BEST PLACE TO BIRD-WATCH - 2006
Among casual birders, Carlos Avery is best known for its sandhill cranes. The southernmost population of the birds in Minnesota, Avery's sandhill colony was established in the early 1960s by a game warden who had confiscated a captive crane from a farmer in northwestern Minnesota. Nicknamed "Old John," the bachelor crane—whose wings were clipped, rendering him flightless—succeeded in luring migrating female cranes to his new digs. Every year since then, the descendants of Old John and those passing lady birds have used this suburban wilderness as a breeding ground. The rare four-foot-tall cranes—generally present from mid-April through mid-September—are hardly Avery's only avian attraction. There are 428 bird species in Minnesota, and 275 of them have been sighted at the preserve. About two-thirds of Carlos Avery is either marsh or open water, so there are a lot of aquatic birds to ogle: bitterns, herons, kingfishers, and all manner of ducks, both rare and common. The upland areas, a mix of oak woodlands and open fields, provide habitat for wild turkeys, vireos, warblers, and woodpeckers (not to mention the occasional coyote and black bear). At 23,000 acres, this wildlife preserve is the largest tract of publicly held land in the seven-county metro area. It has 23 miles of trails and 57 miles of roads, which creates plenty of options for wandering about. If you really want to get away from it all—avoiding all cars, hikers and hunters—check out the Boot Lake Scientific and Natural Area, a 600-acre wilderness that is adjacent to the northwest corner of Carlos Avery. There are no roads or hiking paths at Boot Lake, but you can always follow the deer trails. One important caveat: The southwestern corner of the Boot Lake SNA is a posted sanctuary, off-limits to anyone who does not have a researcher's permit.