|Sand Dunes State Forest / Uncas Dunes Scientific & Natural Area|
This very unique site is part of the Anoka Sand Plain ecological subsection, a landscape characterized by broad, mostly flat outwash sands and numerous wetlands. In a few places on the Anoka Sand Plain, over 5,000 years ago the sand was shaped into dunes. The largest remaining area of dunes on ...
Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge / IBA
|Description: Evidence from Indian village sites on the refuge dating back to 1300 A.D. suggests humans have lived in this area for more than 10,000 years. When European settlers arrived in the 1870s, the St. Francis River Basin was considered one of the finest wildlife areas in the state. Although extirpated now, this was a place where elk and bison once roamed.
But much of this valuable habitat was destroyed as settlers concentrated on their own survival. Oak forests were logged, wetlands drained and oak savannas were suppressed from fire and invaded by woody vegetation. These activities greatly reduced the wildlife value of the basin.
In the mid-1960s, with the creation of the refuge, efforts commenced to restore the habitat for wildlife. Set aside to preserve this vanishing heritage and restore the St. Francis River Valley, the refuge encompasses 30,700 gently rolling acres.
The refuge is a mosaic of prairie, wetlands, oak savanna and woodlands set in a transition zone between forest and prairie. Surrounding Sherburne's wetlands are scattered woods and prairie openings that once dominated the oak savannas found by early settlers.
Oak savannas and grasslands are maintained by prescribed burns, which encourage the growth of native flowers and warm-season grasses. These fires also reduce competition from non-native, invasive species and encroaching trees and shrubs.
Today at Sherburne NWR, discover the excitement that might have been felt nearly 160 years ago, as early pioneers stepped out of the "Big Woods" and onto the edge of Minnesota's magnificent tallgrass prairie. Enjoy the sway of big and little bluestem, switch, Indian, cord and porcupine grasses in summer breezes. Look for wildflowers, such as pasque flower, hoary puccoon, penstemon, blazing star, butterfly-weed, Indian paintbrush, wild lupine, gentian, leadplant and prairie smoke that add seasonal dabs of color.
This site, located less than an hour drive from the Twin Cities metro, has also been designated as an Audubon Minnesota Important Bird Area (IBA).
Wildlife to Watch: Start your adventure by taking the Prairie's Edge Wildlife Drive at a snail’s pace. This seven-mile auto tour features interpretive displays, four observation decks and two half-mile trails, where you’re guaranteed to spot wildlife, including bald eagles that nest just off the roadway.
Search the wetlands for great egrets and great blue herons stalking fish, basking painted and Blanding’s turtles, and beavers, otters and muskrats plying the water. On a late spring evening discover the enchanting symphony created by chorus frogs and spring peepers, listen for the trill of red-winged blackbirds, the low pitched "karoo" of the sandhill cranes, the honk of Canada geese or the cry of a red-tailed hawk high overhead.
Hike the two scenic trails, Blue Hill and Mahnomen, which take you through prairie openings and woodlands and alongside a lake. Watch for signs of pocket gophers, garter and gopher snakes, prairie skinks, white-tailed deer, coyotes, fox and even an occasional bear. Examine cool nooks and crannies for tiger and blue-spotted salamanders. A multitude of birds including woodcocks, field and song sparrows, eastern bluebirds, scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles, indigo buntings, as well as red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers may readily be seen.
These trails are open in the winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing—a wonderful time to appreciate the unique beauty and quietude of the area. Look for tracks and signs of hardy winter residents, such as deer and snowshoe hares, and visitors like the northern shrike.
A diverse mixture of habitats supports more than 230 species of birds, over half of which have been documented as breeding on the refuge. This is a birder’s paradise. Spring is a prime time to check for shorebirds, including 11 species of sandpipers, which have been recorded on site. Keep an eye out for common loons and trumpeter swans that also nest on the refuge.
Waterfowl abounds—24 species use this site with fall migration counts of over 50,000 individuals annually. Look for ring-necked ducks, hooded mergansers, mallards, wood ducks, blue-winged teal, northern shovelers, ruddy ducks, greater and lesser scaup and buffleheads, as well as pied-billed and eared grebes.
Special Tips: The refuge is open during daylight hours only and the headquarters is staffed Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. all year. The Wildlife Drive is open from mid-April through late October. Maps and leaflets are available at information kiosks located at the three main entrance points on County Roads 9 and 5.
Land Manager Contact:
Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge
17076 293rd Avenue
Zimmerman MN 55398
Other Activities: Bicycling is permitted only on the refuge roads and bicyclists are advised no fresh drinking water is available on the route. Canoeing, fishing and berry and mushroom picking are permitted, but check with the office first for details. Hunting is allowed within state seasons.
Ownership: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service & MN DNR
Size: 30,700 acres
Closest Town: Zimmerman
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: