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Birding in SE Minnesota - Northeastern Section


by Bob Ekblad

Locations
 
1 Colville Park, Red Wing
2 Frontenac State Park
3 Lake City / Hok-Si-La
4 Reads Landing
5 McCarthy Lake WMA
6 Minneiska
7 Whitewater SP & WMA
8 Prairie Island, Winona
9 Lewiston Sewage Ponds
 
Jump to
Birding Olmsted County
(including Rochester)
W Section
SE Section
NE section of SE MNBirds of SE MN - WestBirds of Olmsted CountyBirds of SE MN - SEFrontenac SPLake CityColville ParkMcCarthy LakeReads LandingMinneiskaWhitewater SPPrairie IslandLewiston Pond
 
A highly recommended (hard-copy) resource is Kim Eckert's "A Birder's Guide to Minnesota".  He does an excellent job of identifying the good Minnesota birding locations by county - including those in the Southeastern part of the state.  The book is no longer in print but may be available from used book stores.  The author provides updates to the book on his web site

1
Colville Park, Red Wing Go To Top 

(Goodhue County)
 
Directions from Rochester: North on Hwy 52 to Zumbrota.  Take the first exit and drive the length of the main street through town.  Take Hwy 58 north out of town and continue all the way  into downtown Red Wing.  Turn right at the second stoplight onto Hwy 61.  Follow 61 to the south and east out of town (don't take the turn to go across the bridge into Wisconsin).  After the power plant, take the first right turn and take an immediate right onto the frontage road.  This road backtracks to a tunnel under Hwy 61.  Go through the tunnel and directly into the park.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species:  Waterfowl and gulls, gulls, gulls.  Also can be good for warblers and song birds.
Colville Park map

Look for waterfowl and gulls at both dock areas and along the river itself.  Also check the woods perimeters for warblers, sparrows and other song birds. 

2
Frontenac State Park  Go To Top 

(Goodhue County)
 
Directions from Rochester: North on Hwy 63 to Lake City.  Left (north) on Hwy 61 at the stoplight. Continue north for 4 or 5 miles to the junction of Cty 2.  You can either turn right onto Cty 2 at the parking area to go past Villa Maria or you can continue to Frontenac Station and turn right there to go directly to the park.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species:  Warblers and song birds.  Also gulls and terns and other waterfowl out at Sand Point.
Frontenac SP map

There are several places to visit in this area.  In addition to hiking the trails along the bluff in the state park, you can also bird the streets of Old Frontenac.  But the better areas tend to be the grounds (along the road) of the Villa Maria property and the trail out to Sand Point.  Both of these areas are excellent for migrating warblers (many field trips are organized with this as the prime destination).  Occasionally the trail out to Sand Point can be a bit muddy so you may want to plan for the proper footwear by asking locally.  The hike is well worth it, not only for the birds seen along the way, but also for the gulls, terns, and shorebirds you will find loafing on the point.

3
Lake City & Hok-Si-La Go To Top 

(Goodhue/Wabasha Counties)
 
Directions from Rochester: North on Hwy 63 to Lake City.  At the stoplight you can choose to go to the right to the overlook to check the birds on Lake Pepin, straight ahead to get to the point for another view of Lake Pepin, or to the left (north) on Hwy 61 for more views of Lake Pepin and a stop at the Hok-Si-La park. 
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Waterfowl and  gulls.  Also warblers and song birds at Hok-Si-La.
Lake City map

Overlook & The Point - These spots offer good vantage points to view the birds on Lake Pepin.  Most often these will be the various assortment of waterfowl, gulls and terns.  However, occasionally scoters will be found here, and one occasion, a Pomerine Jaeger showed up, much to the enjoyment of the birders in the state.  Most sighting of Jaegers in the state are reported from Park Point in Duluth where they are seemingly miles out over Lake Superior and only when strong NE winds push them toward shore (and they are usually Parasitic Jaegers), so this was a real treat to have a jaeger hang around and give a show.

Hok-Si-La - There are several trails you can hike on in this former Boy Scout Camp.  The trails along the water are quite good, but also expect to find good birds along any of the other trails, especially during migration when warblers and sparrows are plentiful. 


4
Reads Landing Go To Top 

(Wabasha County)
 
Directions from Rochester:  East on Hwy 14 (or Cty 9 or Cty 2).  Left on Hwy 42 to Kellogg. Left on Hwy 61 and proceed north past Wabasha.  Reads Landing is just off the edge of the road on the right (watch closely). 
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Waterfowl (especially mergansers in late Fall) and Bald Eagles in the Fall and Winter
Reads Landing map

Reads Landing is best known for Bald Eagle watching in the winter.  Views of the river are best just before the road turns back to Hwy 61, right by the train tracks (watch for trains).  You can also spot Common Goldeneye and Common Merganser here in the late fall and winter.

Continue north on Hwy 61 to the overlooks for views of the river and Lake Pepin. The area stays open in the winter at the base of Lake Pepin (actually just a wide spot in the Mississippi River) where the Chippewa River flows into the Mississippi River.  The views here can be awesome at times.  The Bald Eagles can congregate here in quantities that rival those pictured in the Chilkat Valley of Alaska. Also, Common Mergansers congregate in this area in the early winter as well.


5
McCarthy Lake WMA Go To Top 

(Wabasha County)
 
Directions from Rochester:  East on Hwy 14 (or Cty 9 or Cty 2).  Left on Hwy 42 to Kellogg. Right on Hwy 61 and then right away turn left on Cty 84.  Follow Cty 84 to the WMA. 
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Orchard Oriole, Lark Sparrow, Bell's Vireo.  Bald Eagles in the Fall and Winter
McCarthy WMA map

The birding along Cty 84 can be quite productive.  Look for Lark and Grasshopper Sparrow, Dickcissel and meadowlarks anyplace along the road.  Also check each of the wet areas along the way for waterfowl and waders.  The WMA parking area is a good spot to stop and take in the birds of the open area.  Take the hike to the west to the tree and shrub surrounded lake to find Orchard Oriole, Bell's Vireo and Willow Flycatcher.  The Nature Conservancy land south of the WMA parking area (small road to the east) is the location of the first hack tower used to release Peregrine Falcons to help them come back from almost being wiped out by DDT.  Bird the area around the buildings for warblers, vireos and several of the same species mentioned above. 

6
Minneiska Go To Top 

(Wabasha County)
 
Directions from Rochester: East on Hwy 14 (or Cty 9 or Cty 2). North on Hwy 42 to Kellogg. Right on Hwy 61 and continue past Weaver approximately 2 miles where the Mississippi River waters come up close to the railroad tracks.  You can either turn right and drive the road up the bluff (stop where it curves away from the water), or you can reverse your route on Hwy 61 and pull off on the shoulder to view the birds in the bay and river.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Waterfowl, especially Tundra Swans in November.
Minneiska map

Alternate route: Bird the Whitewater Valley (#6) to Weaver on Hwy 74 and then make a right on Hwy 61 to the Minneiska site.


This is a good spot to view waterfowl in the spring and fall.  The area has been a traditional resting area for Tundra Swans in late October and into November until the ice over conditions force them out.  Although there are still swans present in the fall, the recent trend has been for the birds to congregate further north along the Wisconsin side of the river by Alma (drive up to Wabasha to cross over and then head back down to Rieck's Lake just north of Alma). 

7
Whitewater SP / WMA Go To Top 

(Winona County)
 
Directions from Rochester: East on Hwy 14 to St Charles. North on Hwy 74 to the Whitewater State Park.  Continue North through Elba and bird along the road all the way to Weaver on Hwy 61.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Song birds, sparrows, warblers at the park. Waterfowl, shorebirds, Red-shouldered Hawk (north of the WMA Headquarters) and, in winter, Golden Eagle and Townsend's Solitaire. 
Whitewater SP map

Stop in at Whitewater State Park as the first stop along the way.  Check out the trails around the swimming area by the nature store.  Also stop in at the park headquarters and nature center building (further north, after you cross the river) where you can check out the action at their feeders and hike some of the trails near the nature center.

