|Felton WMA & Felton Prairie SNA|
Felton Prairie has been well known as a site to find unusual prairie bird species, but recently has become recognized for unique land management partnerships and prairie habitat uniqueness. Much of the surrounding land on this gravel ridge, lying east of Moorhead, MN, within the Red River Prairi...
Zimmerman Prairie/Helliksen Prairie Waterfowl Production Area
|Description: The Nature Conservancy's Zimmerman Prairie preserve is near the federal Helliksen Prairie Waterfowl Production Area (WPA). Both are beautiful tracts of native prairie in west-central Minnesota and not too far from Tamarac and Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuges.
Northern tallgrass prairie is one of the rarest ecosystems in North America. Once a vast sea of grasses and wildflowers, much of the remnant prairies have been converted to crop fields. Zimmerman Prairie preserves a small portion of unbroken tallgrass prairie.
The 80-acre Zimmerman preserve is dominated by mesic tallgrass prairie, with some depressions and swales. Wet prairie is more adapted to the low areas with higher soil moisture caused by poorly drained soils containing silt and clay. These wet prairie areas often have a thick mat-like layer of dead vegetation covering the ground surface. Slough sedge and grasses such as prairie cordgrass prevail in these wet zones.
Many plants and animals thrive at this unique site. Rare plants found at Zimmerman are the single-spiked sedge and the small white lady-slipper. White-tailed deer and eastern cottontail rabbits have been known to feed on the buds and flowers of this dainty orchid.
Helliksen WPA, with its 1373 acres, has been a work in progress for many years in terms of preserving, restoring and maintaining the prairie pothole landscape. This site harbors an incredible 450 water and wetland patches—some small and others quite large—and an area of aspen parkland. It is truly an oasis in a sea of surrounding farmland. Efforts to keep invasive plant species out are difficult and ongoing, but the results are impressive at this pristine location.
Wildlife to Watch: Grassland birds significantly use the two lands. A few species of note that nest within the prairie are the marbled godwit, upland sandpiper and the greater prairie chicken.
Helliksen Prairie is host to prairie chicken leks. You’ll have to look carefully for the birds and have binoculars in hand. If you visit in spring, such an experience is a rare treat and to be sure, will take some planning and patience. Should you discover the right spot and are exceedingly quiet, it will be spectacular to watch males drumming, booming and possibly mating.
As the population of sandhill cranes was slowly expanding, the birds chose this special place to be the first recorded nesting site in the region. Today it is possible to spot sandhill cranes throughout the area, as well as to see the tall birds foraging and raising their young on Helliksen Prairie.
Look for waterfowl, such as blue-winged teal, canvasback, redheads and mallards on the water. The potholes found at the WPA are critical for reproducing, foraging and as migratory resting spots.
These prairie parcels are precious not only in Minnesota, but in the Upper Midwest where almost all of the native landscape has been severely altered.
Special Tips: Rare peregrine falcons have been spotted at Helliksen, along with northern harriers and red-tailed hawks.
Periodic controlled fire and mowing help keep brush and trees from invading and out-competing the prairie wildflowers and grasses.
Other Activities: Tamarac NWR
Hamden Slough NWR/IBA
Ownership: The Nature Conservancy/U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Size: Zimmerman Prairie-80 acres/Helliksen Prairie WPA-1373 acres
Closest Town: Ulen/Hawley
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: