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Birding in SE Minnesota - Western Section


by Bob Ekblad
Locations
 
1 Lake Byllesby
2 Big Woods State Park
3 Rice Lake State Park
4 Claremont Sewage Ponds
5 Hormel Nature Center
6 Big Island State Park

 
Jump to
Birding Olmsted County
(including Rochester)
NE Section
SE Section
Western part of SE MN
 
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
Lake Byllesby Go To Top 

(Dakota/Goodhue Counties)
 
Directions from Rochester: North on Hwy 52.  Continue past Cannon Falls and turn at the first left on Cty 86.  Make an immediate left turn and follow the signs to the Lake Byllesby Regional Park. 
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Waterfowl and shorebirds.
Lake Byllesby

You can make a full circuit of the lake, taking advantage of all of the access roads.  The lake is often good in the fall for migrating shorebirds.  One good access is at  the east end of the lake in Dakota County at the Lake Byllesby Regional Park.  Probably the best access is at the north side of the west end of the lake just to the west of the cemetery where you can turn into a gated road and walk south to get to the lake.   Another good access is in Goodhue County off of Hwy 56 south of Randolph (and south of the bridge over the river).  Take Sciota Trail east, turn left at the T intersection and bear left into the parking area for the boat landing (watch for the "No Trespassing after 10 pm" sign).  The landing is approximately 1.4 miles from Hwy 56.

Another area you might want to check for shorebirds during migration is 12 miles further north of Cannon Falls.  Turn left (west) at Empire on Hwy 66 and proceed west for a few miles to a sod farm on the left (south side of the road).  You can drive the gravel roads that circle the sod farm to check out the shorebirds (look especially for Buff-breasted Sandpipers) as well as other songbirds and sparrows in the adjacent fields. 


2
Big Woods State Park Go To Top 

(Rice County)
 
Directions from Rochester: West on Hwy 14.  Right (north) on Hwy 56 through Kenyon and then left on Hwy 246 to Nerstrand.  Continue straight where Hwy 246 turns right and proceed into the park.  The entrance station is on the right.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Warblers, thrushes and other song birds.
Big Woods SP map

The park is a good place to check for migrating warblers and other song birds.  Park in the area just beyond the ranger station and hike north to the bridge. There are several trails to scout out, but you might want to follow the ones closer to the water, making a loop or two.

While you are in the area, you might want to drop down to Hwy 60 (4 miles) and head west into Faribault (about 5 miles) to visit the River Bend Nature Center near the SE corner of the city.  Turn south on Shumway to Rustad and then go east to the center.


3
Rice Lake State Park Go To Top 

(Steele/Dodge Counties)
 
Directions from Rochester: West on Hwy 14 to Claremont.  North on Cty 1.  A short distance past the gravel pit ponds (check them on the way), turn left (west) on the paved Cty 20 (marked with sign for the park).  The park is on your left about 3 miles down the road.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Waterfowl, waders, warblers, sparrows and other song birds.
Rice Lake SP map

The park is a good place to visit any time of the year, but springtime is the best when migrating waterfowl fill the lake and the woods will be alive with songbirds.  Check out the view of the lake from the boat landing and the picnic area (both sides of the point).  Hike the trail along the lake shore to the east of the picnic area all the way to the campground to get your fill of both waterfowl and songbirds.

Be sure to also check out the small wetland west of the entrance to the park.  This is the spot where 3 Black-necked Stilts were seen in mid-May of 2004.  A month earlier an American Avocet, a Black-Crowned Night Heron and a Snowy Egret stopped at the wetland (all at the same time) to find a meal.  Shorebirds can also be found at the wetland during migration and you may also see two or three Sandhill Cranes hanging around the nearby fields as well.  A wandering Whooping Crane from the Wisconsin flock of released birds was found here in 2003.

To the east of the entrance to the park is another small reed marsh that is located just inside Dodge County at the northeast corner of the intersection with Dodge County 20 (the north-south road is the county line).   Look for Marsh Wren and both Sora and Virginia Rails as well as a good assortment of sparrows.

It might also be worth checking the Dodge County side of the park at the cemetery and at the road (no vehicle access) for similar species.  Also watch for Sandhill Cranes in the area from the blocked park road to where the road turns after passing the farmhouse.  A family of cranes has been seen here the past couple of years (and the Wisconsin Whooping Crane also wandered over in this area as well).


4
Claremont Sewage Ponds Go To Top 

(Dodge County)
 
Directions from Rochester: West on Hwy 14 to east entrance to Claremont.  Left on the first road after the railroad tracks.  Left on the unmarked trail that runs through the farm field.  Cross the tracks and park by the gate.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

 
Primary Species: Waterfowl and shorebirds.
Claremont Sewage Ponds

Although the birding here has not been as good in the past few years (since they added more rip-rap along the "shore" line), this can be a good place to check for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl.  Most species of shorebirds have been seen here, including Red-necked Phalarope and even a rare Red Phalarope.  Once a rare Violet-green swallow was identified here as well.  Also check the scrubby area around the south side of the ponds for sparrows and other song birds.

While you are in the area, you can also check out the gravel pit area 2 miles north of Claremont on Cty 1 (check all four corners of the intersection).  The best spot for shorebirds and waterfowl usually is the private pond NE of the intersection.  There is also a wildlife area on Cty 5 that was set aside by Pheasants Forever that can be good for sparrows and song birds.  A mile east is another access point and parking area where there is a fairly large pond that has attracted waterfowl and even Black-crowned Night-Heron. 


5
Hormel Nature Center Go To Top 

(Mower County)
 
Directions from Rochester: South on Hwy 63 to I 90.  Bear right to go west on I 90.  Take the first exit after the Hwy 56 exchange just before you get to Austin (about 40 miles from Rochester).  Go to the right (north), pass up the immediate right and continue for a half mile before turning right into the park and nature center. 
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Song birds, sparrows, warblers and some waterfowl.
Hormel Nature Center

The best birding is along the stream that flows through the park.  There are several trails that run adjacent to the stream (on both sides) so you can go up one side and loop back on the other.

There are some ponds on the property that are well hidden with shrubs and trees that are worthwhile to check also.  These are easily accessed from the parking lot by heading east and a bit north across the prairie area.  Be sure to watch for sparrows harvesting seed from the prairie grasses.


6
Big Island State Park Go To Top 

(Freeborn County)
 
Directions from Rochester: South on Hwy 63 to I 90.  Bear right to go west on I 90.  Continue past Austin and take the Hayward exit.  Turn south to Hayward on Cty 26 and then turn right (west) on Cty 46.  Turn left on Cty 38 (south) and proceed into the park.
Seasonal Ratings: 
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter
 
Primary Species: Waterfowl, especially American Pelican, warblers, sparrows and other song birds.
Big Island SP map

There are plenty of places to check out in this park.  The road out to the island takes you past varied habitat and provides a good view of the lake.  Check around the parking area for land birds.  You can either hike or drive to the smaller "island" to the north where there can be good concentrations of warblers and sparrows in migration.

Also check out the other road that goes straight south from the ranger station.  This leads to good views of the lake and to a nice marsh (the side road back to the north).

Northeastern Section of Southeastern MinnesotaBirding in Olmsted CountySoutheastern Section of Southeastern MinnesotaBig Island State ParkHormel Nature CenterRice Lake State ParkClaremont Sewage PondsBig Woods State ParkLake Byllesby