6 great places for fall bird-watching in Minnesota – Star Tribune

We’re lucky to live in a metropolitan area that offers so many places to get out and explore the natural world. We have city and county parks, nature preserves, nature centers, scientific and natural areas, even a national wildlife refuge right in the middle of Bloomington.
So many of these parks and open spaces are accessible for nearly all of us, no matter our abilities. However you get around, there are natural areas with paved trails and/or roadways with good stopping places. Some are served by buses or light rail, too, so don’t let lack of a vehicle slow you down.
It’s much easier to be a bird-watcher at this time of year, simply because there are more birds outside right now than at any other season. Adult birds have launched their offspring, so there are millions and millions more birds in the world now than arrived here last spring.
Fall is a great time to get outdoors and watch for some of these birds on their way to their winter homes. Don’t forget, our metro area sits on a significant bird migration highway, the Mississippi flyway, with huge numbers of birds traveling along the river corridor and miles on either side, as late as November (although fewer birds are around later in the season).
Parks with many trees are good places to spot migrating songbirds. Wetlands with abundant blooming jewel weed often host migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds. Lakes and ponds are good for ducks, geese, herons and swans. Watch snags along the shore for belted kingfishers with their rattling call.
Grassy open areas might feature several kinds of migratory sparrows, from the tiny chipping sparrow to the hulking Harris’s sparrow. And wherever you are, look up and scan the sky from time to time to possibly spot a flock of white pelicans soaring silently overhead, or a flock of turkey vultures doing the same, or even a small kettle of hawks using rising air columns to assist their flight.
At this time of year it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll see something, no matter where you stop. Truth to tell, you don’t need to get in a car or on a bus to go see migratory birds. Just step outdoors and look at whatever landscape you find yourself in. And then enjoy the miracle of watching the annual flood of birds passing through on their way to the Caribbean or Central or South America.
Fort Snelling State Park
101 Snelling Lake Rd., St Paul
Why go: In autumn, watch for swans, turkeys, migrating ducks, songbirds including warblers. Great Visitor’s Center, the park is brimming with history.
Cost: Permit required: One-day ($7) or year-round ($35) (see website for discount info). Free parking.
Accessibility: Can walk or drive — many paved trails and pull-over spots.
Hours: Open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, check website for visitor center hours.
Dogs: Dogs on leash allowed.
Minnehaha Regional Park – Wabun Picnic Area
4655 46th Av. S., Minneapolis
Why go: Watch for warblers, other songbirds, hawks, eagles, herons. Has Minnehaha Falls, and creek runs to Mississippi River.
Cost: Free, with free parking.
Accessibility: Accessible via Metro Transit, A Line, Blue Line, several bus routes.
Hours: Open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Dogs: Dogs on leash allowed.
Old Cedar Avenue Bridge
9551 Old Cedar Av. S., Bloomington
Why go: Varied habitats attract wide variety of birds: waterfowl, songbirds, shorebirds, herons, egrets.
Cost: Free, with free parking.
Accessibility: Bridge is paved and leads to paved trail, several longer mulched trails.
Hours: Open sunrise to sunset daily.
Dogs: Dogs on leash allowed.
Schaar’s Bluff Trailhead
8500 127th St. E., Hastings
Why go: Watch for waterfowl on river, plus goldfinches, sparrows, songbirds, hawks, eagles.
Cost: Free with free parking.
Accessibility: Paved trails, scenic overlook to Mississippi River.
Hours: Open 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Dogs: Dogs on leash allowed.
Lake Elmo Regional Park
1515 Keats Av. N., Lake Elmo
Why go: Varied habitats: meadowlarks, kingbirds, songbirds, woodpeckers, waterbirds, raptors.
Cost: Daily ($7) or annual ($30).
Accessibility: Large park with paved and grassy trails, drive-and-stop options.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Dogs: Dogs allowed on leash on trails.
Wood Lake Nature Center
6710 Lake Shore Dr. S., Richfield
Why go: Small gem of a nature preserve. Woodlands, marsh and prairie, watch for songbirds, waterbirds, woodpeckers
Cost: Free with free parking.
Accessibility: A number of bus lines serve this park. Some paved trails and boardwalk.
Hours: Open sunrise to 11 p.m.
Dogs: Service dogs only.

Check out parks served by Metro Transit here: metrotransit.org/parks
St. Paul resident Val Cunningham, who volunteers with the St. Paul Audubon Society and writes about nature for local, regional and national newspapers and magazines, can be reached at valwrites@comcast.net.

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