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Birding at Deep Portage

Deep Portage is the perfect spot for your next birding adventure. Our eleven miles of trails meander through woods, bogs, and lakeshore, bringing you up close to birds in a wide range of habitats. From ospreys to owls, over one hundred and fifty bird species have been seen here! So grab your binoculars and come on over—we can't wait to hear what you find!

Deep Portage Conservation Reserve Birding Hotspots

A. Little Boy Lake/Boy River

The dry uplands on the north side of Little Boy Lake is one of the best areas in the state to watch peenting and ariel courtship flights of American woodcock. In spring, the young aspen stand is loaded with wood thrushes and drumming ruffed grouse. Check the Boy River beaver dam areas for herons, American bitterns, soras, waterfowl, and raptors! There is a spacious parking lot off of 24th Ave NW that runs south off Cty 46 and a accessible trail that runs to Little Boy Lake.

B. Big Deep Lake SW

Check the shorelines for singing alder flycatchers and northern waterthrush. There is an active bald eagles nest atop the large white pine on the point, please give them their space and respect. Big Deep Lake freezes last after all other lakes, and you never know what waterbird may show up right before freeze up!

C. Land isthmus

Want the best warbler migration area in Cass county??? Here it is!!! The land isthmus between Big Deep Lake and Bass Pond can be crawling with 20+ species of warblers if you hit the right day! Walk slow, as many, many other species of migrant birds are attracted to this location. Scan the trees for vireos, shrubs for sparrows, and lakes for waterbirds.

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D. Building/Bird Observatory

The fruit trees outside the main entrance provide terrific food for bohemian waxwings and grosbeaks. Winter finches spent a lot of their time feasting on staff feeders. Migrant sparrows, snow buntings, and Lapland longspurs can be spotted on campus during migration. On the west side of Bass Pond along the ski and snowshoe trails, Deep Portage operates a large bird feeding station with viewing platform December-March.

E. North Bog

A walk out to the north bog will bring you in optimal breeding cover for American redstart, scarlet tanagers, veerys, ovenbirds, and thrushes. The north bog has seen its fair share of waterfowl, yellowlegs, solitary sandpipers, warblers, sparrows, and raptors.

F. Nature Center Drive

The driveway is often an underlooked and underappreciated place to bird! Search the 0-5 year old logging cuts for breeding mourning warblers, golden-winged warblers, olive-sided flycatchers, and many indigo buntings. These young forests can be loaded with species diversity. The older forests presents vireos, scarlet tanagers, owls, and many others!

G. Middle Loop

Your best chance to see a ruffed grouse is on this loop. There are many forest types and year classes of trees so birding can be pretty spectacular!

H. County Rd 46 Marsh

What a spot! Parking is available along County road 46 along two pull offs. This riparian area knows no birding limits, it’s always providing something new! Springtime brings warblers, brewers blackbirds, waterfowl, soras, bitterns, sedge wrens, winter wrens, marsh wrens, swamp sparrows, and a breeding pair of bald eagles. Black-billed cuckoos and northern goshawks have been spotted here!

I. Snowmobile trail

Much like the driveway and middle loop, the snowmobile trail meanders through and impressive arrays of diverse habitats home to many forest birds. Northern goshawks patrol this area for its numerous ruffed grouse along the trail.

Cass County Birding Hotspots

Birding in Cass County

Cass County is located in central Minnesota and covers nearly 2,500 square miles of land and water. Cass County is bounded by the Mississippi River to the north and the Crow Wing River to the south, and contains two of the largest inland lakes in the state: Lake Winnibigoshish and Leech Lake. There are a good mix of habitats, including northern coniferous bog, extensive wetlands, mature coniferous and deciduous forest, and plenty of open country. Cass County is not a traditional destination for birders (with the possible exception of Lake Winnibigoshish) and it is true that most of the species in Cass can be found in areas closer to the more populous parts of the state. However, Yellow Rail and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow are present at several easily accessible locations, and the county in general is not heavily birded… so who knows?

Few counties span such a broad range of habitats. There are not many places where one can find Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher and Connecticut Warbler breeding in the same county. How about Dickcissal and Blue-headed Vireo? Grasshopper Sparrow and Canada Warbler? As such, the avid county birder can do quite well, and there really is much left to be discovered. Thanks for visiting!


Mud Lake: Part of the Mud-Goose WMA, Mud Lake is located near the confluence of the Leech Lake River and the Mississippi. Head west on CR 139 from CR 3 just south of the Itasca County border. CR 139 follows the Leech Lake river (look for the waterfowl etc.) for 3 miles before hitting the dam at Mud Lake. This spot, and various spots farther south on 139, can be good for waterfowl, Black Terns, Marsh Wren, Yellow-headed Blackbird and others. Check nearby CR 158 for Northern Parula and other boggy birds.

County Road 135: CR 136 is a 7 mile stretch of road that heads east from CR 63, which itself heads from CR 8 2 miles south of Federal Dam. The middle mile of this stretch is a coniferous bog (mostly tamarack). Gray Jay, Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Connecticut Warbler, and Tennessee Warbler have all been found here in summer.

Boy River Marsh: The Boy River passes under CR 8 approx. 9 miles north of MN 200. This extensive sedge meadow is a great place for LeConte’s and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows, and Yellow Rail. There is not much room on the shoulder, however, and CR 8 often has consistent (if not heavy) traffic. CR 172 (1 mile south of the river) from CR 8, and as it heads into the town of Boy River it crosses more sedge wetlands that are worth birding. The Soo Line trail heads southeast from the town towards Tobique. Hikers can walk this stretch (5 miles) through more marsh and a large coniferous bog where Gray Jay, Crossbills, and Connecticut Warblers can be found in season. Look here also for Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

County Road 129: Head east on CR 7 from Longville, cross the narrows on Lake Inguadona, and then turn north on CR 129. The first .5 miles is a nice bog where Winter Wren and Canada Warbler can be found. Past this there is a marsh where LeConte’s Sparrow and American Bittern breed. 2 miles up the Canada, Magnolia, and Black-Throated Green Warblers during breeding season. This stretch also is the most reliable summer spot for Northern Waterthrush.

Remer Area: Remer is a small town in eastern Cass County, situated at the intersection of MN 200 and MN 6. The town itself is a great place for winter finches. Check the fruit trees in front of the Remer Motel for Behemian Waswings, and walk Cedar and Spruce streets (just north of 200) for Crossbills etc. The Remer Water Treatment Ponds can be interesting, although access is spotty at best. Go south from 200 on 3rd St. and bear left on Etna. Stay on Etna as it parallels the Soo Line Trail and dead ends at the ponds. 1.3 miles east of MN 6 on MN 200 is a nice coniferous bog where Boreal Chicadee has been found.

Lake Winnibigoshish: Cass County forms the southern shore of this interesting body of water and the lake itself actually spans both the northeast and northwest territories of our area. The Mississippi flows through Lake Winnite, and birding here can be quite productive, especially in the fall. Some spots to try: the end of CR 140 on the east side of Bena, Nodak Resort on the west side of Bena, Tamarack Point (head north from US2 on CR 9 for approx. 4.5 miles, then east and north), Painted Turtle Rd. (approx. 3 miles north of US 2 on CR 91, then right on Painted Turtle).

Deep Portage Conservation Reserve: The Deep Portage Reserve has miles of excellent trails for hiking and birding, as well as a maintained bird-feeding station that is open to the public. Over 170 bird species have been documented at Deep Portage, and spring migration on the Bass Pond Trail can be very good. Lark Sparrow, Black-crowned Night-heron, and Black-Throated Blue Warbler have all been seen. Golden-winged, Mourning, Pine, and Black-Throated Green Warblers nest here, as well as many other songbirds typical of north-central Minnesota. Follow CR 5 east from Hackensack to CR 46, then south on 46 to Nature Center Drive. There are signs for the reserve starting in Hackensack. Inquire at the main lodge for trail information.

Leech Lake Sites: Leech Lake is huge (112,000 acres) and full of bays and peninsulas. Waterfowl and shorebirds can be seen from many different access points, and the lake-shore and its adjacent wetlands are often good for land-birds and waders. Here are a few sites to try: Stony Point Campground (4 miles north of MN 200 on CR 13, then follow signs east), the public access just east of Whipholt (9 miles east of MN 371 on MN 200), and the Sugar Point area (follow CR 73 west from CR 8 for 4 miles to CR 136, then west 1 mile),

Swamp Lake: Swamp Lake itself is hard to access and not necessarily interesting. The sedge meadows along MN 371 on the east side of Swamp Lake are a different story, however, with both Yellow Rail and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow present and reliable (or at least as reliable as they can be). The meadows are located approximately 9 miles north of Walker on MN 371. There is a large dirt pull-of on the east side of the highway. 4 miles north of Swamp Lake is Steamboat Lake, a good place for waterfowl in spring. Please be careful of traffic on 371. The Heartland State Trail runs along MN 371 between Walker and Cass Lake. There are bogs and wetlands that can be birded from the trail especially between Swamp and Cass Lakes.

Walker Area: The town of Walker is located on the west side of Leech Lake on Walker Bay. Walker Bay can be good for waterbirds in spring and fall, and there are several access points in town. Also check the Shingobee narrows 2 miles south of town along MN 371, and Kabekona narrows 4 miles north of town on 371. The Walker Water Treatment Ponds can be very active for shorebirds and more in migration. Go east from 371 at Ah-Gwah-Ching (just north of Shingobee Narrows) and stay right towards MN 34 to find the ponds. 4 miles south of Walker on MN 34 is the Shingobee Recreation Area, with maintained trails and nice coniferous forest areas. Black-backed Woodpecker has been found here.

Cass Lake Area: The town of Cass Lake is located in the far northwestern corner of Cass County, at the intersection of MN 371 and US 2. The town itself has numerous large spruce trees and many fruit trees that attract finches in winter. The eponymous lake is just east of town, and can be good in spring and fall. Check the waterway between Cass Lake and Pike Bay in spring for waterfowl and herons (there are parking areas on both sides of US 2). Three miles south of town follow CR 146 east and then south from 371 to find the Cass Lake Water Treatment Ponds. Waterfowl and shorebirds can be found here during migration.

Crow Wing River Sites: This large river joins the Mississippi at Crow Wing State Park, part of which is in far southeast Cass County. There are several large tracts of mature hardwood forest, and the river stays open late into winter at several locations. 4 sites to hit are: CR 36 loop in southeast corner of county (Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Lark Sparrow), Pillager Dam in Pillager (open in winter), Red River Trail west of Pillager (Large hardwood grove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo), and the river crossings up-stream from Motley (CR 33 and CR 32).

Hwy. 1 Sod Farm: On the east side of CR about 1 mile south of CR 107. Check for shorebirds in spring and fall. Buff-breasted Sandpiper occurred here in the fall of 2006. Look also in the muddy ponds across the road from the sod farm, where at least 10 species of waders have been seen.

Cat Lake: From MN 64, go west at the intersection with CR 34. This lake area attracts a variety of birds. Great Egret, Dickcissel, Orchard Oriole, Black-billed Cuckoo, Green Heron, Red-necked Grebe (nesting) and more. Excellent potential for waterbirds. Best May-October.

McKinley Twp: This township covers the northwest corner of southern Cass County. It contains a nice mixture of wetlands, brushlands, and open country. The last remnant population of Greater Prairie Chicken still survives here, and it is the only “reliable” spot in the county for Black-billed Magpie. Look especially for magpies near the western border on CR 19. Rough-legged Hawk and Northern Shrike are present in winter.

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