It’s been a slow start to the annual swan watching season on the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, but they are starting to arrive. The tundra swan migration is a highlight of the fall on the refuge offering a once-a-year spectacle for all to enjoy. At their peak, which usually occurs the second week of November, there can be as many as 50,000 swans on the refuge. They will stay until the backwater areas where they feed are frozen and then, often in one evening, they will all disappear. They leave as they arrived, young following old to the Chesapeake Bay and points south to the Carolina shore.
Unfortunately, the Friends of the Refuge Headwaters annual swan watch bus tour will not be offered again this year, but you can still see swans on your own. Directions to the most popular swan watching locations can be found at friendsoftherefugeheadwaters.org under the “Swan Watch Self-Guided Tour” tab. So grab binoculars, dress for the weather, and head out for some great swan watching!
The best locations to see swans on the refuge are:
- Weaver Bottoms, near Weaver, Minn. — The best viewing is from the service road on the west side of Highway 61 at 116th Avenue (mile marker 45), which accesses the St Mary’s Cemetery.
- Brownsville Overlook, approximately three miles south of Brownsville, Minn. — This is a pull-off on the east side of Highway 26 overlooking the Mississippi River. There is plenty of parking, but this is a popular stopping and viewing location, which will be less crowded during the week.
- Shady Maple Overlook, approximately 3 ½ miles north of Stoddard, Wis. — This is a pull-off on the west side of Highway 35; watch for the “Scenic Overlook” signs.
Check out the refuge website at www.fws.gov/refuge/upper_mississippi_river for current bird observations.