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Camden State Park & Prairie Marshes WMA
Camden State Park lies on the second highest and easternmost moraine in the Coteau des Prairie. Located in a beautiful wooded valley of the Redwood River, Camden State Park is an oasis in an area of intensive agriculture, offering rich riparian woodland and restored prairie. <br><br> Camden's ...
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Cottonwood Lakes Area
Description: There's something almost magical about the Cottonwood Lakes area. Whether it’s the accumulated Karma from local birders, or the effect of a rich diversity in close proximity, rare birds have turned up on these lakes.

Unlike the ubiquitous, often deep and large lakes of central and northern Minnesota, the lakes of the southern part of the state are usually smaller and shallower. The lakes referred to here are tucked into the northeast corner of Lyon County, which is not too far from the Iowa border.

An interesting feature of Lyon County is that the northeast part of the county drains north to the Minnesota River through numerous small creeks, including the Cottonwood and Watonwan Rivers. The southwest part of the county drains south through the Des Moines River. While going in two different directions, the two watersheds actually come together at the Mississippi River near Keokuk, Iowa.

Wetlands in Lyon County are extremely limited, and are mostly located in the high elevation regions of the Coteau des Prairies (“highlands of the prairie”) within the Cottonwood and Redwood River watersheds. Based on GIS data sets there are about 14,000 acres of existing wetlands in the region.

This county is one of 51 counties in the state recognized as being in the prairie pothole region of the United States. It was once a prime waterfowl and upland game habitat area with wetlands scattered throughout the county. Unfortunately for birds and wildlife, however, due to agricultural drainage there are comparatively few left.

Recognizing the important benefits of wetlands, the Minnesota Legislature in 1991 enacted the Wetland Conservation Act (WCA). The law regulates draining and filling of wetlands and, requires wetland replacement when necessary. Since Lyon County is located in a high priority wetland region, due to the drainage of over 80 percent of its original wetlands, the county has designated all eligible land area within the county as a high priority wetland area.

This designation, which took place in 1995 and serves to preserve, enhance and restore wetlands, will ensure that landowners having wetlands on their property are eligible for enrollment into the WCA Wetland Preservation Program (WPP).

So, things are slowly looking up for wildlife. Today there are 62 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in the county covering an area of 9,525 acres, an increase of 21 units covering 620 acres since 1995.

Increasingly popular activities such as recreational bird watching may prove to become a secondary economic value to the region. Several locations in Lyon County are included on the "Prairie Coteau" loop of the Minnesota River Birding Trail. As wildlife watching increases in popularity, more participants may travel to this locale to experience the diversity of species traveling through or nesting in this area.

Wildlife to Watch: According to the Minnesota Ornithologist’s Union (MOU) Lyon County bird checklist, compiled by Robert B. Janssen, there are 309 species recorded. Eighty-four of which have been confirmed as nesting.

Now, back to the uncommon birds that have shown up at this site. Although small, Sham Lake seems to draw birds unusual to Minnesota—red-throated loon, least tern, Clark's grebe and surf scoter have all been sighted. It is The Lake to stop at in Lyon County when the water is open. Nearby Runholt Slough and Cottonwood Lake complete the diversity for water-loving birds in this part of the county, and have both held American avocets during migration when water levels are appropriate.

Cottonwood Lake, which is a relatively shallow lake of 379 acres, is one of the better spots in southwestern Minnesota to look for the common loon. Both Cottonwood and Sham lakes have had horned, eared and western grebes show up. A surf scoter was observed on Runholt Slough and a Sabine's gull was spotted at Cottonwood Lake in 2007. Who knows what else will fly over with each coming season!

The lakes aren’t the only hotspots for birding near town. Not to be outdone by the others, the local sewage lagoons produced a white-faced ibis.

While you’re in the vicinity, there are a few other lakes to check out for waterfowl, waterbirds and shoreline species too. Lone Tree lies northwest of Cottonwood, and 247-acre Lady Slipper Lake and 318-acre School Grove Lake to the southeast—both have a public access.

Birds commonly found in Lyon County include Canada goose, wood duck, gadwall, mallard, blue-winged teal, redhead, ring-necked pheasant, pied-billed grebe, double-crested cormorant, great blue heron, American kestrel, sora, American coot, killdeer, spotted sandpiper, lesser yellowlegs, least sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper, black tern, rock pigeon, mourning doves, great horned owl, belted kingfisher, eastern kingbird, blue jay, American crow, horned lark, sedge and marsh wrens, eastern bluebird, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, American robin, gray catbird, brown thrasher, European starling, cedar waxwing, yellow warbler, common yellowthroat, rose-breasted grosbeak, bobolink, red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds, western meadowlark, common grackle, Baltimore oriole, house finch, American goldfinch, house sparrow, northern flicker, and red-bellied, downy, hairy woodpeckers. Five species of swallows—tree, bank, cliff, barn and northern rough-winged—may be spotted. Sparrows regularly seen are the chipping, vesper, savannah, song and swamp.

Special Tips: With the exception of Runholt Slough, scanning from the roads is easy with wide shoulders and several vantage points. Be careful where you park on Lyon County Road 24.

Two public accesses are located on Cottonwood Lake: one on the southeast shore off Co. Rd. 9 adjacent to the golf course, the other on east shore off Co. Rd. 9 near the city park.

Other Activities: There are many WMAs in Lyon County where you will see woodland and prairie wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, ring-necked pheasant, waterfowl and doves. At some you might get a glimpse of wild turkeys too.

Ownership: MN DNR 
Size: 379 acres 
Closest Town: Cottonwood

RestroomsParkingFishingBoat LaunchHuntingSmall BoatsTrailer CampingDrinking WaterSwimmingCamp Fire

Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing:

3 Canada geese w/ goslings swimming - Photo by Andrea Lee Lambrecht
Please use Map Link below

Driving Directions:
Cottonwood Lake is on the north side of the City of Cottonwood, which is on the west side of MN Hwy 23. Sham Lake is also north of town on the east side of Hwy 23 at the junction of 390th St/Lyon Co. 10.

To the south of Cottonwood off Hwy 23 on the west side of the road is Runholt Slough. It is bordered by 375th St. on the north and Lyon Co. Rd. 24 runs along the south side.

Map Link

Cottonwood Lakes Area : Wildlife Viewing Area