|Swan Lake WMA|
In the heart of-south central Minnesota is one of the best and largest wetland complexes in North America: Swan Lake. This 10,000-acre, relatively undisturbed marsh wonderland is a place to experience the diversity and beauty of prairie wetlands, as they once existed.<br><br>Serious habitat degra...
Flandrau State Park
|Description: “A river runs through it”, describes Flandrau State Park, which is nestled within the 150-foot-deep Cottonwood River Valley. This site is one of the gems in the Minnesota State Park system for its geology, history and birding and wildlife watching opportunities.
Vision the past first. Melturate (from melting glaciers) cut through rock, sand, clay and gravel that had been deposited by glaciers during the Ice Age. Under this glacial material is sandstone, which was laid down millions of years ago by the great seas that once covered North America.
Fast forward to relative modern times. Fossilized plant material and orange-colored iron-oxide bands may be seen in the exposed sandstone near the park's eastern boundary.
For centuries Dakota inhabitants thrived in the tallgrass prairie and its interspersed marshes, lakes and streams. Extensive farming has now replaced much of the prairie.
The diverse scene includes heavily wooded riverine areas, segments of burr oak forest and grassland areas along the bluffs. However, the main landscape is floodplain forest with large cottonwoods and other species such as aspen, basswood and sugar maple.
On the steep goat prairies look for beautiful blazing stars, butterfly milkweeds and prairie sunflowers and if you’re lucky, you’ll discover small white lady's slippers in the park too. In addition, two major grasses, big bluestem and Indian grass, sway in the breeze in open areas. These varied plant communities and hilly terrain create picturesque scenes when foliage turns color in the fall.
Originally named Cottonwood River State Park, Flandrau was the site of a Work Projects Administration (WPA) camp in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Several buildings in the park are beautiful examples of their architectural projects. During part of the 1940s, the camp was used as a World War II German prisoner-of-war camp. Today, the old WPA grounds are used as Flandrau’s modern group center.
The park’s proximity to the Minnesota River Valley makes it an exceptional area to watch woodland wildlife and migrating songbirds.
Wildlife to Watch: Flandrau is one of the stops along the Minnesota River Valley Birding Trail. With miles of winding walking trails, it is an all-season site for birding with 158 species of migrant and permanent resident birds recorded within its boundaries. More than 24 species of warbler, including blue-winged and cerulean, and American redstart may be spotted. Other species that make their homes here include indigo buntings, Baltimore and orchard orioles, belted kingfishers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, wood thrushes and blue-gray gnatcatchers. Check for eastern bluebirds that inhabit the prairie knolls.
Listen for the vocalizations of one of three owl species that regularly nest in the park. Watch for Minnesota’s largest woodpecker, the pileated. This red-crested, crow-sized woodpecker, feeds on insects in the rotting wood of dead and dying trees. Cavities excavated by pileateds provide nesting places for other birds and animals, such as wood ducks and fox squirrels.
Broad-winged hawks nest in the park too and may often be seen circling overhead. Turkey vulture, red-shouldered hawk and wild turkey and are also recorded on a regular basis.
Although many are small in size, 25 species of mammals have been noted. Raccoons are frequently seen, but don’t be surprised to see for red fox, beaver or mink too. Large herds of white-tailed deer use the park as a winter refuge. Check out the abundance of intriguing insects, damsel and dragonflies and colorful butterflies that frequent the numerous wildflowers and prairie plants.
Special Tips: Other sites on Minnesota River Valley Birding Trail: In northwestern Cottonwood County, Jeffers Petroglyphs and nearby Red Rock Prairie are unique areas in this part of the state. A high ridge of grass, some of it native prairie, overlooks the surrounding farmland and is one of the most reliable places in Minnesota to find Smith’s Longspur. The best time of the year for sightings is late April and October. Western meadowlark, eastern and western kingbirds, as well as vesper, savannah and grasshopper sparrows are sighted throughout this area. Just north of the site is another great birding location, the Bashaw Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and its landscape of rolling grassy hills and marsh. Marbled godwits are possible nesters. Just to the north of this WMA, blue grosbeaks have been spotted near and along the Cottonwood River. [Source: www.birdingtrail.org]
Other Activities: Wildlife watcher hikers and cross-country skiers may enjoy the flat trails on the bottom of the valley or more challenging routes on the oak-shaded bluffs.
Hunting allowed only by special permit during the City of New Ulm archery deer hunt.
Ownership: MN DNR
Size: 1006 acres
Closest Town: New Ulm
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: