Mom, Elisa (my niece) and I went to the National Wildlife Refuge by Minnesota City to view migrating waterfowl. Traveling on an unmaintained road, we drove slowly, watching the water. At the water’s edge, the first bird we saw was a sandhill crane; this trip was planned in hopes of seeing some. Mom stopped the vehicle so we could take a look. Elisa and I quietly stepped out of the van, but before we could completely cross the road, the crane took flight, and then another one which we hadn’t seen flew away as well. They didn’t go too far however, but the trees made it difficult to observe them. I was so happy and excited to see a sandhill crane, but a little disappointed we couldn’t get very close to the water’s edge and that the cranes were extremely shy. I was surprised how much it looked like a blue heron. I thought they would be a little browner in color, perhaps it was “sand” in the name; they appeared silver in the late afternoon sunlight. They had legs and necks so tall, a patch of dark red on their forehead. They can have some molted brown on their sides. Sandhill cranes are a large bird. They were fascinating, graceful and majestic.
Elisa and I got back into the van. Mom drove slowly to one of the landings. All three of us stepped out of the van to view the water. There were some waterfowl but it was difficult to make out what they were. Then I noticed a crane flying, it was such a massive bird. Looking east instead of west at the landing, we got a closer view of some of the waterfowl, Canada geese and Mallards. Still at the landing but further out there were northern shovelers and blue-winged teals. The water looked incredibly blue and unbelievably beautiful. Back in the vehicle and on the road, we drove slowly again. I observed some waterfowl on the other side of the road, to the south. A couple were flying and I could barely see the two on the pond because of the vegetation growing at the water’s edge. Then I saw a handful more on the north side.
Further on looking back on the north side, we saw a cluster of American coots. It was fun to watch them bob on the water, a forward lunge to dunk their heads in the water. The colors here were just stunning. We got out and crossed the road when we saw an even larger cluster. They were all talking loudly, making a squeaking sound similar to wood rubbed together. I had never seen an American coot before so I was enthralled. Coots are entertaining to watch and fun to listen to. Then we hit the jackpot, a whole bunch of waterfowl together. We saw ring-necked ducks, redheads, lesser scaup, bufflehead, canvasback and possibly merganser. Although I wish we had been able to get closer, it was pretty awesome seeing all these waterfowl. There were squeaks from the coots and quacks from the ducks, it was incredible to stand there listening to their conversations. We spotted another crane (after turning around and heading back); it flew as soon as we got close but never left the water’s edge, and flew just above the water, sometimes it looked like its wings dipped into the water. It tried to hide behind trees.
We also saw a very large, and neat beaver lodge, then I noticed two more, I was like a child pointing them out in my excitement. I commented to Mom and Elisa, “Isn’t it cool that this is one of the ‘top’ rivers in the world?” Elisa said, “I forget about that.” I replied, “Yeah, it seems easy to take for granted. But this is the longest river in the world. And we live so close to it.” How exciting that we do live so close to the Mississippi River and towards the headwaters too, so we are at the less polluted part. What an extraordinary gift to be able to observe so many kinds of waterfowl, especially since a few of the species we saw have decreasing populations.