After obtaining my driver’s license once I turned 16, my access to good birding areas increased dramatically. And while interstate driving was still a bit intimidating to a new driver, I was fortunate enough to live relatively close to one of these good birding areas: Carver Park Reserve. In fact, I remember that I drove the 15-minute drive from my family’s house in Chaska to the park the very next morning after passing my behind-the-wheel exam.
But my visits to Carver Park actually began several years before that, as my dad would willingly take me out to the park on some weekend mornings throughout the year in search of birds that neither he nor I had ever seen. Occasionally we would join a guided bird hike through the park (the park has always been very birder-friendly), but most of the time we just walked the park’s diverse trails ourselves; I fondly remember the high-fives we shared after seeing our first Yellow Warblers, Brown Thrashers, and Bobolinks. And the night that both my mom and dad as well as one of my sisters came to the park with me to watch our first American Woodcock dance will always remain one of my favorite outdoor experiences.
Once I was able to drive, though, my visits to the park became much more frequent (and probably too frequent if you asked my mom). Over the next few years I birded the park religiously and explored its 26 miles of hiking trails, through its prairies and wetlands to its wooded ravines and conifer stands. For more general information about the park (as well as other parks in the metro area belonging to Three Rivers Park District), check out http://www.threeriversparks.org/parks/carver-park.aspx.
Carver Park Reserve has always been known as an excellent year-round birding location to Twin Cities birders. And like most wooded parks in the Twin Cities area, Carver Park attracts a large number of passerines (songbirds) during migration. On the right day in mid-May, 20+ species of warbler can be expected along the park’s trails; the Lake and Maple trails starting at the Lowry Nature Center are especially conducive to migrating warblers. Late August through mid-September can be just as exciting when looking for warblers, and be sure to check out the boardwalk through the tamarack bog on the north side of the park for any southbound migrants (Olive-sided Flycatchers are common here some years at this time). Migrant sparrows, thrushes, and flycatchers are also common sights along these same trails.
As one might expect, the park’s wetlands attract good numbers of waterfowl in both spring and fall. Check especially the King Blind at the end of Carver Park Road west of CR 11; Trumpeter Swans have nested here for many years, and this is also a decent place to look for shorebirds in some drier years. And the “Shorebird Pond” at the entrance of Nature Center Drive, as well as some of the smaller wetlands along CR 11, usually attract a nice assortment of both diving and puddle ducks during migration, although the water has been too high to attract any variety of shorebirds for many years. And beginning in early April, be on the lookout for American Woodcocks performing their aerial courtship displays around sundown, especially in the semi-open areas south of Lake Zumbra off of Park Drive on Carver Park’s east side.
The wide variety of habitats present in the park attracts a great diversity of breeding species during the summer months. The prairies are regularly home to breeding meadowlarks (both Eastern and Western some years, although Eastern has proved more common), in addition to Bobolinks, Sedge Wrens, Field and Vesper Sparrows, and Orchard Orioles; most of these species can be observed in the vicinity of the Shorebird Pond parking lot, but they should be present throughout the park’s grasslands. In recent years some of the park’s prairies have been attracting Henslow’s Sparrows in addition to the usual Grasshopper Sparrows, and just as above a good location to listen for both these species is in the vicinity of the Shorebird Pond parking lot. The wooded trails (especially near Lowry Nature Center) sport breeding Barred Owls, Yellow-throated Vireos, Wood Thrushes, and Scarlet Tanagers among some of the more common birds characteristic of Eastern deciduous forests, and in some years Cerulean Warblers can even be heard singing somewhere along the trails (check especially along the Aspen Trail north of the nature center). Willow (and sometimes Alder) Flycatchers and Veeries can be readily heard in the tamarack bog, and in recent years Sandhill Cranes and Red-shouldered Hawks have been making appearances in the vicinity of Crosby Lake. And any visit you make to the park grounds in summer will likely provide you looks at one of Carver Park’s most charismatic species; Osprey pairs have been occupying several nesting platforms for many years.
Even winter has its rewards for the birder in Carver Park Reserve. The regularly filled feeders behind the nature center are always worth checking, and depending on the winter you might find the likes of Purple Finches, Common Redpolls, or Pine Siskins among the resident House Finches and American Goldfinches feeding on sunflower and nyjer thistle seeds. A Northern Shrike can usually be spotted somewhere out in the open, but check especially near the Shorebird Pond parking lot or on the east side of the park along Park Drive north of MN Highway 5. Finally, in recent years the dense juniper stands on the east side of Parley Lake accessed by driving west of CR 11 on Grimm Road have harbored roosting Long-eared and Northern Saw-whet Owls in addition to overwintering Townsend’s Solitaires.
Bob’s birdlist from Carver Park Reserve:
American Black Duck
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Le Conte’s Sparrow