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Tamarac Wildlife Refuge

Tamarac Wildlife Refuge offers a guided tour to seek out dragonflies and butterflies on June 21.1 / 2
A dragonfly takes a moment's rest on a wildflower in Tamarac Refuge.2 / 2

Early summer is a wonderful time to quietly observe the young of spring. Look for deer fawns hiding behind their mothers, bear cubs exploring their new world, and eaglets demanding to be fed. Experience the vibrant colors and fragrances of early summer woodland wildflowers including the showy pink lady slipper. Listen for songbirds as they settle in for the summer season.

Wildlife Watching

Here at Tamarac, wildlife is left undisturbed as they care for their young. Portions of the refuge are closed to the public during this crucial time, but many viewing opportunities still exist. The most optimum times for viewing wildlife occur around sunrise and sunset. But sometimes even an afternoon visit can be rewarding to the quiet, watchful observer.

To increase your chances of seeing wildlife, take a drive on the Blackbird Auto Tour Route. This five-mile drive follows the edges of lakes, marshes and meadows. If you feel inclined to exercise, hike the 2-mile long Old Indian Hiking Trail and experience the beauty of the maple basswood forest.


Try your luck in one of our five lakes open to fishing. There are many varieties of fish to be caught including crappie, walleye, sunfish, northern pike and bass. A fishing map and regulations can be obtained at the refuge information kiosks or the visitor center.

Visitor Center

If you've got questions, our enthusiastic staff has answers! We are eager to help you make the most of your visit. Check out our interactive exhibits and learn about the diverse habitats, which support Tamarac's many species of wildlife. Learn about the historical use of the refuge including that of the Ojibwe Indians and the European settlers. Be sure to view our large screen presentation entitled: "Tamarac: Its Life and Legends." Before you leave, browse in the Tamarac Bookshop. Proceeds from sales support educational programs at the refuge.

The visitor center is located 9 miles north of Hwy 34. Visitor center hours are Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Guided tours, Sunday movies, presentations

Refuge tours will be offered every Thursday June through August from 10:00 am to noon. Wildlife films, special programs or activities will be offered every Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

Saturday, June 20 -- Discovering Tamarac History Tour 1-4 p.m.

Take a journey into Tamarac's past. Before the refuge was established, this landscape was extensively settled. Who were these folks? Where did they live and how did they survive in this wilderness? Learn about their significance to the refuge and more! Meet at the visitor center for a presentation and then caravan to several post-colonial historical sites. Wear sturdy shoes (some walking on uneven ground) and bring your stories to tell!

Sunday, June 21 -- 2 p.m. Dragonfly Dreams and Butterfly Kisses

Join local favorite, John Weber for an intriguing look into the secret world of dragonflies and butterflies. Enjoy beautiful photography along with a short walk to observe these creatures in the wild. Learn about their fascinating lifestyles and their significance in the balance of nature.

Saturday, June 27 -- Let's Go Digital! A nature photography workshop, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Discover the fun and adventure of photographing wildlife, plant life and the ever changing scenes of nature at Tamarac. First, a presentation will reveal some secrets as well as cover the basic principles of taking good photos. Then we'll head out into the field to take pictures. The workshop will conclude at the visitor center with a review of our work. Please sign up in advance by calling 218-847-2641. Bring your own camera and sack lunch. Meet at the visitor center. Workshop is geared toward beginner and intermediate levels.

Sunday movies -- 2 p.m.

June 7 -- Rachel Carson's Silent Spring -- Carson's book Silent Spring exposed the unregulated use of pesticides including DDT; sparking a revolution in environmental policy. Become inspired by one of the world's foremost leaders in conservation. 55 min.

June 14 -- Wolves -- Discover the world of wolves by plane, helicopter, on foot and through time. Beautiful cinematography! 40 min.

June 28 -- Pollen Nation -- Follow the journey of a commercial beekeeper from the honey harvest on the high plains to the warm winter feeding grounds of California. Learn why honeybees and numerous species of native bees are in serious decline and how it's affecting our dinner table and that of wildlife. New this season! 25 min.

Happy and Blue

The bluebird may be Minnesota's most popular song bird. Like the American robin the bluebird is a member of the thrush family. In the early days bluebirds were often referred to as the blue robin, blue warbler or blue redbreast. There are three species of bluebirds: the western, mountain and eastern bluebird. It is the eastern bluebird that summers in the open woodlands, farmlands and orchards of Minnesota. Its song of "cherwee, cherwee" is a much welcomed sign of spring and continues be a song of cheer throughout the summer months.

Though the bluebird evokes happy, carefree images from popular songs and animated films, the history of the bluebird's struggle to survive is not so cheery. When the first settlers arrived from England, bluebirds were as common as robins. In fact they were quite abundant. It wasn't until two bird species from Europe were introduced - the house sparrow and the starling, that noticeable declines in populations occurred.

House sparrows were introduced in 1850 and starlings in 1890. Both of these species are fierce competitors for nesting cavities. Bluebirds are considered secondary cavity-nesters, meaning their beaks are not strong enough to excavate their own nests. They rely on cavities made by others like woodpeckers, naturally occurring cavities or nest boxes. Those unwanted guests from Europe soon took over and set up housekeeping in bluebird cavities.

It only took 50 years for the house sparrow to become the most common bird in North America. By 1940, the starling had spread to almost every part of the United States and Southern Canada. In addition to these two major threats, the reductions in open farmland and severe weather also played a role in declining populations. From 1938 to the late 1970s records of bluebird populations showed a marked decline.

If it wasn't for Larry Zeleney's article, "Song of Hope for the Bluebird," published in National Geographic in 1977, the bluebird conservation movement may not have taken off. Not only was he able to draw attention to the plight of the bluebird, he was instrumental in forming the North American Bluebird Society.

You can participate in bluebird conservation by providing nesting boxes. According to the Stokes Bluebird Book, a successful bluebird box includes these ten features:

Make sure there is no perch. This encourages house finches to move in.

Entrance holes should be exactly 1½ inches in diameter.

Floor dimensions should be 4" x 4".

Height from top of floor to bottom of entrance hole should be 5-7 inches.

Opening the box should be easy for monitoring and cleaning.

Ventilation should be provided by means of small holes drilled at the top of the sides.

Drainage holes, such as holes drilled in the floor should be present.

Be sure that the box can be attached to a tree or post.

At least ¾" thick wood should be used to provide adequate insulation.

The roof should overhang the entrance hole by at least 1-2 inches to keep out rain and provide a shady entrance.

Providing nest boxes for bluebirds is not the end of the story. They must be monitored weekly. The reason for this is threefold; to keep sparrows and starlings out, to check on the health of the birds and to record progress.

Not monitoring may actually be detrimental to bluebirds in your area.

Besides providing nest boxes, you can create bluebird habitat in your own yard. You can provide food by planting fruit bearing trees and shrubs such as chokecherry, crabapple, and elderberry. By leaving standing dead trees or snags, you're providing natural nesting cavities such as woodpecker holes, a perch to look for food and defend their territory, and a place to rest.

Having a birdbath in your yard will also attract bluebirds. Finally you can feed bluebirds mealworms and raisins. Place mealworms in old cereal bowls with slick sides. This will prevent them from crawling out. Place the bowl in an open area where their movement will attract birds. Raisins should be softened in boiling water before feeding.

Because of the dedication of volunteers monitoring bluebird boxes, eastern bluebirds have made a significant recovery in this state. If you would like to learn more about bluebird conservation efforts, contact the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.