The name Frontenac is a magical word to birders of any age in Minnesota. Frontenac conjures up waves of warblers and other migrant birds, including shorebirds and waterfowl. Frontenac was the first place I visited outside of the Twin Cities when I was a teenager. It was a day in May, and the place was full of warblers, a day I will never forget. When a state park was created in the area, birders around the state cheered. Frontenac State Park is a premier birding area in the state of Minnesota, ranking with Duluth as a place to enjoy a multitude of migrating birds. It is the place to go to see birds and is known as the "warbler capital" of Minnesota.
Your Best Guide
This story was taken from a new book called Birds of Minnesota State Parks by Robert B. Janssen. Published by the Department of Natural Resources, it is your best guide to birding in all state parks and recreation areas. Order online from Minnesota's Bookstore or call 800-657-3757.
Recommended Birding Areas
As you enter Frontenac State Park along County Road 2, you are greeted by large areas of restored prairie. A trail crosses the county road near the park headquarters. This trail gives access to over two miles of prairie walking where one can observe the species listed in the story, plus eastern kingbirds and eastern bluebirds. One can also access this prairie area from a dead-end road that runs parallel to the Villa Maria Center.
My favorite walk in the park is the trail out to Sand Point. This trail takes one through a beautiful bottomland forest where prothonotary warblers are seen and heard. When you reach the lake, look along the beaches for gulls, terns, waterfowl, and shorebirds, and watch the skies for bald eagles and turkey vultures.
The road past the park headquarters takes you up to the highlands above Lake Pepin. The vistas are breathtaking. The trail from the picnic area to In Yan Teopa travels through oak and maple forests to a magnificent view of Lake Pepin, with good birding along this trail. The area around the campground contains wooded and brush habitat that has good possibilities for migrant species such as sparrows, flycatchers, thrushes, and warblers. Any of the trails off the main road (County 28) are good for birding.
The park has the highest species count of any state park in Minnesota. Over 260 species have been recorded within the boundaries of the park. Twenty or more species of warblers and a total of 100 or more additional species can be recorded here on a single day in May. Hundreds of observers concentrate in the area in May each year to watch the migration of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, thrushes, tanagers, and sparrows.
The location of the park along the Mississippi River Valley provides an excellent variety of habitats for birds. Sand Point is well known as an observation place for shorebirds. The park is a vital nesting area for many Neotropical migrant species such as red-eyed and yellow-throated vireos, eastern wood-pewees, great crested flycatchers, wood thrushes, Baltimore orioles, and scarlet tanagers. In addition, the park provides key nesting habitats for many warbler species, including blue-winged, yellow, cerulean, and prothonotary warblers, American redstarts, ovenbirds, Louisiana waterthrushes, and common yellowthroats. Over 115 species use the park during the June–July breeding season.
Lake Pepin provides habitat for many species of waterbirds. In the Frontenac State Park area, it is the scene of a large concentration of common mergansers during late November when over 50,000 have been counted on a single day. This is the only place in North America where this phenomenon occurs. Besides the water habitat, Frontenac State Park has large areas of mature woodland and excellent restored prairie. In addition to warblers, the woodland areas provide nesting habitat for blue-gray gnatcatchers, red-shouldered and broad-winged hawks, black-billed cuckoos, eastern screech-owls, least flycatchers, warbling vireos, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and indigo buntings. In the prairie, Henslow's and grasshopper sparrows, bobolinks, eastern meadowlarks, and sedge wrens can be found.
Just about anywhere you go in Frontenac State Park you will find interesting birds. You may even find a species that is not on the park list—the potential is there.