So I woke up this morning with the song, “The Boys Are Back In Town” going through my head, except I was inserting “birds” for no apparent reason. After some reflection, I think it must have to do with having just seen my first great blue heron for the season the day before. But really, is that the kind of thing that can change song lyrics and make me wake up singing? Well, yeah.
I guess I need to accept the fact that I’m kind of a bird freak. I learned that about myself when I was sorting through some 10,000 photos in my archives, and I realized that 9,000 of them are of birds. Okay, not quite, but there was a clear imbalance towards winged creatures (except bats, which I hate, but that’s another story).
But let’s face it, if you’re going to be a bird lover, you really can’t do better than this stretch of the Mississippi River. Winona is blessed to be on a main flyway for migrating birds, many of which pause for a while, or for a season, to enjoy our beautiful river.
Winona loves its blue herons – a stroll through town will reveal a sizable number of six-foot-tall heron statues artistically painted and set outside storefronts and homes for passersby to enjoy. Part of the Blue Heron project a couple of years ago, the statues represent not only Winona’s deep arts culture, but also the fact that more than 1,000 nesting pairs of the regal birds call this stretch of the Mississippi home from spring till fall.
Their distant cousins, gorgeous white egrets, are nearly as plentiful, and a walk or paddle along any backwater offers a pretty stunning display of groups of birds sunning themselves, fishing and preening. My favorite place to take pictures of egrets is the Verchota Boat Landing on the Prairie Island Dike, though you have to walk a little bit to get to their hiding spot. From the boat landing, a little deer path cuts along the shore to the left leading to a small, shallow inlet hard to see from the boat landing itself. I can’t remember how I found it originally, I was probably lost or something. But there had to be 20 or 30 egrets back there that day and I was mesmerized. I haven’t been back there yet this year, but I believe the egrets have a rookery there and I think they’ll be back.
I know. I just told you all a secret and now there will be 200 birders back there that I’ll have to climb over for a shot. But you know what? I don’t care. It’s a secret too good to not share, and anyone who would slog along the shore on a deer path is okay in my book. Bring your camera, and pack a lunch. You’re going to want to stay for a while.