Monday, July 6, 2015

St. Croix Valley’s best birdwatching trails

A number of day hiking trails in Minnesota and Wisconsin’s St. Croix River Valley offer great birdwatching opportunities.

As the river valley stretches directly north from the Mississippi River almost to Lake Superior, during spring and autumn several migratory birds stop off to feed and rest. Many even stay for the summer.

Here’s a sampling of the best river valley trails to spot birds.

Purple Trail (Kinnickinnic State Park)
An overlook of where the Kinnickinnic and St. Croix rivers merge is ice-free year around, making it prime feeding ground for American bald eagles during winter. Prairie restoration along a segment of the trail has created homes for partridge and ringneck pheasants.

North River Trail (Afton State Park)
Birds of prey, particularly red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures, find excellent feeding grounds atop the blufftop prairies and in the valley below where the St. Croix River reaches its widest span.

Hidden Ponds Nature (Black) Trail (Willow River State Park)
Three ponds amid woodlands is a favored nesting and feeding grounds for a variety of songbirds. The bright red scarlet tanager is among them.

Riverside Trail (William O’Brien State Park)
Traditional waterfowl, including geese and wood ducks, frequent Lake Alice and the St. Croix River along the trail. Bring some bread crumbs to feed them, which will delight any toddlers or preschoolers hiking with you.

Ridge View (Osceola and Chisago) Trails (St. Croix National Scenic Riverway)
Game birds including turkey and grouse, songbirds such as the scarlet tanager, and raptors like bald eagles, can be spotted in the diverse ecosystems the trail passes through.

Summit Rock Trail (Wisconsin Interstate State Park)
Atop the hill overlooking the river, sit and enjoy juvenile bald eagles gliding past you on the thermals. Often they fly within a few feet of you.

Redhorse Creek Northern Loop (Chengwatana State Forest)
A wide range of birds call this vast preserved area home. Among them are bald eagles, northern harriers, osprey, sandhill cranes, and warblers.

Hay Creek Trail (Crex Meadows Wildlife Area)
An internationally recognized bird area, just about any bird that frequents the Upper Midwest can be spotted at Crex Meadows. Most famous among them are giant sandhill cranes.

Read more about day hiking the scenic riverway in my guidebook Hittin’ the Trail: Day Hiking the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.