There are a minimum of 50 species of nesting birds. All year round one may see or hear great horned or barred owls at dawn or dusk or on moonlit nights. Also to be seen are Red-tailed Hawks (rare in winter), Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, Pileated, Red-bellied, Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Crow, Chickadee, Cardinal, and Goldfinch. Each spring and fall a stream of migrants (at least 50 species) can be observed if you are diligent May and June nesters include at least 50 additional species. Especially interesting and sometimes observable are Woodcock, Vulture, Crested Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, House Wren, Ovenbird, and Redstart. The late summer is a quiet season when the birds store fat for their fall migration. Nevertheless one can see and often hear Indigo Bunting, Redstart, Red-eyed Vireo, Redwing, Phoebe, and Kingfisher.
Early Spring Birds
The Wilderness Area has a remarkable variety of birds, enough to test a highly skilled bird watcher. But we will tell you here about the most common birds. The best time to walk the trail for birds is early in the morning or late in the day. Listen while looking up and down river. At the bridge, listen for Ruffed Grouse drumming on a favorite log. The grouse will be cake-walking about, hop on the log and bring its wings into its breast with a powerful beat which will decline in intensity sounding like a descending muffled drum roll, or a distant tractor starting up. You must pay attention; it is not a loud sound. The male hopes to attract females and at the same time warn other males to stay away. If you are lucky enough to encounter a grouse as you walk along, try to get a good look at the elegant plumage.
While at the bridge look up and down river for Great Blue Herons each of which will be patrolling a hunting territory along the river. These birds’ nest with other herons in large rookeries on nearby lakes. You may also see a Kingfisher rattling down the river or diving for a fish. It is a large headed bird, blue and white. If you get a good look you may see reddish bands on the breast If so, it’s a female. This is one of the bird species in which the female is the more colorful bird.
Along the river listen for a Phoebe singing. It says “pe-witt phoebe” (feebee) a warble on the first word , emphasis on the phoebe. It nests under the overhang of the rocks on the south side. It is a flycatcher. If the day is cold you may encounter this bird in a wet spot close to the ground.
Your best bet for seeing Woodcocks is to come at dusk. They dance on the ground to the interest of any females and then suddenly rise up and down vertically through the air, calling “peent” When the male gets back to the ground he hopes to encounter a lady love. They nest in the swamp or bog. You must wait until the bird strikes the ground, run up, throw yourself down and repeat this process until you have arrived close enough to see the birds dancing. It requires a taste for swamps.
Look up high to see Vultures soaring above. Vulture Wings are at an angle to the horizontal. These are the best gliders among birds. Without moving anything but wing-tips they can glide hour after hour. If a Vulture spots a delectable meal it begins to descend, a behavior immediately spotted by distant Vultures eager to partake of the gourmet feast A whirlpool of descending Vultures forms. If you should ever encounter a nest, beware. Baby and adult Vultures toss their cookies, showing their appreciation of your presence. Better to sniff a skunk.
Special note to observers: We need information on all breeding animals observed in the park. Dates, time, and circumstance of observation of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles and evidence of their breeding would be particularly welcome. Log your observations in our Facebook group, or send a card or note of such data to Julie Klassen, 14075 Cannon City Blvd, Northfield MN 55057; email jklassen carleton.edu