June 07, 2022

Minnesota River - Western Minnesota

Yellow Medicine, Chippewa, Redwood, and Renville counties

This is a summary of places we visited on a trip to the Minnesota River Valley in western Minnesota in the area loosely between Granite Falls and Morton. Carved by the massive Glacial River Warren the landscape in this area contains outcrops of rocks formed over 3 billion years ago. This rocky landscape provides a unique habitat that is being lost to granite mining, housing, and recreational use making these Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA) and Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) vitally important. The Minnesota River Basin Data Center contains a load of info pertaining to the Minnesota River. The areas we visited were within the Hawk Creek, Yellow Medicine, and Middle Minnesota Watersheds.

Our May 2022 visit to the area involved a combination of pursuits and we were willing to just explore the area without focusing for a long time in any one place. Additionally, we both found ourselves without our tick-prepared clothing and, therefore, weren't highly motivated to wade too far into taller grasses. The order below is the order that we traveled. Starting at Blue Devil Valley Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), we headed south through areas west of the Minnesota River. We then swung east to Morton Outcrops SNA and made our way north along the eastern side of the Minnesota River, hitting a number of SNAs and Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) and finally ending the tour loop at Gneiss Outcrops SNA. . My observations for 16 May 2022

Blue Devil Valley SNA | Granite Falls, Yellow Medicine county, MN | 27 acres

The habitat of the site hosts Prickly Pear Cacti and one of the state's largest known populations of the Common Five-lined Skink. Any wooden or metal cover boards that are present on the site should not be disturbed as they are used to assess the distribution, habitat use, and movements of the Skink. There is a small parking area (for 1, maybe 2 cars) off the road. Like all SNAs, there are no maintained trails or facilities. Parking: N44 48.097, W95 32.994

Visited 16 May 2022; 8:30 am : We walked a few yards in and birded there for 15-20 minutes. Observed : Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, House Wren, Yellow Warbler. Saw in ponds nearby: Tree Swallow, Hooded Merganser, Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal.

Links for Blue Devil SNA: MN DNR | MinnesotaSeasons | eBird Hotspot reports | eBird Checklist | iNaturalist Point of Interest | iNaturalist Project | MN DNR Bulletin: Site Highlight

Various Locations, Yellow Medicine county, MN

Farm Fields: Recent storms day before our visit had flooded quite a few farm fields with the possibility of seeing migrating shorebirds in them.
Links for Yellow Medicine county: eBird Recent Visits

Tyson Lake: The lake can be viewed from county roads or at the Public Water Access at the intersection of 150th Ave and 560th St. (NE corner of lake)
Links for Tyson Lake: eBird Hotspot reports | eBird Checklist: Tyson Lake

Echo Water Treatment Plant (WTP): An access road runs east from 600th St (just south of 150th Ave). There weren't any 'no trespassing/private property' signs until one reaches the gate surrounding the treatment ponds.
Links for Echo Water Treatment Plant: eBird Hotspot reports | eBird Checklist

Visited 16 May 2022; 9-10:15 am : Flooded Field - We happened upon an Upland Sandpiper in a flooded/muddy farm field just feet from the road. Tyson Lake - There were American White Pelicans visible from the road. At the public access to the lake, we saw/heard: Mourning Dove, Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch, and Yellow Warbler. Some people fishing had caught a Black Bullhead that they let me photograph, as well. It was a pleasant place to have a bite to eat and walk around but it wasn't a great birding/naturing spot. Echo WTP - In the week prior, a Wilson's Phalarope and Smith's Longspur had been seen at the WTP but we didn't find them. We did see: Killdeer, Savannah Sparrow, Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, Bald Eagle, unidentified shorebird, and a Bald Eagle flying overhead.

Morton Outcrops SNA | Morton, Renville county, MN | 15 acres

"This site has outstanding biodiversity significance, supporting one of the state's largest and highest quality examples of Crystalline Bedrock Outcrop Prairie" (MN DNR, link below) Rare species found here include the Regal Fritillary butterfly, Prairie Bush Clover, Wolf's Spikerush, and Fox Snake. There’s a hotel and gas station at the intersection of US Hwy 71 and MN Hwy 19 with a very large parking lot. Entry to the SNA is at the SE corner of the parking lot just of W Ledge St. The DNR website says to ask permission from the hotel to park there but we didn’t and we were so far from the functional parking lot for the hotel, I doubt there is much concern on their part for us to have parked there. Close to W Ledge St,, there is an old double track vehicle trail along the SE edge of the park. The rest of the SNA has minimal to no footpaths.

Visited 16 May 2022; 12-12:15 pm : We walked up the old vehicle track and then over to the highest point of the outcrops but not any further. With the late spring, there wasn't much in the way of plants yet (in the small area I walked) and we didn't observe many birds other than a Robin, some swallows and a couple of Common Nighthawks (which was a thrill for me). I did find some critter holes that were about a foot in diameter (two spaced some feet apart) and some lichen on the rocks.

Links for Morton Outcrops SNA: MN DNR | MinnesotaSeasons | iNaturalist Point of Interest | iNaturalist Open Space | iNaturalist 2020 Bioblitz | iNaturalist Project

Granite Prairie WMA | Beaver Falls Township, Renville county, MN | 192 acres

This site "protects numerous exposed granite outcrops, remnant native prairie, existing and restored hardwood forested areas, several wetland/shallow lake structures, [as well as] nearly 1.1 miles of aquatic habitats along the Minnesota River shoreline" (Heritage Council Report - link below). Leading from the gate, there was an old vehicle road that led into the property. It appears on Google maps that this old road skirts a pocket of hardwood that contains a streak of rock outcrops and around the perimeter of the property. But these old roads won't be maintained and it doesn't look like a heavily visited area so it's unsure what the condition of these tracks will be over time. There's a small parking area for maybe 1-3 cars.

Visited 16 May 2022; 12:45-1:45 pm : We literally stumbled upon this WMA as we drove past and saw the sign. We walked about a third of a mile in and saw Clay-colored Sparrow, Hyssop, Blue Phlox, Swainson’s Thrush, European Carp spawning, Gray Catbird, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow Warbler, and Great-crested Flycatcher. I've since added the site to Google Maps which might make others more aware of it. We always love a back road and these didn't disappoint.

Links for Granite Prairie WMA: MN DNR | Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council Final Accomplishment Plan Report (2011) | iNaturalist: approximate area of Granite Prairie WMA

River Warren Outcrops SNA | Flora township, Renville county, MN | 89 acres

Located within a meander of the Minnesota River, this fairly new SNA (2016) contains dense wooded bedrock outcrops, a floodplain forest, riparian habitat, and former agricultural land being restored to prairie. Species found here include Plains Prickly Pear, Kentucky Coffee Tree, Rock Spikemoss, Brittle Pricklypear, Prairie Fameflower, Rusty Woodsia. Like all SNAs, there are no maintained trails or facilities. Ample off road parking for at least a half dozen cars. Parking: N44 37.973, W95 10.970

Visited 16 May 2022; 2:30-2:45 pm : I walked along the eastern boundary with grass on the SNA side and a line of trees on the private property side. About 500 feet in, there are patches of hardwood trees with a pond just beyond them. I did not walk further than 500 feet in. Being mid-afternoon, it was hot, I was tired, there wasn’t much wildlife activity to be found and I wasn’t motivated to spend much time here. I saw an American Kestrel, heard Blue Jays and House Wrens, and photographed a few sedges and a Furrow Bee - mostly to document that we had visited the spot.

Links for River Warren Outcrops: MN DNR | MinnesotaSeasons | eBird Hotspot reports | eBird Checklist | iNaturalist Point of Interest | iNaturalist Open Space | iNaturalist Project

Swedes Forest SNA | Belview, Yellow Medicine and Redwood county, MN | 207 acres

Sacred Heart granite outcrops which dominate the landscape of this SNA provide a unique environment for species such as Wolf's Spikerush, Roundleaf Water-Hyssop, Common Five-lined Skink, Brittle Pricklypear, Rock Spikemoss, and Rusty Woodsia. Although there are no maintained trails, there is maintenance road that leads from the parking area for a half mile. (The DNR website doesn't use an apostrophe in 'Swedes'. The iNaturalist site does, however.) Off road parking will hold a few cars. Parking: N44 41.562, W95 22.110

Visited 16 May 2022; 3:30-3:45 pm : It was getting later in the day and we'd been on the road (and briefly on the trail) for 7 hours at that point. But this spot was one of the favorites we visited that day. The landscape was beautiful and I wished we would have visited it earlier in the day when the birds might have been more active and we might have been more willing to hike further. We didn't stay long but we saw Canada Goose, Great Egret, Field Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, American Goldfinch, Painted Turtle, Mining Bee, and a soaring Red-tailed Hawk.

Links for Swedes Forest: MN DNR | MinnesotaSeasons | eBird Hotspot reports (Yellow Medicine county) |
eBird Hotspot reports (Redwood county) | eBird Hotspot reports (Yellow Medicine county) |
eBird Checklist (Redwood county) | iNaturalist SNA Point of Interest | The Photonaturalist (Sparky Stensaas): Swedes Forest SNA blog entries

Gneiss Outcrops SNA | Granite Falls, Chippewa county, MN | 234 acres

Plains Prickly Pear and Brittle Cactus can be found on the site as well as an assortment of lichen growing on the rocks. One of the DNR designated parking areas on Cty Rd 40 (the one currently shown on Google Maps) is not very safe, traffic wise. It is recommended to pull over and park on the north side of 170th St at N44 46.461, W95 30.357. See MinnesotaSeasons (link below) for more info. Like all SNAs, there are no maintained trails or facilities. It sounds like it can get wet in places and during certain times. One may need to have waterproof footwear at hand.

Visited 16 May 2022; 4:15 pm : So, it had been a full day of touring and hiking. We were a bit hot, pretty dusty and thirsty and this was to be our last stop. As we pulled up to the precarious pull over parking spot, I spied a tick on the car door next to my elbow. We had a comedic turn as we tried to get the tick off the door (with it open, of course), having it fall into a crevice, having to dig it out - all while parked just inches from the road on a curve overlooking a bluff. Needless to say, when we were done with the tick, we were kind of done 'naturing'. We took a moment to look at the rocks next to the parking area then got back in the car and drove back to the hotel - eager to get out of our clothes and into the shower. I realized two things later. 1) I completely forgot to take any photo to serve as an observation of the spot. My goal is to always make an iNat observation of something... anything to commemorate places we've visited. I made a casual observation (without a photo) of the tick. 2) My prior research had revealed that this was not the best place to park (details above) but I had completely forgotten about it but I doubt we would have spent much time there anyhow at the end of the day. Ironically, this SNA was the initial impetus for us visiting the area in the first place. The rest of the stops were all 'add-ons'. I don't think we were there for longer than 5 minutes and 4 of those were spent digging the tick out of the crevice!

Links for Gneiss Outcrops SNA: MN DNR | MinnesotaSeasons | Explore Minnesota | eBird Hotspot reports | eBird Checklist | iNaturalist Point of Interest | iNaturalist Open Space | iNaturalist Project | Marshall Independant Newspaper article: Gneiss Outcrops SNA

Posted on June 07, 2022 18:15 by mmmiller mmmiller | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 31, 2022

Lichen resources

https://lichenportal.org/cnalh/
Consortium of North American Lichen Herbaria

https://www.kollathstensaas.com/book.php?bookID=6#
Lichens of the North Woods
Written by: Joe Walewski
taxonomic names are out of date

https://youtu.be/dNLKSXE4w1o
Lunch & Learn: Lichens of the Riverway (St. Croix and Namekagon)
Joe Walewski

https://youtu.be/12D4IogJNx4
Lichens of the North Shore Webinar
Joe Walewski

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spot_test_(lichen)
Spot test (lichen)
C = Bleach
K = Liquid-Plumr
P = carcinogen - not recommended

identifiers for area
blue543 : https://www.inaturalist.org/people/blue543
Joe Walewski : https://www.inaturalist.org/people/jwalewski


⦁ A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi species in a mutualistic relationship.
⦁ The combined lichen has properties different from those of its component organisms.
⦁ Lichens come in many colors, sizes, and forms.
⦁ The properties are sometimes plant-like, but lichens are not plants.
⦁ Lichens may have tiny, leafless branches (fruticose), flat leaf-like structures (foliose), flakes that lie on the surface like peeling paint (crustose), a powder-like appearance (leprose), or other growth forms.
⦁ Lichens are classified by the fungal component. Lichen species are given the same scientific name (binomial name) as the fungus species in the lichen. Lichens are being integrated into the classification schemes for fungi. The alga bears its own scientific name, which bears no relationship to that of the lichen or fungus.

Mosses are commonly confused with lichens, hornworts, and liverworts. Lichens may superficially resemble mosses, and sometimes have common names that include the word "moss" (e.g., "reindeer moss" or "Iceland moss"), but they are not related to mosses.

Posted on May 31, 2022 19:53 by mmmiller mmmiller | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 23, 2022

Index of Journal Posts

Posts Discussing Locations

SNA = in MN: Scientific and Natural Area; in WI: State Natural Areas
NWR = National Wildlife Refuge

Minnesota

Dakota County
180th Street Marsh
Pine Bend Bluffs SNA
Goodhue County
River Terrace Prairie SNA
Hennepin County
Lake Hiawatha Park
Le Sueur County
Kasota Prairie SNA
Kasota Prairie Conservation Area
Chamberlain Woods SNA
Ramsey County
Fish Creek Natural Area
Sherburne County
Woodland Trails Regional Park
Wabasha County
Kellogg Weaver Dunes SNA
Washington County
Blueberry Hill
Arcola Bluffs Day Use Area
St. Croix Savanna SNA

Yellow Medicine, Chippewa, Redwood, and Renville Counties
Minnesota River - Western Minnesota (SNAs: Blue Devil; Morton Outcrops; ; River Warren Outcrops; Swedes Forest; Gneiss Outcrops - Granite Prairie WMA)

Wisconsin

Dunn County
Wisconsin Rustic Road 89 | Devil's Punchbowl | Red Cedar State Trail
Pierce County
Morgan Coulee Prairie SNA
Wisconsin Rustic Road 51
Trempealeau County
Trempealeau NWR


Posts Discussing Experiences

Cranes at Crex (Crex Meadows, Burnett Co., WI)

Posted on January 23, 2022 17:33 by mmmiller mmmiller | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 01, 2022

Cranes at Crex

Up till now, my journal posts have all been about the wildlife areas and parks we've visited for nature observations. I've considered writing a journal post about Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area in Burnett County, Wisconsin. But the place is so large and has so many areas to consider that it seems too massive a task. We have visited the area numerous times in the last few years and it is my favorite spot to revisit. Just south of Crex is Fish Lake Wildlife Area which we visited (in conjunction with Crex Meadows) for the first time this year and it was a worthy addition to the trip agenda. Below is an account of our visit in late Oct. 2021.



On Oct 30, 2021, we planned a trip to Fish Lake Wildlife Area and Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area. The 'aim' of the trip was to enjoy the fall colors and then see what we might see. We drove through Fish Lake first but it was pretty cloudy and the colors didn't really pop. We each commented more than once: 'this would be stunning if the sun were out.' And we didn't really see anything interesting.

So, on to Crex. Now there are lots of roads that run through Crex Meadows. Some are likely only traveled by people viewing the landscape or wildlife. Some could easily be used by people who live in the area to get from one spot to another. We will take different routes during different visits. The loop we took that day was about 25 miles long and we had taken about 5 hours to drive it. Sometimes we're just coasting slowly along the road. Sometimes we'll stop for a snack or bathroom break with a short hike. There had been recent reports of some birds that are more 'wintery' like Snow Buntings and Northern Shrikes. We didn't see any of them but I suspect we glimpsed some American Tree Sparrows and saw lots of Rough-legged Hawks. We also got a good look at a Wilson's Snipe, a bird we've heard for years but could never find prior to this year when we've seen a few.

We also saw Crows, Ravens, Bald Eagles, Blue Jays, Canada Geese, Trumpeter Swans, Pied-billed Grebes, Mallards, and Sandhill Cranes... all common and were easily seen all summer so, no special excitement there. Additionally we saw:

  • a deer carcass that had apparently been picked over by scavengers - just the rib cage, spine, and skin/fur was left
  • two tiny spiders on our windshield - at two different times - the sun setting behind the vegetation revealed numerous spider webs spun between the plants
  • Black Bear tracks - in a sandy hiking path quite near the small campground and picnic area of the refuge
  • a small Red Squirrel in my favorite craggy tree stump in the refuge that I've photographed on previous visits

The sun started to come out about 2-3:00 pm which made the colors pop and we got some cool cloud formations as the weather systems switched. So now we were getting the 'fall drive' we had sought out. When we had to make a choice (left or right) to head out of the park or drive around the eastern half, we decided to do the longer drive.

