Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Posts about Minnesota birding sites

Sandhill Cranes

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 3, 2011 - 7:55 PM

Sandhill Cranes are beginning to gather in flocks prior to migration south for the winter. You can find them in or near Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge west of Zimmerman (Highway 169 north of Elk River), and in the Carlos Avery Game Refuge in Anoka County. Perhaps the most certain place to find them is Crex Meadows Wildlife Area just north of Grantsburg, Wisconsin. Take I-35W to Highway 70, just beyond Rush City, and follow 70 east into Wisconsin. Grantsburg is five miles east of the state line, marked by the St. Croix River. Sunup and sundown are guaranteed times to watch the birds as they leave the refuge for foraging in nearby farm fields, returning as evening arrives. You can watch them cross Highway 70 two or three miles east of Grantsburg. You'll see hundreds of birds, flock after flock. It's a spectacle. The birds roost on the refuge, in the center portion where access is forbidden. Driving refuge roads, though, often turns up a few cranes. The photo below was taken at Crex a couple of falls ago.


Bird tour Saturday

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: August 31, 2011 - 1:18 PM

A birding tour will be held Saturday at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. This is one of the areas better birding locations. The tour is free. Details are on the refuge Web site: www.fws.gov/midwest/sherburne. The refuge is located west of Zimmerman (Highway 169 north of Elk River).






Birding on the Mississippi River

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: August 4, 2011 - 8:33 AM

 A rafting trip on the Mississippi River is planned for birdwatchers. Family-friendly rafts will leave from the Coon Rapids dam in Brooklyn Center on Saturday, Aug. 20 at 9:30 a.m. The trip will end about 4 p.m. at the Camden Bridge in Minneapolis. Target birds will be herons, orioles, and Osprey. Participants will explore islands to look for birds that use the river corridor as a migration route. Early fall migrants will be on the move.. Shuttle transportation back to the dam will be provided, along with snacks and beverages. Participants should bring binoculars, water bottles, and lunch. Wear shoes that can get wet. No rafting/paddling experience is necessary. Details on the trilp can be found at


This female Baltimore Oriole was photographed at her nest.


Swifts roosting by the thousands

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: July 30, 2011 - 9:45 PM

This is the season when swifts are flocking prior to migration. Chimney Swifts are doing that here, and other species of swifts elsewhere. The birds roost in chimney, swarming around the opening before diving in. Two You Tube videos give you an idea of this spectacle. The first video was taken Friday night by local birder Curt Rawn at the old Oak Knoll Elementary School on Highway 55 in Plymouth (south side of highway, maybe half a mile east of I-494). You can see it at


Another You Tube video, linked to Rahn's posting, shows a western species of swift -- Vaux's Swift -- entering a chimney to roost -- hundreds, maybe thousands of swifts. It's amazing. If you listen you can here oohing and aahing from spectators.

Saturday night marked the beginning of a swift census here in Minnesota. Observers are finding an active chimney, setting up shop at about sunset (say 8:30 p.m.) and counting the birds as they enter the chimney. This is a citizen science project sponsored by Audubon Minnesota. You can participate. There's an active chimney somewhere near you. For more information, go to


Here are two swift photos. The first shows a Chimney Swift flying near the Wayzata West Middle School Friday morning. I'm certain the swifts in this small flock of about 15 birds are roosting in the school chimney. I was there Saturday night to observe and count, but arrived late, seeing only one bird fly down the chimney. I'll try again Sunday night. The second photo shows Chimney Swifts entering the chimney at the Oak Knoll school last year at about this date.



A short, wonderful weekend birding trip

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: June 30, 2011 - 9:20 AM

 If you are looking for a short weekend birding trip well worth the drive, this is it. Take Highway 12 west to Dassel. Go south on Highway 15 for about three miles (more or less; we didn't measure).Here you will find Pigeon Lake and an island in its middle that is home to thousands of waterbirds that nest in colonies or hang around in large groups: Double-crested Cormorants, American White Pelicans, Great Blue Herons, American Egrets for certain, maybe other species if you take a scope and give it a good look. There is a parking area overlooking the lake. The view is perfect. I learned of this yesterday in an email from friend Mark Martell, who works for Audubon Minnesota. Pigeon Lake and its island have been designated as one of Minnesota's Important Bird Areas, a label indicating need for protection and conservation. It's the most spectacular birding site within several hours drive in any direction from the Twin Cities. On the way, along Highway 12, watch for wetlands where Black Terns are breeding. We saw at least a dozen of these birds as we drove through. The photo shows about one-third of the island in Pigeon Lake.



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