Sunday, April 26, 2015

Osprey highlight northern Minnesota trail past two ponds

Wildlife Pond at Moose Lake State Park.
 Photo courtesy of Minensota DNR. 

Rolling Hills Trail skirts
feeding area for nesting pair

Day hikers can watch a pair of majestic osprey feed on a trail in a northern Minnesota state park.

The Rolling Hills Trail runs about 1.8 miles round trip at Moose Lake State Park. A connector and an adjoining trail allows hikers to either shorten or lengthen the hike slightly.

To reach the trailhead, from Interstate 35, take Exit 214 (for Moose Lake) east on Minn. Hwy. 137. Turn at the first right/south into the park, and use the lot on the entrance road next to the park station.

From the parking lot, take the walking path heading straight east. At the first trail junction, go left/north and cross Hwy. 137. In about 0.1 miles from the parking lot, you’ll reach a trail intersection at the southern side of Wildlife Pond. Go right/east. You’re now officially on the Rolling Hills Trail.

This section of the trial passes the dam holding back Wildlife Pond. Largemouth bass, Northern pike, panfish and walleye all are common in the waterbody.

Osprey breeding pair
The fish provide a well-stocked grocery for a pair of osprey that nest in a dead conifer on the pond’s west side. Their nests, made out of sticks, are large with some running nine feet deep.

At the next junction, go right/east. This heads past the dam on the southern shore of a smaller pond.

This portion of the trail makes for great wildlife viewing. The osprey often can be seen gliding over the ponds as they feed. They’ll be the largest raptors in the sky – an osprey’s wing span can reach 71 inches across. Their heads and underside are a grayish white while the upper body is brown.

The trail is fairly level as it heads away from the ponds. In about 0.6 miles, it comes to a connector trail; taking the shortcut shaves 0.1 miles off the hike.

Continue on the main circuit, however. It initially descends a bit then as looping northwest rises, allowing hikers to experience why the trail received its name. After 0.4 miles, you’ll reach the other end of the connector trail passed earlier.

Shelter and viewpoint
In 0.1 miles, you’ll come to shelter at the junction with the Wildlife Pond Trail. Going straight/west onto it takes you around the north and west shores of Wildlife Pond, adding 0.3 miles to the total hike. A small section of that trail, however, often is underwater, so only hike it during dry seasons.

The shelter marks a good spot to view the osprey. Determining which of them is the husband and which is the wife can be a little tricky. Generally, male osprey have a slimmer body and narrower wings; the female osprey also have a banded breast. You’ll want to bring a binoculars to see that kind of detail.

After resting at the shelter, go left/south and follow Wildlife Pond’s eastern shore. A little more than half-way through, the other small pond appears on the left/east.

Ospreys are a remarkably successful species. They can be found all over the world and are the second most common raptor after the peregrine falcon.

In 0.3 miles from the shelter, you’ll reach a trail junction. Go left/west and repass Wildlife Pond’s dammed southern shore. After 0.1 miles, you’ll arrive at the stem trail that leads to parking lot; turn left/south and retrace your steps back to your vehicle.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.