I was driving the last half hour or so and the sun was getting lower (about 4:30 ish). I suggested to my husband that we drive the entire loop again, this time going a little faster. That would keep us in the park till closer to sunset and provide a chance of seeing migrating Sandhill Cranes come in for the night as well as possible sightings of more nocturnal wildlife. He agreed so we took a road that would take us back to the 'loop' rather than exit the park.

A ways along the road, we came upon a dozen or more cars parked on the shoulder. Ah.... they must be here for the Cranes since I'd read that this was peak Sandhill Crane migration. So, we pulled over and waited.

About 5:15 a few cranes started flying in and within a half hour there was wave after wave flying in. They flew in formations numbering about 15-20 and at one point, I could count at least 25 formations flying in from the north and the formations were coming in from all directions - I just happened to be facing north. The Cranes called continuously - the sound is constant. One person who was there for an hour that evening (about the same time) estimated 3000. But the refuge website wrote on Oct 18:

[There have been] 5,000-7,000 birds already. Our numbers of cranes will only continue to rise throughout this month, normally reaching peak the last week in October or the first week in November.

As the sun continued to set, the colors of the marsh deepened. It is BIG SKY around there and the cloud formations to the north were striking. The SW sky where the sun was setting was dramatic. In the WNW the horizon was turning purple.

We've seen Cranes all summer. A few times, we've seen Cranes in large groups (50-100). But this was magically very impressive. Very hard to explain. And the sky... indescribable.

After about an hour, the sun and light was getting very low and perhaps the Crane arrival was lessening (not sure about that, though) so we decided to head out. To do so, we turned around to go east for a short ways then we'd turn south. As we turned south we looked west toward the setting sun and, OH MY GOD... the sky. The sky was this deep crimson and the sun was right at the horizon and there was a red sun pillar shooting into the sky.

All in all, a pretty cool day.

Google Photo Album

iNat observations for that day

Posted on January 01, 2022 02:27 by mmmiller mmmiller | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 14, 2021

Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge

Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)
Trempealeau, Trempealeau county (and southern Buffalo county), WI
6,446 acres; rolling sand prairie, restored prairie, wetland, bottomland forest, oak savanna, marsh

Park/Area Notes

Trempealeau NWR is near to but isolated from the Mississippi and Trempealeau rivers by dikes making it an ideal resting and feeding area for waterfowl and other birds. Various areas of the park offer opportunities to view Bald Eagles, Sandhill Cranes, Blandings Turtles, Black Terns, Osprey, American White Pelicans, North American River Otters, migrating waterfowl (including Tundra Swans), songbirds, and shorebirds as well as a variety of native wildflowers and prairie grasses.

Although we haven't experienced issues with nuisance insects during our visits, it is likely that biting flies, gnats, and mosquitoes may be present during certain times of the year. Official literature suggests bug spray. Many of the trails are clear/wide enough I wouldn't hesitate to hike them without tick precautions, but if one hopes to wade into wild plants/grasses for closer observations, I would expect tick precautions would be needed.

Prairie's Edge Tour Loop (aka Wildlife Drive)
There is a 4.5 mile loop (open year round) that is accessible to bikers, pedestrians and cars. Along this loop are a few walking trails of varying lengths. At the rivermost point of the loop is a parking lot with an observation deck and bathrooms. There is a boat/canoe launch which would provide access to the observing from the water. | Tour Loop Map and Self-Guided Tour (pdf) | Wider Refuge Trail Map (pdf)
Start of Tour Loop: 44°03'00.6"N 91°31'15.9"W | 44.050178, -91.521071 | Plus Code: 3F2H+3HF West Prairie, Wisconsin

River Bottoms Access | foot & bike traffic only
A small parking area (max about 5-7 cars?) just off WI-35/WI-54 sits at a trailhead for trails leading into the refuge. The trail along River Bottoms Road runs 1 mile one way. The trail along Oxbow Dike (from trailhead) is almost 1 mile one way. (trails don't loop - you travel out then back on same route). | Map (pdf)
The parking area is on the river side of WI-35/WI-54 just south/east of the intersection with Lipinski Ln.
Parking area : 44°04'07.7"N 91°35'49.9"W | 44.068797, -91.597190 | Plus Code: 3C93+G47 Bluff Siding, Wisconsin

Marshland Access | foot & bike traffic only
A paved lot (accommodating about 25-30 cars) serves as a trailhead for a trail that leads into the refuge and toward the Mississippi sidewaters ending at Delta Point (2 miles one way) as well as the Great River Trail which runs travels 1.3 miles SE till it meets the Wildlife Drive. NOTE: Although I don't believe there is a fee for riding bikes along most trails/roads in Trempealeau NWR, a permit is required to bike on the Great River Trail. (none required for hikers) More info on the State Trail at the link below. | Map (pdf)
The parking area is on the river side of WI-35/WI-54 just south/east of the intersection with CountyRd-P and the railroad tracks.
Parking area : 44°04'17.7"N 91°33'17.3"W | 44.071582, -91.554800 | Plus Code : 3CCW+J3P Marshland, Wisconsin

Visits

October 19, 2021
Having driven 2.5 hours to get to the Refuge, we made straight for the bathrooms near the observation deck on the Prairie's Edge Tour Loop. Once there, we had lunch in the car then headed out for a hike along Pine Creek Dike. It was hard to see much on the water due to sun bouncing off the water and backlighting everything. But we got some poorish photos of waterfowl, some of which were identifiable. We also saw the fall seedheads of a few new plants for us, some Bittersweet, a few Meadowhawk Dragonflies, Painted Turtles, and a Great Horned Owl feather.

Returning to the car, we drove the Loop twice, mostly enjoying the drive. We saw a few birds including some Rusty Blackbirds and a Pileated Woodpecker and a dead-in-the-road Garter Snake.

This is a long drive from home for us but it was an enjoyable trip down the Mississippi and the park is nice to drive through. In the future, we may want to try one of the other hiking areas.

Useful links/info

US Fish & Wildlife Service : Trempealeau NWR
Wisconsins DNR: Great River State Trail
US Fish & Wildlife : Refuge Bird List (pdf)
US Fish & Wildlife : Great River State Trail Map (pdf)
iNaturalist: Trempealeau NWR Open Space page
iNaturalist: Observations
eBird - there are multiple hotspots for Trempealeau NWR: | Trempealeau county Hotspots | Buffalo county Hotspots

Posted on December 14, 2021 02:09 by mmmiller mmmiller | 44 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 08, 2021

Blueberry Hill

Blueberry Hill
Bayport, Washington county, MN
2-4 acres; prairie remnant; restored prairie (in progreess)

Park/Area Notes

This small site is owned by the Minnesota Dept of Transportation (MnDOT) and stewarded by volunteers from The Prairie Enthusiasts' St. Croix Valley Chapter. Although local volunteers have worked for years to maintain and restore this prairie, there isn't much official information on it. There doesn't seem to be any trails or clear boundaries (that I could determine).

Plants found here include: Leadplant, Flowering Spurge, Rough Blazing Star, Dutchman's Breeches, Round-headed Bush Clover.

Birds include: Clay-colored Sparrow, Baltimore Oriole, Dark-eyed Junco, and Black-capped Chickadee. Since it adjoins the St. Croix River, there might be some opportunity to view birds using the river for migration. There isn't a hot spot at eBird for this location.

There didn't seem to be many iNaturalist insect observations for this site but I suspect there are insects to be found and the restoration effort is trying to maintain potential habitat for the critically endangered Rusty-patched Bumble Bee.

South of Bayport, Quant Ave N loops away (to the east) from MN-95 and then back, thereby creating a long parcel of land bounded by each road. The southern section of the parcel contains private houses (far south) and farmland (mid-parcel). The northern 'third' of this parcel contains the restored prairie that was once farmland.

Across from that restored prairie on the east side of Quant Ave is more prairie - perhaps the original, prairie remnant mentioned in articles. Beyond that (and toward the St. Croix River) is a line of trees and then the land likely drops down to the river side. Two railway tracks run along the River here and I doubt that is considered public access.

There is a new (as of 2021) parking area north of Quant Ave just before its northern intersection with MN-95. From what I can tell, the area around this parking lot hadn't been part of the past restoration work but it may be restored in the future. There are no bathrooms on site.

Visits

Nov 23, 2021
We mostly wanted to check this site out. There wasn't a lot to see in late November. We found the very new parking area but it looked like one would have to walk south on Quant Ave N to access the prairie areas. There had been a recent burn on the east side of Quant Ave N but, from the car, we did observe some Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees, and a Northern Cardinal. Most of the road looked to be lined with a ditch which I, with compromised mobility, wouldn't be keen to climb down and out of. Additionally there was some short brush along the road that would impair entry. But we didn't look really closely and people work in these areas all the time so there must be some easier entry than climbing into and out of a ditch. It's possible summer will reveal any informal trails that get created by visitors.

I'm not sure there is a lot that makes this place stand out on its own but it's close to the Twin Cities and other nature spots that can be combined into a day trip and I'm curious about what the spring and summer might have to offer.

Other sites in Washington county that we visited on the same day:
St. Croix Savanna SNA | Journal Post
Arcola Bluffs Day Use Area | Journal Post

Useful links/info

Parking area is off Quant Ave N at its northern intersection with MN-95.
44°59'20.6"N 92°46'42.5"W | 44.989064, -92.778476

The Prairie Enthusiasts: St. Croix Valley chapter

Media articles:
St. Croix 360: "Prairie protectors save site overlooking St. Croix River from state sale" (Nov 5, 2021)
St. Croix 360: "State plans to auction off scenic prairie on Bayport bluff" (Jul 24, 2020)
US News & World Report: "Prairie Protectors Find Their Thrill Saving Blueberry Hill" (Nov 22, 2021)
St. Croix Valley Magazine: "Group says Minnesota's Native Prairies Are 'as Rare and Worthy of Saving as the Amazon'"(Aug/Sep 2019)

Posted on December 08, 2021 01:29 by mmmiller mmmiller | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 07, 2021

Arcola Bluffs Day Use Area

Arcola Bluffs Day Use Area (DUA)
Stillwater, Washington county, MN
207 acres; hardwood forest, meadow, river bank, small seepage forest, marshes, prairie
It is in the process of being restored to oak savanna and native prairie

Park/Area Notes

Arcola Bluffs Day Use Area is part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (National Park Service), but there is very little formal information about this spot.

iNaturalist observations made in or close by Arcola Bluffs SNA include approximately 80 species of plants (mostly woodland plants), 20 species of insects, 10 species of fungi, and 10 species of birds. eBird's Field Checklist for the DUA includes 97 species of birds.

From a 2018 National Park Service (NPS) report on Arcola Bluffs (link below): "Oaks dominate the forested sections of the study area, providing habitat for a variety of birds and mammals including sensitive bat species such as the northern long-eared bat and little brown bat. The white-tailed deer is the most common big game animal. Other common species include mink, weasel, skunk, woodchuck, raccoon, gray squirrel, masked shrew, deer mouse, and meadow vole. Common bird species include redwinged blackbird, belted kingfisher, bald eagle, tree swallows, and a variety of warblers."

The park is generally bounded on the east and south by the St. Croix River, on the north by the Arcola High Bridge (aka Soo Line High Bridge), and on the west by Arcola Tr N. There is a section of private land south of Rivard Rd that cuts into the park further east than Arcola Tr N. By my rough estimate, there are about 2.5 miles of trails here (most require hiking in then back). A trail map is on the info sign at the parking area entrance and other options for trail maps can be found in the links below.

The topography of the park includes a gently sloping plateau that is separated from the St. Croix River bank by steep slopes and bluffs. The 2018 NPS document said "Safe and logical routes to experience the river are needed as steep cliffs and bluffs present fall hazards similar to what exists in other areas of the Riverway." The main northernmost trail definitely leads to the River and provides a view of the nearby (railway) Arcola High Bridge (per multiple online bloggers). Parallel to the river lies a former railroad bed. Additionally there are some historic roadways (no longer accessible to vehicular traffic) running through the park that vary in condition but a few have firm, stable surfaces.

Dogs are allowed on leash. The entry sign cautions visitors to check for ticks and to avoid digging in moist soils due to the presence of blastomycosis. There are no bathrooms and parking is limited.

Visits

November 23, 2021
This was our last stop of the day so we only hiked about .3 miles into the park mostly to check it out for a future visit. The trail leading out from the parking area and left at the first intersection had large trees but not a lot of undergrowth, giving it an open feel. Being late November, there wasn't a lot to see but there was a decent amount of fungi. For observing nature, I'm not sure there is a lot that makes this stand out on its own. But it's not far from the Twin Cities and there are other nature spots nearby that can be combined in a day trip. There is also some historical significance to the site that could appeal to other interests as well as the opportunity to view the Arcola High Bridge.

We visited on a weekday around 1:45 pm and there were enough cars in the parking area pullover that things were getting a little tight. I suspect, on a lovely weekend day, this park could get busy and parking could be an issue. A drive along the St. Croix River is popular on pleasant weekends and traffic through Stillwater can get insanely and aggravatingly congested at times. We would only consider visits to this area on 'off' times.

Other sites in Washington county that we visited on the same day:
Blueberry Hill
St. Croix Savanna SNA | Journal Post

Useful links/info

Location of parking: 45°07'09.0"N 92°45'16.2"W | 45.119153, -92.754508
Google Maps has a pin for Arcola Bluffs Day Use Area but the pin is just north of the parking area.
The Plus Code for the park is: 469W+XC Stillwater, Minnesota
There's a narrow pullover on the east side of Arcola Trail North, just north of the intersection with Rivard Road North that can accommodate up to 7 or 8 vehicles (if parked neatly). Other than at this pullover, no parking is allowed on Arcola Trail (or Rivard Rd).

iNaturalist: observations north area | south area (in rough geographical bounding boxes around Arcola Bluffs)
eBird Hotspot reports: Arcola Bluffs Day Use Area
eBird Field Checklist: Arcola Bluffs Day Use Area
BackYardBiology blog entry: patch of wildflowers found in Arcola Bluffs DUA
GalavantGal blog entry: "Hiking Near the Cities: Arcola Bluffs Day Use Area and William O’Brien State Park" | has good photo of entry sign
YouTube Video: snowshoeing at Arcola Bluffs DUA
National Park Service 200MB pdf: "Arcola Bluffs; Cultural Landscape Assessment" (2018) | contains the most info I found on Arcola Bluffs
      page 37/163 (in the pdf reader) or 2-23 (in the original print document) is a good topgraphical image of the trail system
     Subsequent pages contain photos of the trails that show their condition (as of 2018).
National Park Service: Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway website | no info on Arcola Bluffs DUA but lots of info on nearby features

Posted on December 07, 2021 17:59 by mmmiller mmmiller | 15 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 05, 2021

St. Croix Savanna Scientific and Natural Area

St. Croix Savanna Scientific and Natural Area (SNA)
Bayport, Washington county, MN
154 acres; dry gravel prairie, savanna, oak woodland

Park/Area Notes

Sitting along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, St. Croix Savanna SNA contains a variety of habitats. The southern section is a oak savanna on a steep hillside. A intermittent stream runs through oak woodland along the southwest border. Isolated sections of land on the north end sit on an oak forested river bluff. And the central section is undergoing upland prairie restoration.

According to the SNA's website, plants that have been found/documented here include Kittentails, James' Clammyweed/Polanisia, Pasque Flower, and numerous prairie grasses. iNaturalist plant observations at the SNA

The St. Croix River is a migration pathway for various birds; the prairie and woodland areas would be good habitat for various birds, and we spotted a Osprey nest during our Nov 2021 visit. MinnesotaSeasons.com report that Lark Sparrows, Purple Martins, and Red-shouldered Hawks have been seen there. iNaturalist animal observations at the SNA

Although the website says there are no maintained trails (standard for all SNAs), in fall 2021 there was a mowed path wide enough for a vehicle that ran from the northern parking area south to the oak savanna. Whether this is an ongoing feature or is somehow connected to the prairie restoration is not known. Satellite view shows other foot paths but these weren't very evident amongst the tall fall forbs.

