Thursday, November 28, 2013

Spot wild turkeys on Sunrise Prairie Trail

Wild turkeys don't look much like
their domestic counterparts. Illustrations
courtesy Wisconsin DNR. 
The odds are good that your Thanksgiving turkey came from Minnesota. The state raised about 46 million turkeys in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and leads the nation in production of our Thanksgiving meal’s main entrée.
So what better way to enjoy autumn then taking a hike in Minnesota where you just might see a wild turkey?

The chances of that are high on the Sunrise Prairie Trail, which runs for 23 miles from Hugo to North Branch northeast of the Twin Cities. A 4.5-mile (round trip) segment of the trail in Chisago County makes for a great day hike and provides an opportunity to spot a wild turkey as well as other wildlife.

To reach the trailhead, from Interstate 35 take Exit 135 onto U.S. Hwy. 61/County Road 30. Head east for 0.2 miles to the trail parking lot in the city of Wyoming.

The trail runs north-south past the lot. Head north on the trail, which used to be a Burlington Northern Rail corridor that in 1998-99 was turned into a hiking trail/biking path. Crossing the northern reaches of the Great Plains, the trail is flat and in fairly good shape. At 10 feet wide, it’s also bi-directional, but there’s no painted center line.

Though starting in a built-up area, this segment of the trail remains fairly free of urbanization. Upon leaving Wyoming, you’ll pass a few farm fields, which soon give way to wetlands and native prairie.

The prairie section of the trail is squeezed between two disconnected sections of the Carlos Avery State Wildlife Management Area to the west and east. Watch for various waterfowl, whitetail deer, grouse and wild turkeys.

The best time to spot wild turkeys is early in the day, as they feed from sunrise until mid-morning. They’re likely to be out when the weather is clear and warm or in a light rain (No one ever said a turkey was smart.).

Turkeys roost in hardwood trees, so they often can be seen in grassy openings amid woodlands. As approaching such areas, listen for gobbling.

Don’t be surprised if they notice you before you do them, however. Their field of vision is an impressive 270 degrees and their hearing excellent. And despite an awkward appearance, they run up to 20 miles per hour – which is faster than the average human – and can take off into flight at speeds topping 50 miles per hour.

A good turnaround point is where the woods ends just north of when the trail passes 287th Street to the east. You’ll have walked about 2.25 miles one way. If you’re feeling a little invigorated (or you just want to ensure you can eat more turkey come Thanksgiving), keep going and turn back where the trail passes County Road 36/295th Street to the east, for a 2.7-mile hike from the parking lot (or 5.4 miles round trip).

Read more about day hiking Northeast Minnesota in my Headin’ to the Cabin: Day Hiking Trails of Northeast Minnesota guidebook.