|Beaver Creek Valley State Park|
Wooded valley walls rise 250 feet above spring-fed Beaver Creek, ushering it through this beautiful park. The view from the upland oak woods is dramatic. Watch for brown and brook trout in the cold, crystal-clear creek. Watercress, a vibrant green aquatic plant, grows in the creek all year long.<...
Upper Mississippi River NWR – Brownsville Overlook/IBA
|Description: Brownsville Overlook, dedicated in November 2009, provides a magnificent panorama giving visitors an opportunity to witness extraordinary events on the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. From eagles and pelicans, coots and ducks, to tundra swans and geese, it's a birdwatchers’ bounty.
The Overlook, which is not too far from the Iowa border, offers visitors amazing wildlife sights, including the annual cycle of the tundra swans blanketing the river in a sea of white. Annually, more than 40,000 people visit the site to witness the magic of migration and to listen to the unique song of the tundra swan echo across the river and bounce off the bluffs.
This site is just one stopping point on the 261-mile long refuge, which was established by Congress in 1924. The north end of the Upper Mississippi River NWFR begins at the confluence of the Mississippi and Chippewa rivers near Wabasha, Minnesota and terminates near Rock Island, Illinois. Just over 240,000 acres of wooded islands, marshes and backwaters comprise the sanctuary.
As long as you’re in the vicinity, in addition to Brownsville Overlook, plan to stop at other places along the corridor. Upstream the Read’s Landing floodplain forest is one of the best places to watch bald eagles in the Midwest. These eagles were once on the brink of extinction, and to see hundreds in a single day is a treat and a tribute to their comeback.
Audubon Minnesota has designated a portion of the riverway as the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge Important Bird Area (IBA). The IBA follows the boundaries of the Upper Miss Refuge from the Minnesota-Iowa border at river mile 674 upstream along the Mississippi River to Read’s Landing. It is an important site for migrating waterfowl (over 600,000 in one day in fall 2005), particularly canvasbacks (over 50 percent of North American population); tundra swans (over 20 percent of Eastern North American population); nesting waterbirds, and breeding and wintering bald eagles.
This stretch of the Mississippi is also part of the Great River Road and Great River Birding Trail.
Wildlife to Watch: Once you’re finished viewing hundreds of tundra swans, diving and puddle ducks, bald eagles and other birds at the Overlook, you can continue to explore. The Upper Mississippi Refuge is a phenomenal place for wildlife watching in general. It serves as a haven for 200 bald eagle nests and 5000 great blue heron and common egret nests in 15 colonies. In addition, the refuge also protects 119 fish, 42 mussels, 19 snakes, 11 turtles, 1 lizard and 14 amphibian species.
So, on a quiet evening, listen for the parade of distinct vocalizations of frogs and toads. Spring peepers, western chorus and wood frogs, green frogs, gray treefrogs and bullfrogs are among those who call and chorus. In cool nooks and crannies, you might find a blue-spotted or eastern tiger salamander or another unique inhabitant of the region—the mudpuppy. Primarily nocturnal, mudpuppies may be active during the day in muddy or weed-choked water, otherwise they shelter by day in deep water under rocks and wood overhangs.
When dusk sets in, you could see any of the seven bat species swooping through the darkening sky. Little and big brown, hoary, northern myotis, red, silver-haired bats and eastern pipistrels have all been recorded.
When it comes to mammals and marsupials, the checklist is impressive. While some, like the white-tailed deer are common, you might spot a rare spotted skunk, black bear, bobcat or coyote. Keep an eye out for beaver, muskrats, raccoons and river otters that frequent the shorelines. Squirrels may be found running around in the day—red, gray, fox, Franklin’s and thirteen-lined ground—and at night, southern flying squirrels gliding from tree to tree. Rabbits and woodchucks, mink and mice also reside in the refuge.
By the way, there is only one marsupial, the Virginia opossum, living in the area. It’s seen on a fairly regular basis, but not as regularly as kangaroos in Australia.
Although it is highly unlikely you’ll encounter a rattlesnake, there are two that may be discovered. The timber rattlesnake is a dry land inhabitant and the eastern massasauga keeps to the low backwaters of the streams and river.
Blanding’s and wood turtles are threatened species in Minnesota, so it’s not as likely you’ll come across either. However, look for painted, softshell and snapping turtles basking on downed logs along the river’s edge.
This site is a hotspot for birders. The checklist numbers in the hundreds, so it’s best to bring up a list online to see all the species of the woods, wetlands and waterways.
The majority of people who visit the Upper Miss come to see eagles. On a summer day, you can watch bald eagles soar in the blue sky not only over Brownsville Overlook, but all up and down the river.
Watching bald eagles is also a fabulous winter activity at this site. The flow of the Chippewa River emptying into the Mississippi keeps the water open in the winter.
Eagles congregate in the open-water areas to feed on fish and waterfowl. Look for them along the edge of the ice and in trees along the shoreline too. Even though Benjamin Franklin hoped the wild turkey would be our national symbol, today we are proud of our bald eagles.
You could also spot wintering rough-legged and red-tailed hawks, common mergansers and common goldeneyes at this site. Perhaps you might get a glimpse of a golden eagle soaring too, but it’ll most likely be off the river and more inland over the valleys and woodlands.
Special Tips: May is the time to see warblers.
Visit in mid-November to celebrate Waterfowl Observation Day at Brownsville Overlook to see thousands of tundra swans and other migrating birds and waterfowl.
For best viewing, bring binoculars, scopes and bird identification books.
Read’s Landing: Use caution when you park along the town road and along Highway 61. There is a scenic overlook south of Camp Lacupolis that allows you to park off the highway. Keep a watchful eye for fast-moving traffic. It’s also a good idea to keep clear of the railroad tracks in Read’s Landing, as trains come by often. You’ll notice large deposits of sand, known as “dredge spoils” across the shore. These deposits are a result of maintenance activities enabling barge traffic to travel up and down the Mississippi.
Land Manager Contact:
Upper Mississippi River
National Wildlife & Fish Refuge
51 East 4th Street
Winona, MN 55987
Other Activities: Grab your GPS unit or come and check out one at the refuge’s Winona Office. You can also track the Migrating Travel Bugs and Geocoins at the geocaching website.
Ownership: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Size: 240,000 acres
Closest Town: Brownsville
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: