Where to Go Birding in Three Rivers (Part 2)

By: Steven Hogg

March 01, 2022

Category: Big Year of Birds

I’m back again with some tips on birding in Three Rivers Park District, this time focusing on parks south of Highway 55. (See this post for information on birding in parks north of Highway 55.) You’ll learn what locations are best and what to look for.

And, again, no matter what park you go to, while you are appreciating birds remember that you want to bird ethically. If you notice you are interfering with regular bird behavior or disturbing the birds, move on and let them be. Stay on trails and do your part to keep our parks protected for future generations of bird watchers.

Baker Park Reserve

Birds to look for: trumpeter swans, long-tailed ducks, eastern wood peewees, barred owls

This Park Reserve offers access to Lake Katrina, a large lake that can attract many waterfowl migrants such as long-tailed ducks and scoters. The large wetlands, which can be seen from the bike trail on the south end of the lake, always have nesting trumpeter swans and bring in large rafts of diving ducks in the fall.

The park has many big woods, so you can find many woodland species like eastern wood peewees, yellow-throated vireos and red-eyed vireos. One of the best trails to hike for these species would be on the Timber Trail. You can park and access the trail off County Road 24 across from the entrance to the Baker Outdoor Learning Center. Explore the other woodlands in this park, which are home to all the nesting raptors in this area of the state, including barred owls, great-horned owls, red-tailed hawks and Cooper’s hawks. I have even found red-shouldered hawks here.

Two trumpeter swans float on a lake.
Trumpeter swans. Photo courtesy of John Pennoyer.

Gale Woods Farm

Birds to look for: bobolinks, Savannah sparrows, purple martins

While much of this this area is grazed and hayed for farming purposes, you can still find some great grassland birds that are attracted to this grass structure. Look here for Savannah sparrows and bobolinks.

There’s also a dedicated spot for purple martins here, behind the big red barn. Built in 2016, this colony is one of several at Three Rivers; see others at French, Eagle, Baker, Noerenberg and Cedar Lake Farms. These birds are amazing and travel long distances to spend the winter months in Brazil.

Purple martins on white bird house.
Purple martins. Photo courtesy of John Pennoyer.

Carver Park Reserve

Birds to look for: clay-colored sparrows, field sparrows, warblers, scarlet tanagers, raptors

Newly restored prairie along the east side of Highway 11 offers views of species such as bobolink, clay-colored sparrows, field sparrows and, occasionally, Henslow’s sparrow. Access the new bike trail from the nature center parking lots. Take your bike on the trail along the east wood line of this prairie to see what you can find.

A clay-colored sparrow sits on a branch with its mouth open.
A clay-colored sparrow. Photo courtesy of John Pennoyer.

As additional prairie is installed in Carver Park, the changing environment can bring in some neat birds like killdeer and sandhill cranes.

Want a great view of migrating waterfowl in late fall, head to Lake 2 (the lake south of Grimm Road). The lake will be drawn down in the near future (1-2 years), so watch for a large influx of shorebirds at this site when this happens.

If you are looking for warblers, you can find them on the Tamarack and Lake trails (located on the southwest side of Crosby Lake) in the spring. Scarlet tanagers have become summer regulars along the Acorn Trail behind the nature center building.

Raptors can be viewed with regularity at Carver. One of the most prominent is the osprey as this park is where the species’ restoration took place in the early ‘80s. They are easily viewed from the roadside pull-off on the nature center driveway anytime between April and September. The entrance road to the Lowry Nature Center is also a good area to find rough-legged hawks and northern shrikes in the fall and spring.

Lake Rebecca Park Reserve

Birds to look for: Northern waterthrush, cerulean warblers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, bank swallows, belted kingfishers

This park has a lot to offer with the Crow River making up 50% of the park boundary and with all parkland surrounding a very large lake. Lake Rebecca is maintained open with aerators in the winter to prevent winter kill of the fishery, and the open water attracts trumpeter swans to the site. Visiting the lake in the winter makes for some great viewing of overwintering waterfowl. The lake is best viewed from the beach parking lot, which is accessed from the main entrance on the west side of the park.

Interested in birding by canoe? Use the canoe launch on the north end of the park, and pay close attention to the bluffs along the river that provide many opportunities to find bank swallows and belted kingfishers. Cliff swallows nest on the bridges that cross the river.

I have found this park to be one of the best for Northern waterthrush and hermit thrushes in the spring, and I have found cerulean warblers and wood thrush calling during the nesting season. Rose-breasted grosbeaks and blue-winged warblers are abundant and call from the mid-canopy layers, while indigo buntings call from the tops of the trees. The morning song can be spectacular. One of the best locations to view these birds is from the gravel parking lot on the southwest corner of the park; access to this parking lot is on Roy Road.

A rose-breasted grosbeak sits on a branch with green leaves.
A rose-breasted grosbeak. Photo courtesy of John Pennoyer.

Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve

Birds to look for: yellow-headed blackbirds, northern shovelers, great egrets, great-blue herons, hooded warblers

Murphy-Hanrehan, listed as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, is a must-visit for birding as it provides a lot of diversity and the opportunity to see some very rare and unique species. I have to start with southwest marsh, which is the large wetland located in the southwest corner of the park. This is one of the only locations in the Three Rivers where you can find yellow-headed blackbirds with regularity. There are many ducks at this site, especially northern shovelers during spring and fall. Trumpeter swans nest on this wetland, where you can also find great egrets, great-blue herons and blue-winged teal in the summer.

A blue-winged teal floats on a lake.
A blue-winged teal. Photo courtesy of John Pennoyer.

The prairie around this wetland complex provide all the prairie birds that you can only find at a handful of sites around the metro area, from eastern meadowlarks, bobolink, grasshopper sparrow and Henslow’s sparrow. The woods located north and east of southwest marsh have been cleared of buckthorn and offer a very open woodland landscape. It is a great place to find eastern towhees and recently there have been pictures of a red-headed woodpecker fledgling!

East of the gravel road that splits the park in half is some of the best old growth oak forest in our park system. During nesting season (May through August), a portion of the northeast corner of the park is closed to protect hooded and mourning warblers, which are both sensitive breeding species. You can still find these birds on open trails located outside of the closed area. You can find chestnut-sided and cerulean warblers in this part of the park as well.

Closing Notes

I hope this article has gotten you excited to find some birds this year. Consider these locations for one of our “Big” events: the Big Sit (June 11) or the Big Day (September 10). And remember that you can log all of your finds into eBird so they can be included in what was found during our Big Year of Birds! It’s important data that is also used for projects by researchers. (Learn more about how to get started using eBird.) Throughout the year, you can watch our map to see what else people are seeing out there!

For a full list of birds seen in Three Rivers Parks, download our Checklist & Observation Guide to Birds. An illustrated guide to Three Rivers Parks Birds is available for purchase at select nature centers and visitor centers.

About the Author

profile picture of steven holding an osprey

Steven Hogg is the Wildlife Supervisor at Three Rivers Park District and has been working for the Park District for 13 years. After graduating from the University of Alberta with a degree in Environmental and Conservation Biology, he moved to Minnesota to marry his beautiful Minnesota bride. Steven has always had a passion and dedication for wildlife, even when he was young. This passion is what lead him into a career where he strives for the proper orchestration of research, management, and politics to ensure natural resources and wildlife are given a voice. In his spare time, which there is little of with his three kids, Steven likes to farm, hunt, and fish.

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