Blue Mounds State Park has always been a favorite place of mine. The expansive prairie, Bison herd, rocky cliffs, and Dakota Indian history add to the exotic flavor and very “western” feel in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Located in extreme southwest Minnesota, the park is part of the Prairie Coteau (Coteau des Prairie) landscape; A plateau that rises a couple hundred feet above the surrounding prairie in parts of eastern South Dakota, North Dakota and western Iowa and Minnesota.
I camped here over the Memorial Day Weekend. I was down with my folks for my cousin’s wedding but squeezed in a few hours of photography.
The escarpment of Sioux Quartzite at Blue Mounds rises vertically about 100 feet from the surrounding prairie. Local lore insists that the Lakota (i.e. Dakota, Sioux) used to use the cliffs to their hunting advantage, stampeding herds of Bison off the edge and to their deaths, then collecting the carcasses at the bottom. Locals claim that early settlers found huge piles of Bison bones at the base of the cliffs. But the MN DNR claims that no evidence exists to substantiate this scenario.
The best place in Minnesota to see Common Nighthawks in their natural habitat and performing their “booming” courtship flights is the parking lot area of Blue Mounds Interpretive Center off CR8. A startlingly loud “WHOOSH” comes from the sky just above you. Looking up you see Nighthawk going into a dive, air rushing over the leading edge of its arched wings to create the sound. The booming is used to attract mates, signal territory and possibly to drive off intruders. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]
Nighthawks are neither nocturnal nor a hawk. What they are is a member of the Caprimulgidae, or “Goatsuckers”, another unfortunate and inaccurate name. A possible story on how this name came to be may be rooted in European lore. There are relatives of this bird in England, and they will feed on aerial insects kicked up by herds of livestock. Maybe a shepherd 150 years ago noticed these birds flying around his goats one evening, then just by chance they gave poorly (milk) the next day. The shepherd puts 2 and 2 together and comes up with 5…The birds must have sucked the milk from his goats! Of course this is a ridiculous idea and not true in any aspect. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]
And here is the Nighthawk in flight! Though it is hard to believe that this bird’s tiny bill will open up to reveal a large gaping mouth, it is essential to their feeding style. At dusk and again in the morning, Nighthawks take to the air to feed on flying insects. They dive and perform aerial acrobatics as they inhale hundreds of mosquitos, midges, flies and other insects. Aerial Vacuum Cleaners! [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]
The Blue Grosbeak is a rare bird in Minnesota. Blue Mounds State Park (especially near the Interpretive Center of CR8) is the best and easiest place to find them in the state. Here is a highly cropped image of a male..They are not easy to get close to! Minnesota is at the far northern edge of their U.S. range. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 430EX flash and Better Beamer, handheld]
I took a side trip to the nearby Hardwick, Minnesota Sewage Ponds. Even though it was Memorial Day weekend, I found a very late Greater White-fronted Goose and this male Wilson’s Phalarope preening peacefully. Of course, we always want to get eye-level with our subjects so I had to crawl on the goose-poop laced grass of the sewage pond to get the shot. Who said wildlife photography is glamourous? [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]
I do not have many photos of Warbling Vireos (fairly uncommon in northern Minnesota) so I took the opportunity when there were several near the swimming beach defending their territories. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 430EX flash and Better Beamer, handheld]
Not the Baltimore Oriole we are all familiar with, this is the smaller cousin, the Orchard Oriole. Found in wooded edges, farmsteads, groves, and backyards across southern Minnesota. This is my first semi-decent photo of one. I’ll take it! [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 430EX flash and Better Beamer, handheld]
I can never pass up a good silhouette. This Canada Goose family was swimming on the small reservoir at sunset. I underexposed by a couple stops to create the silhouette and rich colors in the water. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]
Next time, more photos from past trips to Blue Mounds State Park in extreme SW Minnesota.