Minnesota Profile: Salt Lake
Where is it? Trivia game players worth their salt would probably say, "Utah." An avid birder might correctly answer, "Minnesota!" This 312-acre body of shallow water is in the Salt Lake Wildlife Management Area in Lac qui Parle County. Salt lake has two claims to fame: It is the only alkaline wetland in Minnesota; and it attracts an amazing variety of birds.
Why salt? Salt leaches into the lake from alkaline soils in the area. Because it has no inlet or outlet to flush out alkaline minerals, as water evaporates salt remains and builds up. It is about one-third as salty as seawater.
Bird haven The Minnesota Ornithologists' Union recognizes Salt Lake as one of the state's top 16 birding spots. In spring, shorebirds and waterfowl flock there to feast on sago pondweed and brine shrimp.
With more than 150 bird species documented, "it can be a remarkable sight in the spring," says DNR wildlife assistant manager Brad Olson. "And in the fall, it can be a good waterfowl lake, especially for mallards and divers like canvasbacks."
Shorebirds include American golden-plovers, piping plovers, sandpipers, marbled godwits, willets, and Wilson's phalaropes-particularly entertaining birds that spin atop the water to stir up invertebrates to eat. American avocets, which normally breed in saline wetlands in the Dakotas and Canada, have been recorded nesting at Salt Lake.
The WMA also attracts tundra swans and snow geese. In most summers, eared grebes nest on the lake's vegetative mats.
Under normal conditions, the lake is too salty for fish to survive. During a 1990s wet cycle, high water diluted the mineral concentration enough so that some minnows entered and survived for a while.
Conservation The DNR purchased about 300 acres of surrounding land in 1973 and an additional 173 acres in 1990. Since then the DNR has converted cropland to grasses, creating nesting habitat for waterfowl and grassland species such as western meadowlarks and sedge wrens. The DNR also maintains food plots, primarily for deer and pheasants. The alkaline soil suits unusual vegetation such as glasswort and alkali-grass.
Adjacent landowners put several hundred acres into the Conservation Reserve Program. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service owns most of the lake's South Dakota portion.
Viewing A gravel walkway leads from a parking lot to a viewing deck, accessible to people with disabilities. The MOU hosts Salt Lake Birdwatching Weekend April 23-24. Call 320-598-7301.
Tom Conroy, DNR information officer