the park is on the south, just beyond a cemetery.


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Zumbro Bike PathMayowood LakeIzaak Walton Wetlands & Old Valley RoadMeadow Crossing RoadCounty 104Salem CornersWillow Creek ReservoirKeller WMARock DellNelson FenCty 3 & Cty 6High ForestStewartville