Coming from the east I didn't realize the proximity to highway 35 until I got out at the entrance road to snag a picture of the entrance sign. The din of traffic was pervasive and hard to ignore I must admit. The entrance sign though was a beautiful cut metal sign showing a loon, heron, hawk/eagle, butterfly, turtle, and fish above and below the park name. A bonus of these first two parks is that I didn't realize some might have a special sign beyond the standard expected brown router cut signs common for state properties.
They seem to hold secrets of some sort if I looked close enough. Or maybe they were just a welcome diversion from the din of traffic.
I had very low expectations for the park coming into this day. My research showed it to be mostly overlooked by birders and the general size showed it to have enough trail space to warrant a visit or two, but not likely to hold attention much longer.
I could tell that the park gets little attention in the winter months as the roads were not very clear. I had marked the Tall Pine Trail as a potential short hike, but soon found the nearest parking was actually just the boat launch area and I wasn't sure if I was welcome to park or not at such a location. Any additional road to the campground was barred for the winter and I soon turned around. Looking out on the frozen Echo lake I saw a lone ice shack standing vigil over the white expanse.
I next drove towards the picnic and dock fishing area and found a single car in the lot and little else stirring. Looking over the map I had printed I thought perhaps to at least look out over the Wildlife Pond area on the north side of the park across county road 137. I was curious at least to scout out what wetland areas looked like so that I might make an additional stop at the park in the spring or early summer.
I parked in sight of the closed entrance station and slipped my balaclava over my head in addition to my stocking cap. The going was better than I thought as the woods closed in around me and buffeted me against the light breeze. It was still below zero, but didn't threaten to rob me of my breathe. The pond and nearby wetlands showed great promise as it appears open water and ample cattails are present in addition to likely emergent vegetation.
The highway was as pervasive as ever though and I wondered how well a person could lose themselves in this place. A half mile or more down the trail I stopped listening to the highway noise and started hearing the world around me. The crunching of snow under my boots, the light chatter of some chickadees, and then my first Red-Breasted Nuthatch calling out from a nearby pine or spruce tree. I began stopping every 100' or so just to listen to the world a bit and heard a gentle rapping before long. The pitch and cadence reminded me of Hairy Woodpecker and I began trying to pinpoint the sound. Maybe I could get a picture before the cold robbed my camera battery of life. I stepped a few paces off the trail and located the sound from the top 1/3 of a dead spruce tree. That was when I realized this "Hairy" had way to much black on it's body and back. A bit of magic just then as I realized I had found a Black-backed Woodpecker on my own in a location one had never been reported before. I checked eBird and soon realized I was the only person to ever submit an entry for January. MOU rarely has such specific details beyond county and those were limited to just 22 reports going back to 1985 with many being the same bird/nest found back in 2008/2009.
Me catching a break in a trail side shelter a few minutes after finding the Black-backed Woodpecker.
This was what I hoped for when I started planning this adventure. I wanted to bird watch and explore at times and places many have not. I wanted to see what the world offered me when I took a chance. I found just 3 species at Moose Lake during my hike and drive time, but I wouldn't trade that one moment for anything. I forgot about the traffic noise in a heartbeat and wasn't aware of it's existing again until I crossed back over 137 to the parking lot.
Walking the trails at Moose Lake SP.
I'll be back to Moose Lake this year I think even if it's just to see what the wildlife pond has in the way of marsh birds. If not, it will hold a place in my mind waiting for exploration, waiting for another moment like the Black-backed Woodpecker going about it's business.
The Great: A park capable of producing Black-backed Woodpecker is capable of a great many exciting birds and the trail space I did cover has a lot of potential. Coupled with a nice looking Echo Lake I'm excited to see what Moose Lake has to offer in the spring and summer.
The Meh: Man, that traffic noise though. If you can easily tune out the white noise this park is just fine. I'm used to some parks having some type of constant noise so it really wasn't that bad despite me mentioning it several times. Fort Snelling to my memory is nearly non-stop jet airplanes landing and taking off so by comparison Moose Lake is silent. This park appears to get little attention in the winter, but that could work to your advantage in low snow years. Otherwise you are likely to need snow shoes or better for any type of adventure.
The Verdict: For me Moose Lake is a viable destination and probably seriously under bird watched. I have the feeling with 3 trips I could easily add a number of species to the eBird list which sits at 103 now after I added the first Black-backed Woodpecker. I get the feeling that trail variety will peter out after a while, but that doesn't mean this land shouldn't be explored.