Poison Ivy is prevalent here and tick prevention would be needed for bushwhacking. There are no bathrooms.

There are two entries into the SNA but the southern entry is not recommended. One must drive through a small housing development to access the northern parking area. More info on that location below.

Visits

Nov 23, 2021
We walked along the mowed path south from the parking area about .6 miles and then back along the same path. Being late November, the forbs and grasses were all brown but there were some seed heads one could observe. We saw evidence of scat, either Coyote or Fox, and deer track. There was an Osprey nest on a utility pole at the edge of the SNA.

I think this could be an interesting location to visit when the spring wildflowers are in bloom and throughout the summer to check out birds and insects. It would be a good place for a quick visit that's not too far from home (Minneapolis) or to combine with other nature areas that are close by.

Other sites in Washington county that we visited on the same day:
Blueberry Hill
Arcola Bluffs Day Use Area | Journal Post

Useful links/info

Northern Parking area/entry
Google Plus Code: 2647+QG Bayport, Minnesota
45.00714604313056, -92.78610709584407
N45 0.427, W92 47.169
Using GPS navigation is recommended. The entry road exits Prairie Way South between two houses and it looks like a driveway. This road follows some wild/park area that is locally owned and not part of the SNA (there are signs for dog walkers). The parking area for the SNA is at the terminal end of this road and the entry to the SNA says no dogs are allowed.

MN DNR: St. Croix Savanna SNA
MinnesotaSeasons.com: St. Croix Savanna SNA
iNaturalist: St. Croix Savanna SNA Point of Interest page
eBird Hotspot reports: St. Croix Savanna SNA
YouTube video: discussing St. Croix Savanna SNA
--Please note, this video shows entry at the southern gate. This gate is no longer recommended by the MN DNR.
St. Croix Scenic Byway: overview on SNAs along the St. Croix River including St. Croix Savanna SNA
--This is one page of the larger pamphlet, "St. Croix Scenic Byway; Historical Guide".

Posted on December 05, 2021 22:37 by mmmiller mmmiller | 15 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 29, 2021

Wisconsin Rustic Road 89 | Devil's Punchbowl | Red Cedar State Trail

Wisconsin Rustic Road 89
south of Menominee, Dunn County, Wisconsin
5.3 miles of paved road through the bluffs of the Red Cedar River, a mix of wooded areas and farmland with occasional views of the river

Devil's Punchbowl
near the midpoint along Rustic Road 89 (about 3 miles south of Menomonie, about 1 mile from Irvington)
3.5 acre 'miniature canyon' carved away by glacial melting 10,000+ years ago

Red Cedar State Trail
accessed on this drive about 2 miles from the southern tip of Rustic Road 89 in Irvington

Area Notes

Rustic Road 89
Rustic Road 89 is a pleasant drive and provides access to areas where one can exit the car to explore nature. But other than those spots, it is merely a drive and one cannot (easily) stop along the roadway to explore anything.

Devil's Punchbowl
Part of the Landmark Conservancy land trust, this spot is unique in its geological formation of cliffs and waterfall providing a miniature ecosystem. The small preserve has two short trails. One goes across the top of the falls and through a wooded area along the top of the bowl. The other skirts a small prairie area away from the parking area then down steps to the bottom of the bowl. One can explore a small area at the bottom fairly easily but more extensive exploring across the stream will require surefootedness, sturdy footwear that can get wet. Posted: " No Rock Climbing. Please stay on trails, respect property boundaries, and refrain from climbing on slopes to protect sensitive soils and plants."

I'm reading that there are "unique and special plants that only grow in the microhabitats on the moist slopes at the Punchbowl" but most info on Devil's Punchbowl doesn't go into any details about its microclimate. One report mentioned mosses, liverworts and 13 species of ferns. (video linked below). It's classified as a birdwatching site and I found an observation of an Eastern Red-backed Salamander at iNaturalist.

Besides a variety of plant and wildlife sightings, there are reports that 'fairies, gnomes, trolls and strange orbs' can be found at the preserve. I'm not sure how one would upload an observation at iNaturalist for a troll.

There are a fair amount of stairs but I (with moderate fitness) didn't find them terribly taxing. In early July, we weren't bothered by (biting) insects. There was some poison ivy very close to the edge of the parking lot one should look out for. There are no amenities at the site.

Red Cedar State Trail
The 14.5 mile long Red Cedar State Trail runs south from Menomonie, often parallel to Rustic Road 89. . In conjunction with RR89, one can access the Trail in Menomonie (before starting RR89) or in Irvington. As it lies on an old railroad bed, it is level, wide, and either gravel or paved. Most of the trail along this section lies quite close to the Red Cedar River on one side and bluffs on the other amongst a variety of deciduous trees. A state trail pass is required for bicycling and cross-country skiing but not for walking or hiking.

From Irvington, walking south was easy hiking and we encountered no annoyance insects. There are no amenities (other than a picnic table) at the Irvington parking lot for the trail.

Red Cedar River
For any who might be interested, canoe rentals are available at towns along the river. Traveling down the river would provide an additional way to observe nature in this area.

Visits

July 15, 2021
We were mostly looking for a new place to explore (near us) that might offer the opportunity to be outside observing nature at some point. Rustic Road 89 was a pleasant drive (and might be exceptionally so during fall colors). But this is not a 'observe nature from the car' sort of road. The chances to observe nature came from the two stops we made.

Devil's Punchbowl- online, reactions to visiting this site are mixed. Some think it's too small and too uninteresting. Others find the geographical feature of the small sunken bowl in the landscape interesting - especially during the winter when the waterfall and water seeping from the sides of the canyon freeze into icicle. But, although people do bird there, I don't think it's a site that people visit to specifically observe plants or animals in nature. We heard a few birds. We saw a few insects down in the bowl. I took photos of a few plants. Up at road level, there were a lot of grasshoppers in the grass along the edge of the parking lot (and a lot of poison ivy). And I saw a Fritillary in the small meadow/prairie area. It would be hard to fully explore this ecosystem since one must remain on the path for much of the preserve. That said, I think this preserve may be under-evaluated. It could be a good personal project to try to document as much as one could access. Is it worth going out of one's way to visit? Probably not. But it is geologically interesting and it can easily be combined with other nature-worthy stops/activities in the area.

Red Cedar State Trail - we accessed this at the parking lot in Irvington. Immediately north, it was mostly wooded. Immediately south, it was a little more open where I was already spotting butterflies so we wandered in that direction and hiked about a half a mile down then back. The bluffs along the side of the trail are reminiscent of the walls of Devil's Punchbowl. We saw/heard a handful of birds including a large colony of Cliff Swallows who had nested under a bridge spanning the river. We also saw a good handful of interesting insects: butterflies, sawfly, cricket, grasshoppers, flies, treehoppers, and wasps. Plant life reflects, in my assessment, the history of this path - an old railroad bed. Construction of the railroad line disrupted the plant life and then conversion of that line to a paved/packed pedestrian/bike path disrupted it again. And near Irvington, there are backyards at the top of the bluff which will influence the plants growing down on the path. There were a lot of plants that grow well in disturbed soil. None of it seemed all that unique or rare. But as someone who hasn't been actively observing plants for more than a few years, I did make note of a few plants.

We met our goal of going someplace new and getting out of the car to observe nature. And at the end of the day, we observed 20 life firsts: 6 plants and 14 insects. If I chose to revisit this drive/area, I might like spending more time on the Red Cedar State Trail (it was afternoon and hot so we weren't motivated to hike a long distance). I wouldn't be highly motivated to revisit Devi's Punchbowl but I'm glad we went once.

iNat observations | July 15, 2021

Useful links/info

Rustic Road 89
From the north: Rustic Road follows 410th St which is accessed just south of Menomonie off of Hofland Road. It follows 410th St to Irvington where it turns right (west) on 440th Ave, then immediately left (south) on 420th St. The designated Rustic Road ends where 420th St intersects with (and terminates at) 370th Ave and 390th St.
Wisconsin Rustic Road pamphlet
Wisconsin Dept of Transportation | Rustic Road 89 page

Devil's Punchbowl
The parking lot and preserve are on the east side of Rustic Road 89.
(44°51'02.8"N 91°57'09.1"W | 44.850769, -91.952519)
Landmark Conservancy | Devil's Punchbowl webpage (provides a trail map)
2015 media article about Devil's Punchbowl
eBird | Devil's Punchbowl hotspot reports
YouTube | 40 second summary of unique plant life at Devil's Punchbowl
YouTube | 3 minute video that explores the trails and bottom of Devils' Punchbowl

Red Cedar State Trail | Irvington, WI access
Parking lot is on the east side of 410th St just before the road terminates at 440th Ave. A state trail pass is required for bicycling and cross-country skiing on the trail but not for walking or hiking. There isn't any method of buying a permit at this access site.
Wisconsin DNR | Red Cedar State Trail website
TrailLink | Red Cedar State Trail page
Wisconsin Trail Guide | Red Cedar State Trail page

Posted on July 29, 2021 21:35 by mmmiller mmmiller | 48 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 09, 2021

Morgan Coulee Prairie State Natural Area

Morgan Coulee Prairie State Natural Area (SNA)
Maiden Rock, Pierce county, WI
54-8 acres; dry prairie with spots of oak savanna, dry oak forest

Park Notes
The term 'coulee' in Wisconsin applies to valleys, typically with high steep walls. This SNA runs along a coulee bluff that opens into the Rush River valley. There are areas of undisturbed dry prairie, bur oak savanna, limestone outcrops, and a southern dry oak forest. Plants found here include a variety of grasses, asters, milkweeds, prairie-clover, blazing star, and larkspur.

There are no amenities. One just parks along the road at any spot along the southern boundary of the SNA (on 200th Ave) and walks north into the park. There are small signs at the southwest and southeast boundary corners. More info on the WI DNR webpage (link below).

Visits
July 4, 2021 | low 90s, dewpoint in low 60s, winds 13-18 mph
We decided to check out this SNA after visiting the nearby Wisconsin Rustic Road 51. From WI35 (Great River Road), we drove north on East River Road / 385th St then east on 200th Ave where we traveled along the half mile southern border of the SNA. 200th Ave is a dead end and all property along the road - other than the SNA - is private, no-trespassing.

The day was quite hot, the climb up the bluff was steep-ish, and - although we were kitted for ticks - we didn't really want to wade through the tall plants/grass and test our anti-tick precautions. The climb up into the SNA means we wouldn't likely hike there. But the drive up to the SNA, the drive along 200th Ave, and the drive back down to the Great River Road (via County Rd A) was pleasant. We didn't encounter any traffic on 200th Ave and we just cruised it slowly observing wildflowers, birds, butterflies and wildlife (deer) from the car all along the road. I think someone willing to climb a little and not too concerned with ticks (or visiting when vegetation is not as high) might find this an interesting place to explore.

Useful links
Wisconsin DNR webpage
iNaturalist Morgan Coulee Prairie SNA Open Space page
eBird Hotspot reports
Wisconsin Rustic Road 51 journal post

Posted on July 09, 2021 21:43 by mmmiller mmmiller | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment