|Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve|
Murphy -Hanrehan Park Reserve provides metro wildlife watchers with a prime example of an eastern mixed deciduous forest dominated by oak.<br><br>The northern part of this 2,800-acre park reserve, which includes Hanrehan Lake, is characterized by steep wooded hillsides interspersed with small, sc...
Minnesota Valley NWR / Black Dog Preserve SNA / IBA
|Description: One of the few urban national wildlife refuges in the country is located in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a green belt of large marsh areas bordered by office buildings, highways, residential areas and grain terminals. The refuge is comprised of fourteen linear units totaling approximately 14,000 acres, spanning 99 miles of the Minnesota River.
Of the more than 265 bird species recorded in the River Valley watershed, the vast majority are found in this natural jewel. This avian diversity is complemented by at least fifty species of mammals and thirty species of reptiles and amphibians.
Of the 14 management units—three of the most accessible are described here.
The 2600-acre Louisville Swamp has a unique mix of old fields, prairie remnants, oak savanna, floodplain forest, and stone farmsteads. Historically elk and buffalo grazed the oak savannas, waterfowl filled the surrounding marshes and the lakes teemed with fish. Today, the most visible species is the beaver. Beavers have changed the landscape of this area by damming and holding water and as a result hundreds of acres of trees have been killed.
Louisville Swamp floods three out of every five years. More than 80 percent of the wetlands upriver have been drained and no longer function as natural sponges to hold water on the land, thus causing flooding down river in Louisville Swamp. However, 13 miles of trails cross through Louisville Swamp, favored by hikers in the warmer months and cross-country skiers in the winter, to provide ample wildlife watching opportunities.
The most visited unit of the refuge, Long Meadow Lake, has 2400 acres of historic sites, bluffs, marshland, floodplain forest, oak savanna, and of course, the lake. There are three access points—Bass Ponds, Old Cedar Avenue and the Russell A. Sorenson Landing (Lyndale Avenue)—to get you close to birds and wildlife.
Black Dog Preserve Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) and Lake derives its name from the Dakota Indian Chief Black Dog. The site includes lake, marsh, prairie, upland and floodplain forest habitats. The prairie here shows no signs of plowing or grazing, and it supports a wonderful assortment of tall grasses and bright flowers. The calcareous fen, a rare habitat, is home to uniquely-adapted plants such as twin-rush and marsh arrow grass. Because of these rare habitats, the area has been designated a SNA and access is restricted in some places. A portion of Black Dog Lake remains open all year due to the adjacent power plant, so it is always worth checking for wildlife.
Located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, these spots are also stops on both the Great River Birding Trail and the Mendota Region of the Minnesota River Valley Birding Trail.
In addition, Audubon has named this site part of the Lower Minnesota River Valley IBA. The IBA regularly supports 50,000 waterfowl through spring and fall migration including 20 duck species. More than 260 bird species have been recorded for the IBA, at least 100 of which are known to nest.
Wildlife to Watch: A good location for bitterns, herons, egrets, muskrats, beavers, mink and many turtles is Louisville Swamp. On higher ground surrounding the marsh, the prairie, oak savanna, oak woodlands and old fields are home to meadowlarks, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer and coyotes.
The three accesses to Long Meadow Lake make this a great place to watch migrating warblers, waterfowl, bitterns, herons and shorebirds. People have seen rare birds such as king rail and white-faced ibis in this area. Birds and waterfowl use the Bass Ponds as a stop over on their annual migration. A series of ponds once used for raising fish are part of the site. Water levels in the ponds are now manipulated to attract waterfowl and shorebirds. Deer, fox, raccoons, muskrats and beaver can be seen year round. Old Cedar Avenue is a favorite place for wildlife observation, particularly during spring bird and waterfowl migration. A popular spot is the boardwalk that ambles through the marsh out to the open water of Long Meadow Lake. Keep your ears and eyes open for wildlife! The main hiking trail meanders for about 2 ½ miles to the Russell A. Sorenson Landing (Lyndale Avenue).
Special Tips: This refuge is only a ten-minute drive from the Mall of America and the Twin Cities International Airport. Stop first at the visitor center to pick up maps, look at displays interpreting the refuge, watch a short slide show, and enjoy an overlook, walk a short trail and browse through an excellent bookstore and gift shop. Interpretive programs are regularly scheduled, so ask for a calendar of events.
Other Activities: Black Dog Preserve SNA is appealing for wildlife watching all year round. An interpretive sign marks the end of a hiking trail through the Refuge that traverses the site parallel to the railroad track and includes good willow flycatcher, sedge wren and common yellowthroat habitat. Look for goldfinches, yellow warblers and cardinals here in abundance. A favorite bird among many local people is the American woodcock. Male woodcocks prefer the open habitat of Black Dog Preserve for their singing fields. Bell’s vireo and yellow-breasted chat are rarities that have been documented. In the winter you may find long-tailed ducks, Barrow’s goldeneyes and Thayer’s, glaucous and California gulls, in addition to other wintering waterbirds and bald eagles. A total of 81 bird species have been seen on the SNA.
Ownership: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service & MN DNR
Size: 14,000 acres (SNA 129 acres)
Closest Town: Bloomington
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: