Mid-week or so Garret Wee in the western part of the state posted up a note about serious waterfowl building up at Lac Qui Parle State Park. With open water confirmed I didn't hesitate to call this my target location for Saturday.
I was so jacked I set my alarm for 5AM and woke up at 4:15AM instead and got going eating breakfast and packing up my RAV4. I was out the door by the original 5AM alarm heading west out of the cities. I made great time rolling into Lac Qui Parle upper segment just before 8AM.
The look of a man who just slayed it on waterfowl for the last couple hours. Determination and satisfaction reined supreme on this great outing.
I could see thousands of waterfowl on the open water and opted to drive to the end of the open water zone and pulled off on a nice overlook. Tundra Swans were immediately visible as I quickly started ticking off State Park year and lifetime birds in this historical hotbed of great waterfowl. Minutes after arriving Alex Sundvall pinged my cell phone telling me I had best get to Lac Qui Parle soon with the massive number of birds present. He, Liz Harper, and Kathleen MacAulay were at the south end of the lake doing the same as I was. Pegging every species they possibly could.
I later joined up with them while we ticked off species after species as I ended up pulling 23 species of waterfowl and effectively finishing the vast majority of likely waterfowl in a single day. Any missing birds I had picked up at Myre-Big Island a couple weeks ago and this day had me take in single birds like Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, and Canvasback. A single Killdeer called from overhead with it's high volume single piercing call. It is never spring for me until a Killdeer calls overhead looking for some mudflats to feed upon.
A bit into the effort another birder friend Gary Reitan stopped by looking to also add some birds to his list after seeing Garret Wee's post. It is something how influential a single social media post really can be at this time of year for people looking to get out of town and get a start on spring waterfowl searching.
First of year waterfowl aside, several were also lifetime State Park birds for me moving my life total to 196. (Adds of American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater & Lesser Scaup, and Ruddy Duck.)
Eventually I had to leave the massive waterfowl grouping and checked out the main office feeders that had been hosting an Evening Grosbeak all winter. That bird was not present, but 4 Purple Finches made it a pleasant stop all the same.
The much coveted duo of Purple Finch and House Sparrow. Well, maybe the first half of that anyway.
I soon checked out the lower unit area of the park on the other side of the lake and found little moving around and wasn't ready to engage in a hike for the day so I quickly moved on and targeted Upper Sioux Agency State Park.
A signage selfie with Upper Sioux, a park I'll have to come back and hike in the future. The ground just wasn't good enough for a proper hike this day. I could see a lot of good sloping terrain that would make it iffy at best.
(I'll likely skip much of a write-up on this park at this time though as the roads were very spongy and all trails looked heavily iced and steep.)
The Great: No doubt about why this park has a waterfowl reputation for this time of year. The open water at the south end of the lake creates a great early staging zone in an area of the state with little open water. I left the day missing only American Black Duck and Red-breasted Merganser for the earlier arriving waterfowl. I will of course need to target Grebe in the near future along with Scoter and Long-tailed Duck in the fall, but for the time being I'm well ahead on these birds being found in a State Park. This should give me flexibility in the coming weeks in deciding locations.
The Meh: Given what this park has to work with, I can see it being a specialist in waterfowl. I look forward to another scoping visit as the spring moves on to see if a rarity can be pulled out of the lake. I didn't see much for additional habitat or long secluded hikes, but every park can't be everything.
The Verdict: This is a must visit for anyone looking to rack up a serious waterfowl total. The high overlook areas and platform viewing zone all provide great looks at the lake. I will be back, even if it is just a scope and go type of effort. I totaled 51 species in my time at the park and blew the doors off even Afton State Park, which I've visited 11 times already this year.