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Nerstrand Big Woods State Park
The Big Woods—or Bois Grand, as French explorers called this unique forested landscape—once covered more than 3400 square miles in Minnesota. Less than 10 square miles of this hardwood forest remains. Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is the largest remaining high-quality tract of this once-massi...
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Rice Lake NWR /Kimberly WMA/McGregor Marsh SNA – Important Bird Area (IBA)
Description: If you’re interested in waterfowl, then this 18,300-acre refuge, located in the bog country of north central Minnesota, is the place for you. Not only do numerous species nest at the site, but peak migratory waterfowl numbers may top 100,000 birds, including up to 75,000 ring-necked ducks. This phenomenon usually the takes place during the second or third week in October.

The refuge is located in the transition zone between the coniferous forests of northern Minnesota and the hardwood forests of the southern part of the state. A mixture of cedar swamps, tamarack bogs, forested uplands, scattered brushlands and small lakes harbor countless small plants and flowers. Rice Lake itself is 3,600 acres and as its name implies, produces large quantities of wild rice, a major food source for migrating waterfowl.

Established in 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt, this site provides habitat for the intended waterfowl and a wealth of other birds and wildlife.

Wildlife to Watch: During spring migration, warblers and other songbirds are abundant along edges and in forested areas. Look and listen for palm, yellow-rumped, chestnut-sided, Nashville, black-and-white, blackburnian and Cape May warblers. You might spot American bitterns and LeConte’s sparrows in the sedge meadows, eastern bluebirds and golden-winged warblers near forest fringes, wood thrush and northern flickers in the woods.

Black terns, common loons, bald eagles, ruffed grouse and northern harriers also frequent the area. Among the common waterfowl are mallards, ring-necked ducks, blue-winged teal, wood ducks, hooded mergansers, Canada geese and spectacular trumpeter swans. During the winter, watch northern shrikes, pine grosbeaks, owls and mixed flocks of common and hoary redpolls. Find gray wolf and river otter tracks along the groomed cross-country ski trails.

Rice Lake NWR has been designated a Globally Important Bird Area (IBA) by the American Bird Conservancy and a state level IBA as well. It is part of the larger McGregor IBA selected by the National Audubon Society. More than 240 species are on the refuge bird checklist.

Watch for white-tailed deer, black bears, raccoons, striped skunks and mink. If you’re very lucky you may even spot a wolf or bobcat. Near the pools and potholes, look and listen for muskrats, beavers, frolicking river otters, basking turtles and the serenades of western chorus frogs and spring peepers. In winter, scan the trees for “porkies” (porcupine), snowshoe hares in the brush and deer in the fields.

Special Tips: You can use the Rice Lake refuge road and other public facilities only during daylight hours. The Wildlife Drive beyond the cross-country ski trailhead is closed from December to mid-April. Biting insects are abundant from June to September. There is an accessible fishing area along the Rice River, an accessible viewing platform overlooking Rice Lake and an accessible nature trail at Twin Lakes.

Other Activities: Adjacent to the Refuge on the north is the 8500-acre Kimberly WMA, which is managed for sharp-tailed grouse, white-tailed deer and waterfowl. Dikes and unmarked, minimally-maintained trails run through the unit. Pay attention to avoid getting lost. There are two entrance points: the north access off Highway 210 and the impoundment access south of Highway 210 on County Road 245 (Portage Lake Road).

The 400-acre McGregor Marsh SNA, an extensive marshland in the former bed of Glacial Lake Aitkin, is near-by. A well-known birding spot, it contains the very specific habitat requirements of the sedge wren, Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrow and the rare and reclusive yellow rail. Look and listen for these species as well as American bitterns and red-winged blackbirds. During the winter, look for northern hawk-owls and the signs and sounds of other winter visitors. To hike across the area, park just off the highway and walk along the old railroad grade, which is now the recreational Soo Line Trail.

The Rice Lake vicinity is rich in history. Ancient people, thought to have inhabited the area 1300 years ago, lived and buried their dead in mounds within the present-day refuge. Please remember the remains are fragile, irreplaceable and strictly protected by law. Eastern Dakota and Ojibwe also had settlements in the area. Axes, plows, cattle and the railroad left their marks as well.

Ownership: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 
Size: 18,300 acres 
Closest Town: McGregor

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Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing:

Great gray owl on refuge sign - Photo by Michelle McDowell
Please use Map Link below

Driving Directions:
Five miles south of McGregor on MN Hwy. 65

Map Link

Rice Lake NWR /Kimberly WMA/McGregor Marsh SNA – Important Bird Area (IBA) : Wildlife Viewing Area