This serious pained expression is perhaps me knowing I'm about to get into 4.5 more miles of hilly hiking. Or I was trying to find a new look for my third park of the day.
I also rolled along the entrance road thinking the landscape would be good for Northern Harrier and related birds of prey that enjoy the open prairie landscapes. The elevation was a real treat as I didn't realize the extent of glacial influence that would be present at this park. For the third time on the day I picked the hiking club trail as a way to get a strong introduction to the park features.
After 4.5 miles of hilly hiking tacked onto my already 5 miles of hiking I definitely felt the elevation changes this morning when I woke up. The winds as I peaked the highest point in the park at 1352' were easily over 20mph and even 30 degree temps didn't help much to suppress the bitterness of such a wind. The lowland portions of the hike though were not very breezy and I often had my stocking cap pulled up to vent off excess heat from the strenuous hiking effort.
The rolling landscape and hidden ponds/lakes are so inviting to me. I love a good forest, but I find myself appreciating open prairie grasslands much more than ever before. I just imagine this space filled with Field and Vesper sparrows in the summer.
More of the view from the high point of the park. Though I don't imagine walking in the tall grass is advised considering the number ticks that await.
One of the lowland marsh areas that I look forward to listening to in the future. The habitat features of this park were diverse enough that you could do some reasonable waterfowl, marsh, and grassland bird watching in a single day.
I enjoyed every bit of the hike and I could tell this park will offer some really fun birds in the breeding season and I can't wait to come back. Another longer trail segment off the horse camp referenced in Robert Janssen's book, Birds of Minnesota State Parks would seem to be the next great adventure for me on this property. His notes on potential for Forster's and Black Tern having me excited as well as the possible western birds like Western Kingbird.
I did have my first State Park Red-tailed Hawk of the year on my hike this day, but the location scouting indicated to me that many great things await.
The tail end of a Red-Tailed Hawk zooming by on the brisk winds in the prairie. I hoped for this to be an overwintering Northern Harrier, but it was nice to see the hawk anyway.
I did get a note from birding mentor Kevin Smith that ticks are a factor in this park in the summer and that will remind me to ensure I have my insect defender socks on as well as a sprayed pair of pants (Permethrin) and boots prior to any large hikes on the grassland trails.
I took my large hike and didn't see another person the entire time, which is something of value to me after long days in the office. I sent a picture to my wife at the peak elevation point and you can get a true sense of being out in a unique space a good distance away from others.
The Great: Awesome elevation hiking coupled with unique habitat made this a great hike with some much warm weather potential that I want to go back soon after things warm up and migration begins. The trail space in this nearly 2000 acre park is ample and I feel like another 2 or 3 visits would have me covering new ground on each effort. I have a keen interest on the birds that might setup territory in small ponds and wetlands at the bottom of these glacial landforms.
The Meh: Knowing what to expect is always key and this park is loaded with grassland so I expect summer will prove to be a tick haven. Prepare for such an issue and you won't be surprised and put off by the numbers. Beyond that this park is a choice selection of habitat and will speak to the right person that can enjoy open grasslands with limited forest spaces.
The Verdict: Must hike more of this park. Cresting tall hills and looking for grassland birds is something I look forward to greatly. I could even see doing this park in the cold months again, though for a hard core birder trying to use their time to the fullest this is not likely the best use of time in the winter. All other months though I'm betting this place is prime sparrow habitat.