Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge – Views From the Big Woods to the Tallgrass Prairie


Zimmerman, Minnesota

I could subtitle this article, “…Or, If I’m going to photograph birds, I’m going to need a longer lens.” Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of opportunity to photograph birdlife in this mix of upland and wetland habitats. It’s simply that birds like to keep their distance from those pesky photographers. For the techie photography types, my usual lens for most of my landscape shots is the Tamron 18-270 mm zoom. Whenever I go into areas where birds congregate, I inevitably see other bird photographers with much longer lenses, probably closer to 600 mm or more on the high end. That’s an investment that would eclipse my entire collection of camera and filters I own to date. Maybe someday… if I continue to attempt photographs of birds, that day may come sooner rather than later.


But I digress. This post is about the wildlife refuge, not my need for more camera equipment. Located about thirty minutes southeast of St. Cloud, Minnesota; the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge is actually closed much of the year, except for a couple of hiking trails and a seven-mile (11.2 km) scenic drive. That’s right, between March 1 and August 31, wildlife is given privacy to allow peace and quiet to breed and raise their young free from human interaction. The scenic drive is open spring through fall, and the Mahnomen and Blue Hill Trails are open all year to hikers and cross-country skiers.


The images in this gallery were taken in mid-June from turn-offs along the scenic drives, from short loop trails (one-half mile or so) that are open along the way, and from our hike along the Blue Hill Trail. As you can see from the images, the landscape varies from forest to prairie with lots of wetlands in between. The refuge is small, covering less than 50 square miles (155 square km); and is managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The park is open daylight hours only, there are no camping or tenting facilities in the park; however the nearby Sand Dunes State Forest holds a 36-unit campground. Make your reservations early, however, and the campgrounds are almost always full, especially on summer weekends.


The Refuge Headquarters is located on County Road 9 to pick up information, and get updates on wildlife sightings. As much of the refuge is wetlands, visitors should be prepared for the onslaught of mosquitos, gnats and tics. Insect repellent is a must, and a careful check for wood ticks after hiking, or even walking the short observation trails, is highly recommended. Drinking water and sunscreen are important accessories as well, especially during the summer months. You can find more information about the refuge at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service here.


The gallery of images included in this post features a sampling of the many birds we saw. Not being a birder, I have little knowledge of the specifics of most of the birds we saw on this excursion. Thanks to my birder friend, Hebe Shipp for identifying the birdlife for me. Click on an image below to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner

One thought on “Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge – Views From the Big Woods to the Tallgrass Prairie

  1. We have a couple of those king birds flying around our lawn. I suspect they recently had babies as one of them has become very aggressive and chases birds (even those much larger like crows) away. It’s funny to watch.

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