Whether you enjoy fishing, paddling or just floating along, boating affords excellent views of Minnesota’s abundant wildlife.

Loons can be seen on lakes throughout northern and central Minnesota. Sometimes they seem as curious about us as we are of them, and they will swim closer, often diving beneath the water’s surface, only to reappear on the other side of our boats. The loon’s haunting call on a calm summer evening makes the encounter all the more special.

And then there are the great blue herons, frequenting wetlands and lakeshores throughout Minnesota. These big birds stalk the shallow water, heads cocked, in search of aquatic prey. When alarmed, the gangly slate-blue birds will suddenly take flight, often emitting a loud “squawk” as their giant wings carry them away.

Minnesota’s undeveloped shorelines hold a good variety of birds, including red-winged blackbirds, green herons, kingfishers and several species of ducks, sometimes with ducklings in tow. Also listen for bitterns and rails, especially when boating through cattail and wild rice habitat. Bitterns and rails will usually stay hidden, but their calls can provide a pleasant soundtrack to a day on the water.

Boats provide excellent perspectives on mammals, too. Beavers, muskrats, mink and otters frequent the banks and shorelines of rivers and lakes statewide. White-tailed deer are often spotted belly deep in the water, feeding on various aquatic vegetation.

And don’t forget to look up! The airspace above Minnesota’s lakes is full of bald eagles, ospreys and, of course, a variety of gulls. □