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PHOTO GALLERY: Two hours at Tamarac

Trumpeter swans, like this trio gliding along Pine Lake, are a comeback success story at Tamarac. In the late 1880s, trumpeter swans disappeared from Minnesota, and in 1987, Tamarac teamed up with the state in an effort to restore the birds. The first of several young adults were released in Jim’s Marsh. Today there are more than 30 successful nesting pairs at Tamarac.1 / 19
Tamarac's unique mix of grasslands and marshy waters makes an ideal home for many species of ducks. 2 / 19
A Pelican is just visible through the trees on Pine Lake.3 / 19
The biological sights at Tamarac include thousands of different kinds of insects. Pictured here is a dragonfly, perched on an old reed in a wetland area.4 / 19
Wildlife Excursion Tour Guide Pete Olson has been volunteering at Tamarac for three years, and has been visiting the refuge for hiking and other recreational activities since he was a teenager. He's one of several local volunteers who are trained to lead the excursions.5 / 19
A mother osprey peers out from her large nest.6 / 19
A bevy of more than 30 trumpeter swans, including some young cygnets, stand at the edge of a pond at Tamarac.7 / 19
A purple finch perches on a feeder behind the Visitor's Center on a sunny day in mid-July. Tamarac is known for its abundance of birds, and wide variety of bird species. 8 / 19
Anyone who stops at the Visitor's Center is almost sure to see this little red squirrel, who can usually be found in the trees and birdfeeders just outside the main entrance, and isn't shy. 9 / 19
A mother raccoon warily stands guard as she teaches her three young kits to fish from an old dam on Otter Tail River inside the Sanctuary Area of the refuge. The dam was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. There are still remnants of the Corps' old camp at the refuge, marked now as a Historical Site. Wildlife Excursion Tour Guide Pete Olson said the Corps was brought in to restore parts of the refuge back to its original condition after being heavily altered by the logging industry. 10 / 19
This sign greets visitors as they enter the refuge from County Highway 29, about 25 minutes northeast of Detroit Lakes. 11 / 19
A heron overlooks the Chippewa Picnic Area at Tamarac from the top of a tall dead tree. 12 / 19
Monarch butterflies are making a comeback at Tamarac, thanks to the recent addition of more pollinator-friendly plantings, and particularly milkweed.13 / 19
Broken turtle shells on an Otter Tail River bridge at Tamarac are evidence of raccoons and skunks, which dig up the eggs and eat the insides. Bears are also known to do this.14 / 19
Beaver dams can be found all over the refuge, and some lucky visitors who time their trips right get to watch the little critters at work.15 / 19
Cattails are a common sight around Tamarac.16 / 19
Historical markers around Tamarac tell tales of the refuge's past, including its close ties to ancient and modern-day Indian populations, Minnesota's early logging industry, early farming efforts and, later, a reforesting effort by the Civilian Conservation Corps.17 / 19
A female redwing blackbird, in a tree behind the Visitor's Center. Tamarac provides a temporary or permanent home to more than 250 species of birds.18 / 19
Claw marks on the wooden railing of a bridge over the Otter Tail River at Tamarac are evidence of bears. Volunteer Pete Olson said the marks may be a bear's way of marking its turf. There have been bears spotted at this bridge before. 19 / 19

It's the Minnesota version of an African safari.

A friendly tour guide in a khaki adventure vest greets you, and you load yourself, your camera and your bug spray into your safari vehicle, a light grey Dodge minivan. You head out on your expedition, all set to tour the Great Outdoors of Lakes Country, hoping to catch a peek at wild animals in their natural habitats.

You won't see exotic elephants or giraffes like in the African sub-Sahara, but you could spot a mother white-tailed deer quietly leading her fawn through the Becker County woods, or a busy beaver or playful otter splashing in one of the area's abundant lakes, ponds or rivers.

You don't have to worry about being chased by lions or cheetahs, but you definitely have to worry about being chased by the tiny people-hunters of the Northland — mosquitoes, ticks and deer flies.

You're guaranteed photo ops with all kinds of birds and smaller mammals like squirrels, as well as reptiles and amphibians like turtles and frogs, interesting insects like Monarch butterflies, and plenty of colorful flora to go with all that fauna.

If you're really lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the elusive black bear, or even a timber wolf.

At Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, a "safari" of this nature is offered every Thursday at 10 a.m., June through August. The refuge calls them Wildlife Excursions, and they're a way to not only see Tamarac's wildlife but also learn about its cultural and natural history, often by visiting behind-the-scenes areas of the refuge that are usually closed to the public. Several local volunteers are trained to lead the excursions.

Tamarac, located about a 25 minute drive northeast of Detroit Lakes, has a unique mix of forests, waters, marshes and fields that provide homes for hundreds of wildlife species. Established in 1938 as a breeding ground and sanctuary for migratory birds and other wildlife, Tamarac offers temporary and permanent homes to more than 250 species of birds, from bald eagles to warblers. Its marshes are filled with wetland creatures like beavers, muskrats, waterfowl and turtles. Its woods provide cover for deer, bear, wolves, porcupines, raccoons and a host of other animals.

For those unable to get away on a Thursday to take the excursion, there's also a self-guided "safari" option at Tamarac, called the Blackbird Wildlife Drive. This 5-mile drive is accessible mid-April through mid-December, at any time during the refuge's regular open hours. There are 12 numbered stops along the tour, which are explained in an informational leaflet available inside the Tamarac Visitor's Center. The leaflets also provide interesting information on Tamarac's wildlife management practices, habitats and history.

The refuge is located at 35704 County Highway 26 in Rochert. For more information, call 218-847-2641, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/tamarac, or stop in to the Visitor's Center between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday year-round, or from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends in the summers through Oct. 15.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune as a reporter and magazine editor in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dan, their 3-year-old son and baby daughter, and their yellow Lab.

(218) 844-1452