A side trip to visit the Altura sewage treatment ponds might be in order during shorebird migration time (for those of you who experience withdrawal symptoms when you don't get enough of that special kind of air).  As you are passing through Elba, take Cty 26 to the right and up the hill (about 4 miles) and, just before the stop sign, turn right and go up the hill to the ponds.  Be aware that there is a no trespassing sign on the gate that might not be visible if the gate is open.  The view is quite adequate from outside the fence.

Just after you pass through Elba, check for Townsend's Solitaire (uncommon) in the junipers near the cemetery and also on the juniper hillside further north of town.

Check out the pond/marsh across from the WMA headquarters building.  Red-shouldered Hawks can be found here.  Also check the activity at the feeder by the building.  A mile or so further up the road there is a pool on the left that is good for many species (waterfowl, waders, etc.).  Occasionally, Common Moorhen are found here as well.  Also watch the shrubs along the roadside for warblers and songbirds.  Red-shouldered Hawks are often heard calling just east of this pond.  Also, in winter, watch for Golden Eagles soaring or perched high up on the hillsides.

When you get to Cty 30, hang a left and take a side trip up to the area where the stream is wider (and usually full of ducks).  Given the presence of waterfowl, also watch for Golden Eagle in the area.  Continue back to Hwy 74 and turn left on it to continue checking out the wildlife management area (stop anywhere along the way - especially when you see water) all the way up to Weaver on Hwy 61.


8
Prairie Island, Winona Go To Top 

(Winona County)
 
Directions from Rochester: East on Hwy 14 to Winona.  Cross over Hwy 61 and go straight on Pelzer St.  Proceed past Theurer Boulevard (on the left) and continue onto River View Drive.  Turn left on Prairie Island Road. 
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Waterfowl, gulls, marsh and woodland birds.
Prairie Island map

The first section of Prairie Island Road is along an elevated dike that takes you through marshland and woods.  Check the marsh and lake area for ducks and grebes.  A rare White Ibis was found along here several years back.   About a mile and a half along the road you will find Prairie Island Park where you can find migrant thrushes, warblers and vireos along with the usual assortment of resident woodpeckers and nuthatches.  Continue up the river on the dike road as you leave the park.  Watch for Green Heron, Great Egret, Common Snipe, Osprey, terns and rails along the way.  Stop at the various pulloffs and boat landings along the way to scan the river for waterfowl and anything else you can find.  One good spot to check, even in hunting season, is the spillway area.  You can pull into the parking area just past the campground or walk the short dike to get right above the spillway where you can view the birds in the waters upstream of the spillway.  In Nov of 2001 all three scoters were found at this location.  You can continue on up to Minnesota City and return to Winona via Hwy 61 or simply reverse your route and see if you can find something you missed on your way through the first time.

Other spots to visit in the Winona area are Lake Winona and Woodlawn Cemetery.  Lake Winona runs parallel to Hwy 61 and is split in the middle by Huff Street.  Woodlawn Cemetery is across Hwy 61 from the lake.  Take Huff St. across Hwy 61 to Lake Blvd, turn right and then enter the cemetery on your left.  The cemetery is open to visitors during daylight hours. 


9
Lewiston (Former) Sewage Ponds Go To Top 

(Winona County)
 
Directions from Rochester: East on Hwy 14 to Lewiston.  Exit into Lewiston by continuing straight towards the business district where Hwy 14 bears to the left.  Turn right at the stop sign and proceed south out of town on Cty 29. Turn right (west) on Twnship 8 at the first crossroads and drive down to the ponds.  Please do not trespass.  The remaining pond can be viewed from the road or by the gate. 
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
 
Summer
Fall
Winter

 
Primary Species: Waterfowl and shorebirds.
Lewiston map

This location has a good history for attracting many species of shorebirds.  Red-necked Phalarope have been seen here several times.