The North Mississippi Regional Park is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River in Northern Minneapolis. It was jointly developed by the Minneapolis park board, Anoka County park board and the Three Rivers Park District. Because of its location north of downtown Minneapolis and its adjacency to the river it is a very popular park for runners, cyclists, and picnickers however I like to visit the park because of the heron rookery that is located on a small island in the river.
Each year, beginning about the middle of March, the great blue herons begin to return to the rookery. The herons that are the first to arrive have to be hardy, because at that point in time a lot of the ice is still covering the river. Those birds are rewarded by getting the first choice of nesting locations.
Since the trees do not usually leaf out until the end of April or the beginning of May it is quite easy to get good shots of the birds in their nest. However the pics that most photographers work for are flight shots of the birds as the travel to the from the nest performing their daily routine.
Even though they are large birds, averaging about three feet tall with a six foot wingspan, they can be very graceful. They are incredibly fun to watch as one minute they land with ballet style grace on a small twig at the top of the trees and the next minute they crash through the branches like a clown, their long legs tangling in the twigs.
Besides the herons there are often other birds on the river to photograph. A couple of years ago I was lucky and I had horned grebes in breeding plumage swimming by me as I photographed the herons. Most of the time though, the birds are a bit more common, such as Canada geese, mallards and wood ducks.
Fortunately there is also a very nice visitors center in the park. Built in 2002 it was named after State Senator Carl Kroenig who was instrumental in obtaining state support and funding for the park back in 1985. The visitors center has classrooms and displays to help educate people about the habitat and wildlife found in the park. It also has restrooms and heat which are very nice when you are photographing outside in Minnesota in the middle of March.