Spring is the best time for bird watchers in central Minnesota.

The Mississippi – with its abundance of insects and trees that are sources of food for many birds – serves as a migratory trajectory for several winged species. Birds of all kinds make their way north. While some stop to nest and build their summer homes in local habitats, others just make a pit stop on a journey that can take them as far as the Arctic Circle.

“It’s important that we keep this trajectory going,” said Frank Gosiak, a Little Falls resident and a member of the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union (MOU). Gosiak estimates that he has identified around 270 different species in Morrison County alone.

“As these birds migrate, we need to make sure they have a place to stop and replenish their energy. The Mississippi is really a good place to go bird watching, ”he said.

Bird enthusiasts of all skill levels – from those just looking to see what bird watching means to trained ornithologists – can spot up to 60 to 80 different species in just one morning as part of the annual bird walk at Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. This year’s event, which is taking place for the tenth time, will take place on Saturday, May 8th, at 8 a.m. Guests meet at the kiosk in the main parking lot at the entrance to Crane Meadows.

“You really don’t know what you’re going to see,” said Dan Orr, an ornithologist and retired biology teacher from Sauk Rapids. “It gets very crowded in the last week of April and into May.”

Gosiak and his MOU member Milt Blomberg, who is also a biology teacher at Holdingford, started the event 10 years ago, which is now run by the Refuge and Friends of the Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, to find out more about birds and the walk To experience the surrounding area. Gosiak said children as young as 5 and others who were in their 80s have participated in previous bird migrations.

“We had some who were among the best bird watchers in the state and others who are just about to get started,” said Gosiak.

Over the years, the group, which ranges from 8 to 10 to 15 to 20 people depending on the weather, has seen a wide variety of birds. Warblers – a bird that many do not look for, also because of their short stature – vireos, thrushes, and blackbirds often live in the wooded areas of Crane Meadows, while ducks, geese, and trumpeter swans are common in the many waterborne habitats in the refuge.

Orr said in the past the group even saw unusual waders like the sandpiper mingling with the usual suspects like the gray heron, snipers and woodcock. Red-haired woodpeckers – a bird Gosiak said was in decline but abundant in Crane Meadows and “a spectacular bird” – scarlet browners, indigo flags, orioles and purple martins are also among the species of birds guests may see. while eagles and hawks soar above.

“The refuge has such a good variety of habitats,” Orr said. “There are some wooded areas, grasslands, some deep water and shallow water areas, so there are natural habitats for different species. The more species of different areas you have, the more habitats that open up. “

There are also three observation decks on the refuge. One overlooks a lake, one overlooks a meadow, and the other overlooks the Platte River. This gives bird watchers several opportunities to take a break from their migration and view a wide variety of species.

To ensure a comfortable and safe hike, the refuge is home to three smaller groups of nine participants, each led by a knowledgeable volunteer guide. Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and too

Adhere to refuge guidelines, face masks are required.

The walks are led by Gosiak, Orr, and Blomberg – all current or former educators with extensive knowledge of local trees, plants, insects, and birds – and the experts who guide guests through the many trails in Crane Meadows and answer any questions.

Guests are asked to wear walking shoes and bring binoculars. However, some can be borrowed.

Pre-registration is required this year.

To pre-register for the event, call the maintenance office at (320) 632-1575 or email nicole_ellingson@fws.gov. Whether by email, phone, or voicemail, prospects are asked to show interest in the bird migration and provide a name and the best phone number to reach them. A Crane Meadows representative will respond as soon as possible to complete the registration.

“Make this a good day to just wander around and enjoy the freedom of being outside,” said a statement about the event emailed to Morrison County Record. “It’s a great way to meet new people and answer some questions from the bird specialists who will be there.”

Orr said past events showed a good separation between seasoned bird watchers and those just dipping their toes in the waters of a potential new hobby. He said that many of the more seasoned veterans usually hit the trails in search of specific species, while about half are just beginners who want to see as many different species of birds as possible.

“A lot of people just come over to see what it’s about,” he said. “They like to go out and see what types of birds they can see, if there is anything they might be interested in, what kind of equipment they need, and where to find a place near their home to look for birds to search.”

When the guests meet, they split into groups, each with an experienced bird watcher serving as a guide. Along the way, some bird walkers do a 1-mile loop, others take the slightly longer 1.6-mile walk, while the more “adventurous” people can take a 3.5-mile walk through the refuge.

Orr said the exact paths they sometimes use depend on the group of people.

“We’re trying to find a place where we can see a variety of birds,” he said. “We want to see the birds that people at their bird feeders will see in their natural habitat.”

In the past, some even found their passion for bird watching while taking a bird walk.

Gosiak said a young man was 14 years old when he went for a walk and ended up studying birds and working with the fish and wildlife service. Several people have worked with the Friends of Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, which sponsors the event, to make bird feeders and birdhouses. A man, Roy Zimmerman, who was a relative newcomer to his first birdwalk, developed a passion for it and became one of the best bird watchers in the state, according to Gosiak.

In the end, it comes down to promoting education and responsibility.

“It’s always good to tell people which species are critically endangered, which species are making a comeback, and why Crane Meadows is making this comeback,” said Gosiak.

“It’s a chance to educate the public that if we continue to destroy habitats, it will affect everything that lives out there,” he said.