The refuge, which was established in 1976, consists of 14,000 acres of habitat running along side the Minnesota River between Fort Snelling State Park and Belle Plain, MN.
Since the refuge stretches out over such a low distance and covers such a diversity of different habitats it is broken down into 8 different units to assist in its management. Besides the 8 units there is also the Visitors Center which is located at the north end of the park in Bloomington, MN. For this post I will be focusing on the Visitors Center, pictured above, and its surrounding grounds.
On the front side of the Visitors Center, next to the parking, is a small field dedicated to native grasses and wild flowers. The sign above, if you can nit read the caption, says, "A Kaleidoscope of Color." Obviously at this time of year the only color that you see is white, that is if white was truly a color.
However during the summer this area is alive with blooming flowers, dragonflies, bees and butterflies, like this monarch that was photographed here in the summer of 2008.Bird houses are spread out through the area and attract cavity nesting birds, like the bluebird above, which add to the kaleidoscope.
The Visitor Center, which was built in 1989, contains informational displays on the park, classrooms, gift shop, refuge offices, and a viewing area which looks out at the feeding station which is located behind the building.
This feeding station is one of the better places to look for birds in this area during the winter. The various types of feeders, such as suet feeders, tube feeders, platform feeders, hopper feeders, and ground feeders, and seed bring in a variety of winter visitors.
Some of the birds commonly seen during the winter are juncos, house sparrows, cardinals, goldfinch, nuthatch, downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpecker.
This variety of passerines sometimes brings other types of birds to the feeders looking for food. Last winter a sharp-shinned hawk, pictured above, was a constant visitor to the feeding station.
In back of the Visitors Center there is a path leading to an overlook on the river bluff. From here you can see most of the Long Meadow Lake. Looking further south you can see the smoke stack from the power plant on Black Dog Lake. Both of these lakes are part of different units of the refuge.
For a little bit of exercise you can walk the half-mile hillside trail which takes you through hillside forest, prairie, and wetland habitats. Many of the birds that come to the feeders to eat live in the trees that occupy the hill around the trail.
There are not only birds to see at the refuge. Mammals, such as squirrels, opossum, raccoons, skunk, beaver, muskrat, fox coyote, rabbit and more, can be found in the various habitats surrounding the visitors center.
Unfortunately the snow levels in Minnesota during the winter make traveling up and down the hillside difficult and so during the winter the trail is closed.