Today, both of my parents had the day off and we decided to go visit the Carlos Avery WMA. It is a large (23,000 acre) preserve near Forest Lake, MN. We have visited there throughout my childhood, and it has almost always been a good spot for seeing wildlife. We have seen deer, turtles, snakes, foxes, countless types of bird, raccoon, opossums, and more in the past.
Carlos Avery consists of a huge amount of wetland marshes, with some dense forest mixed in. It is managed to provide an ideal environment for wildlife. We got there in the middle of the day, when deer are less active, so we only ended up seeing one at a distance. However, we did get some great viewings of birds, including Sandhill Cranes.
We don’t see Sandhill Cranes that often outside of habitats like this, but we saw multiple groups of them in here. They can attain wingspans of 5.4 to 6.9 feet, (1.65 to 2 meters) and can be as tall as 2.6 to 3.9 feet. (80 to 120 cm). They really stand out due to their height and wingspan, and they look graceful, so it is always a treat to see some. I also recorded a short video of some we startled into flying a bit further away.
It is hard to capture just how large Carlos Avery is, but I took a few pictures attempting to show some of the landscape.
You can see some burnt sections in those pictures. Carlos Avery has had some large wildfires in the past, but there are controlled burns frequently to manage the habitat.
We stopped to look for deer sheds in one section, and while we didn’t have any luck, we saw plenty of garter snakes.
Minnesota only has two venomous snakes, and garter snakes are pretty much harmless (and relatively small). I even think they are pretty cute. It was warm today, reaching the late 70s F, with full sun. It seemed like the snakes were waking up from hibernation.
The greatest concentration of snakes was in a tangled clump which appears to be a mating ball. In the spring, males stay near the den and wait for females to wake up. There are often less female than male garter snakes, and competition can lead to large balls of males forming around comparatively fewer females. You can read more about the garter snake mating ball at:
I took the video of the cluster of garter snakes above.
Carlos Avery is great at dusk or dawn too, when there are more mammals out, but there are great birding opportunities during the day. Sandhill Cranes, plenty of waterbirds such as coots, ducks and geese, many smaller songbirds, and soaring birds of prey were all visible, with a cacophony of frogs calling out. It is a great destination near the Twin Cities to take in some of the vastness of nature. Driving along, with the marshes stretching around you in every direction, bordered by distant forests, makes it feel as though you have entered an untouched wilderness. You can hike a bit in the non-restricted areas, but since much of it is accessible by car, it makes a good family destination. Thanks for reading, and Happy Easter!