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Blue Mounds State Park, Rock County

I was first introduced to Blue Mounds when I was 6 or 7 years old; the family had stopped here en route to visit more family in Omaha, NE. This was probably the first time that I had seen real, live buffalo (the park is home to a fenced-off herd that grazes a large portion of prairie), and certainly the first time that I had walked across a prickly-pear cactus! Since then I’ve been back many times to enjoy the park’s approximately three square miles of tall-grass prairie outlined to its south and east by a stunning outcropping of Sioux quartzite that literally rises out of the surrounding land.

Today I find the the birds of Blue Mounds to be just as charismatic as its landscape. And to most Minnesota birders, Blue Mounds State Park means one thing: Blue Grosbeak. Indeed, this species can be found here more reliably and in greater numbers than at any other location in the state; in fact Blue Grosbeaks are generally rare and unexpected away from the extreme southwest corner of Minnesota. The grosbeaks seem to be quite fond of the shrubby borders between the prairie and the more wooded cliffside, and this is where I usually find them. Some years they tend to be more prevalent on the southern end of the park (especially in the vicinity of the many plum thickets), but I’ve recorded them throughout the park’s expanse in the habitat mentioned from late May through early August.

Yet the park also serves as a wooded oasis among miles and miles of agricultural and pastoral lands, and thus Blue Mounds provides prime breeding ground for several species in addition to an important stop for migratory songbirds. During the summer months, you’re guaranteed to find Bobolinks, Western Meadowlarks, Grasshopper Sparrows, and Dickcissels galore among other expected grassland birds; species present in smaller numbers that you still have a decent chance of finding include Upland Sandpipers, Western Kingbirds, Swainson’s Hawks, and displaying (booming) Common Nighthawks. A hike through the park’s woods during the same season can turn up both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and both Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, and the man-made wetlands situated on the park’s north side attract breeding Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Belted Kingfishers, and Willow Flycatchers.

Migration is perhaps even more exciting than the breeding season at Blue Mounds. In spring and fall the park has attracted a long list of western strays more common in the Dakotas, including a Lazuli Bunting in 2003. Spotted Towhees have been found in the park’s woods during late April and May on several occasions; watch for this species especially along the wooded stream that runs north of the walk-in campground. Any warblers, vireos, and flycatchers migrating through Rock County are likely to make a pit stop at Blue Mounds, and although you’ll probably never run into any significant waves or fallouts you should be able to find a nice mix of several species throughout the park. The prairie itself attracts a large variety of migrant sparrows; even Le Conte’s Sparrows can be easily located by taking a walk through the park’s grasslands from late September to mid-October.

 

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Bob’s birdlist from Blue Mounds State Park:

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Hooded Merganser
Ring-necked Pheasant
Pied-billed Grebe
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Cooper’s Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Swainson’s Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Wilson’s Snipe
Franklin’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Forster’s Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo
Eastern Screech-Owl
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Alder Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
House Wren
Winter Wren
Sedge Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Palm Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson’s Warbler
Spotted Towhee
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Henslow’s Sparrow
Le Conte’s Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Harris’s Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak
Lazuli Bunting
Indigo Bunting
Dickcissel
Bobolink
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Purple Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow