Minnesota has some of the world’s most unique peatlands and associated conifer bogs. These wet areas, where the water table is very near the surface, are underlain with as much as several hundred feet of decomposing vegetative peat. These are vast wilderness areas of Black Spruce, Tamarack and sedges that are populated by unique bird species such as the Sharp-tailed Grouse, the Great Gray Owl, the Short-eared Owl, and the Connecticut Warbler. The Red Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Red Lake Peatland, and Scientific & Natural Area (SNA) located 2 hours north of Bemidji are excellent examples of the peatlands.
The last remnants of Minnesota’s remaining prairie tracts, are also located within striking distance of Bemidji, some one and one-half hours west. Only 150,000 acres of native prairie remain out of an original 18 million acres in the state. There are some premier SNA’s which display all the qualities of original vast native prairie such as diversity of plant species, treeless expanses, and dunes. These areas, located near Crookston, such as Pembina Trail Preserve SNA and Agassiz Dunes SNA, are excellent places to go to view prairie wildlife such as Prairie Chickens booming in the springtime, Meadowlarks and Sandhill Cranes. Also, prairie flowers are in bloom for several months; look for the rare White-Fringed Prairie Orchid and the Blazing Star.
Old Pine Forest
Few ancient pines remain in Minnesota but within only a short drive two prime old pine forests may be visited. Itasca State Park has more than a thousand acres of uncut forest along Wilderness Drive and east of Blackduck, the Chippewa National Forest’s “Lost 40” escaped the loggers axe. Both areas have trees that exceed 250 years old. In spring look for migratory Warblers, summer resident Black-backed Woodpeckers and in winter, White-winged Cross Bills or Boreal Chickadee’s. Also look for Bay Breasted, Cape May, Magnolia and Pine Warblers. Where the pines and hardwoods meet, Ruffed Grouse, Chestnut Sided Warblers, Indigo Buntings, White-throated Sparrows and Song Sparrows are all frequently seen or heard. Also watch for Cooper’s Hawks and Red-shouldered Hawks.
While Bemidji is pictured with towering pines, visitors will also find some natural areas dominated by hardwoods. In these woodlands, sugar maple, basswood, and red oak are prominent. These woodlands provide a more diverse habitat for wildlife with a ground cover of spring flowers, a shrub layer for nesting and under story trees in which to feed. Look for insect eating and cavity nesters in the hollow maples. Look for Golden-winged Warblers, Least Flycatchers, Rufous-sided Towhee and Yellow Billed Cuckoo.