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Birding in SE Minnesota - Southeastern Section


by Bob Ekblad


Locations
 
1 Forestville State Park
2 Hvoslev WMA
3 Beaver Creek Valley SP
4 Great River Bluffs State Park
5 LaCrescent
6 Brownsville
7 Reno

 
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Birding Olmsted County
(including Rochester)
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SE section of SE MNBirds of SE MN - NEBirds of SE MN - OlmstedBirds of SE MN - WForestville SPHvoslev WMABeaver Creek Valley SPGreat River Bluffs SPLaCrescentBrownsvilleReno
 
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
Forestville State Park  Go To Top 

(Fillmore County)
 
Directions from Rochester:  South on Hwy 63, through Stewartville and Racine to Hwy 16.  Left on Hwy 16 through Spring Valley toward Wykoff.  Turn right (south) on Cty 5 and then then turn left on Cty 12 and proceed into the park. 
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Cerulean Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, other warblers and songbirds.
Forestville SP

Forestville is a historic park with some old buildings, a pioneer cemetery and plenty of trails to hike to seek out the birds.  One of the best places to start is the picnic ground parking area right across the road from the big opening (where part of the old town used to be).  Check the trees around the picnic area and then take the hiking trail across the road that runs right along the edge of the opening right next to the trees.  In the spring of 1999, a White-eyed Vireo was located here.  This trail intersects with the road that goes to the camping area for people with horses.  Another good spot is the trail that parallels the road to the horse camping area after the road bends back to the north.

Cerulean Warbler, a hard to find species, nests in the park.  Other warblers can be found here as well, especially in migration, and typically it is better along the river where there are easy walking paths.


2
Hvoslev WMA Go To Top 

(Fillmore County)
 
Directions from Rochester:  Southeast on Hwy 52 through Preston,  Turn left on Cty 12 approximately 3 miles past Preston.  Turn right on Cty 23.  After approximately 2.5 miles, turn left at Amherst to the WMA. 
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Turkey, 
Hvoslev WMA map

The Hvoslev WMA is relatively new and is one of very few WMAs in Fillmore County. The land includes high bluffs overlooking a pleasant stream where the birds can be abundant.  Look for Turkey Vultures soaring high above (unless you are up at bluff level, where they might just glide by - checking you out).  Tufted Titmouse, Ruffed Grouse, warblers and vireos should be found along the road as it wanders through the valley. Be cautious if you go here with any snow on the ground since the road descending down the hill can be extremely slippery and treacherous.  It can also be an interesting drive when it is dry.  After the road doubles back on itself and heads back out of the valley (much less steep), watch for the stand of pines on the left.  This area should be checked for owls at any time of the year. 

3
Beaver Creek Valley State Park Go To Top 

(Houston County)
 
Directions from Rochester: Southeast on Hwy 52 to I90.  East on I90 for about 40 miles to the Hwy 76 exit.  South on Hwy 76 through Houston and toward Caledonia.  When Hwy 76 makes an abrupt left turn, make a right turn on Cty 1 to the park (marked). Proceed 3 miles to the park entrance station.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Louisiana Waterthrush, Acadian Flycatcher, Cerulean Warbler, Tufted Titmouse and other warblers and other songbirds.
Beaver Creek Valley SP map

Beaver Creek Valley is well know in the state for its nesting Louisiana Waterthrush and Acadian Flycatcher.  Tufted Titmouse and Cerulean Warbler can also be found here in the summer.  The best place to find the waterthrush and flycatcher is west of the main parking area.  Proceed across the bridge and walk the main path that parallels the river.  Acadian Flycatcher are often found near the buildings.  The Louisiana Waterthrush nest right along the bank of the river, so careful observation at the river's edge should produce a sighting of this species.  Winter Wren have also been found in this area during nesting season.

Another worthwhile hike is the path that runs between the camping area and the river (in the opposite direction from the parking area).  Walk across the rocks that have been placed in the river (or drive through if you prefer, depending on water level) and take the path on the left.  In addition to Tufted Titmouse, this area is good for Cerulean Warbler and Indigo Bunting.  During migration, warblers and thrushes can be found just about anywhere in the park.

While you are in Houston County, you might wish to also check out a couple of other locations.  Hwy 26 south of Reno (on the Mississippi River) down to the Iowa border is a nice drive with good views of the backwaters.  Tufted Titmouse are found along the road and Prothonotary Warbler are best found by checking the boat landing areas, especially Millstone Landing.

Another location worthy of checking, especially in the summer, is the marsh just east of Mound Prairie, located between Houston and LaCrescent.  Take Hwy 16 east from Houston about 6 miles, turn north on Cty 25, and then turn right on Cty 21 after you pass through Mound Prairie (you'll know you went through when you hit Cty 21).  Common Moorhen, Least Bittern and Sandhill Cranes are often found here.


4
Great River Bluffs State Park Go To Top 

(Winona County)
 
Directions from Rochester: Southeast on Hwy 52 to I 90.  East on I 90 to the Nodine exit (#266).  Turn left (north) and cross I 90 to Cty 3.  Go east and north on Cty 3 to the park entrance.  About 55 miles from Rochester.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Henslow's Sparrow, Bell's Vireo and other woodland birds.
Great River Bluffs SP map

The former O.L. Kipp State Park has been the historic spot to look for Henslow's Sparrow in the state.  They may have changed the name of the park to a more descriptive Great River Bluffs, but the place is the same, and the sparrow continues to be found (with the same difficulty as it was before).  The best spot in the park to find the bird is along the road after the ranger station just before you get to the trail head for the Queen's Bluff Scientific Natural Area (which is on the left).  Watch for the bird singing from the top of the taller grasses or plants on the northern side of the road (left).

Bell's Vireos are also found in the same general area, and often just across the road from the Henslow's spot.  Check the brushy area and listen for their repetitive song.  You may also find Orchard Oriole in the area as well.

If you continue up the road you will find the Queen's Bluff trail where the birding is often good.  The birding is also good in the trees around the picnic area at the end of the road.


5
La Crescent  Go To Top 

(Houston County)
 
Directions from Rochester:  Southeast on Hwy 52.  East  on I 90 all of the way to the Mississippi River.  Exit I 90 to LaCrescent to the south just before crossing the river.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Waterfowl, Least Bittern, Common Moorhen
La Crescent map

This is a good area to wander around to find good vantage points of the water and the birds on or nearby.  One good spot to check is behind the highway department garage just off of Hwy 16 near Hwy 14.  You can drive through the parking area and right up to the water.  Check for Common Moorhen and Least Bittern as well as all other waterfowl and waders.

Another good spot is along the railroad levee to the east of the main north-south tracks.  Find the crossing over the tracks and follow the road to the end.  You can walk the levee or go up the grade for the tracks and look over to the other side where you might find Least Bittern, egrets and herons along with all sorts of waterfowl.  This is an excellent place to look for warblers in the spring in addition to nesting Prothonotary Warbler (you probably won't see them away from the water's edge).


6
Brownsville area Go To Top 

(Houston County)
 
Directions from Rochester:  Southeast on Hwy 52.  East  on I 90 all of the way to the Mississippi River.  Exit I 90 to LaCrescent to the south just before crossing the river.  Continue through La Crescent and proceed south on Hwy 16.  Check birding areas on Hwy 16 and backtrack to Cty 26 and proceed south on Cty 26 to Brownsville. 
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Waterfowl; 
Brownsville map

Birding here is an exercise in finding wet areas to view - and it is an easy one.  There are several to be found along Hwy 16 from the junction with Hwy 26 almost all the way to Hokah. If you want a side trip on your side trip (isn't that what birding is all about?), take Cty 21 for 5 to 6 miles to the west, you will find the Mound Prairie marsh that often has Least Bittern, Common Moorhen, and possibly Sandhill Cranes.

Once your diversion on Hwy 16 is complete, backtrack to Hwy 26 and head south down to Brownsville and river access points.  At Brownsville you may want to investigate the birds along Cty 18 for a couple of miles.  South of Brownsville look and listen for Tufted Titmouse and watch along the river for waterfowl.  Be aware, that the Wisconsin birders have claimed most of the open water as their listing territory, since they somehow got the border (brown line on the map) pushed right up to the Minnesota side of the river.  Continue south and you'll find yourself in Reno (MN, not NV).


7
Reno area Go To Top 

(Houston County)
 
Directions from Rochester:  Southeast on Hwy 52.  East  on I 90 all of the way to the Mississippi River.  Exit I 90 to LaCrescent to the south just before crossing the river.  Continue through La Crescent and proceed south on Hwy 16.  Continue straight on Cty 26 where Hwy 16 turns west and proceed south to the Reno area.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Waterfowl; Prothonotary Warbler
Reno map

Before you get to Reno, check out the Twin Coves area  where Tufted Titmouse take advantage of the people feeding the birds. 

For the people interested in walking to get closer to the tiny specks out on the Mississippi River, there is a levee that extends east out along the river just to the north of Reno.  Good birds have been found here, including scoters in the fall (there always has to be someone go out there to find them just to make the rest of us take the hike).

You may want to check the roadside along Cty 249 heading west from Reno for birds, including Scarlet Tanager, warblers and vireos.

The birding along Hwy 26 south of Reno consists of locating the various boat landings and observation pullouts and taking full advantage.  The best location for finding the Prothonotary Warbler (and other warblers as well) is Millstone Landing, but it sure doesn't hurt to stop at the others along the way to check them out as well.

If you are really adventuresome, you can go all the way into Iowa before taking Cty 5 back up into Minnesota - and eventually come out at Caledonia (gateway to Beaver Creek Valley State Park).