” Like a Bird on a Wire”

Black-crowned Night Heron

“Like a bird on a wire, Like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free” L. Cohen

Pig’s Eye Island SNA – Black-crowned Night Heron rookery – Mississippi River Mile 833.2

I never thought I’d be able to work Leonard Cohen into a post about the fabulous bird-life found on the Mississippi.  Lucky you.  To view more heron still photos, try ( Herons\ Blogging.) Now, if you want to see some “livefootage of a hungry heron taking care of business and brush up on your Taiwanese at the same time check out the video below.

You don’t have to book a flight to the far-east to find these lovelies, they’re right here in Minnesota.  The rookery (the largest in the U.S.) is located in the SNA at Pig‘s Eye.   Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) designations are for wildlife rather than humans – and we’re fortunate to have them within our MN system because they protect habitat for our native critters.  A continuum from State Forests to SNAs, is roughly “least restricted” to “most restricted” in terms of the human activity allowed.  Usually it means no camping, no dogs, and no removal of anything from the sites.  You need a permit and a boat to visit the rookery site because of its sensitivity ( Minnesota\’s SNAs ).  That doesn’t mean you won’t find the herons anywhere else.  I’m sure I’ll (“we’ll” – if you join in part of the paddle) see them on the way down the river ( SNA Heron Rookery ).

Pig’s Eye Island Heron Rookery SNA

100 Acres Located from I-494, in SE Metro area, exit at Hardmann Ave, N to Verderosa Ave, E over trail/levee to public water access on the Mississippi River. Access is by boat only.Ramsey County Twp 28N Rng 22W Sec 14 Type: Deciduous Woods 

ECS Subsection: St. Paul-Baldwin Plains & Moraines


This metropolitan site, named after its famous settler, is notable for being one of the largest nesting sites for colonial waterbirds within the state. Species that nest in the rookery include great blue heron, great egret, black-crowned night-heron, double-crested cormorants, and yellow crowned night heron. This is one of the four places in the state where yellow-crowned night herons are known to nest. Bald eagles also nest in the immediate vicinity and may often be seen roosting in trees on the island.

Bird List This is a PDF file. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download it.

Plant List

Pig's Eye Island Heron Rookery SNA Map

Visitor notes:

Visitation by permit only from April 1 – July 15. Apply by calling (651) 259-5088.

People, Places or Things

There are too many interesting stops between Pike Island and Grey Cloud Island not to linger awhile – Jonathan Carver’s Cave, Raspberry Island, Bruce Vento National Sanctuary, and Indian Mounds Park to name a few.  Fortunately there are folks running great web-sites that can complete that tour better than I can.

Here’s a “must see” site for paddlers and those interested in the health of the Mississippi River  – Friends of the Mississippi River/Field Guide and Friends of the Mississippi River/Home Site. In addition to great info on spots along the river they have an interactive guide to help you find them. Mississippi River Interactive Map.  This Minnesota Historical Society site gets real specific listing notable streets and houses MHS Placeography. The Sierra Club – Northstar Chapter – Grey Cloud Island – Advocacy is fighting the good fight to protect Grey Cloud Island from over-development.  Grey Cloud Island – Washington County Historical Society and the Grey Cloud Island – NPS do a great job with all things Washington County and the National Scenic River designated St. Croix and Namekagon.  I expect to visit both of them often as this blog makes its way up the St. Croix towards the Brule.

Grey Cloud Island – A view from the stern

Lower Grey Cloud Island is an alluvial plain (sand and gravel deposited by running water). A number of Indian mounds and prehistoric occupation sites were found on the Lower island.  The town site of Grey Cloud was largely abandoned by the end of the 1800’s.  The island is named for Mahpiahoto-win, a noted Dakota woman who lived on the island.  She was first married to a white trader named Anderson, then after his death she married the trader Hazen P. Mooers.  Her mother, also named Grey Cloud was born in 1765 when her father, the Great Chief Wabasha and his followers lived in the summer at St. Anthony Falls, on the east bank of the Mississippi River (across from where downtown Minneapolis is now.  Wabasha’s hunting grounds was the land north of there between the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers.)   She married James Aird in 1776 according to Mdewakanton Dakota Sioux Indian customs, and then was also married by a Catholic Priest in 1783.   She died at Black Dog’s Summer Planting Village (located across the Minnesota River from where the Mall of America is now) in 1844 and was buried there (Duke Addicks – Grey Cloud – Storyteller.)

The landscape between Pike and Grey Cloud Islands has been irrevocably altered by human settlement.  We’ve re-fashioned the natural curves of the Mississippi river-scape in the making of the great cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.  I have both feet planted firmly in modernity and St. Paul is now my home.  But what is home however, if your short-term memory is intact but your long-term memory is failing and fragmented?   How do you weave your past and present into what it means to be fully human if you can’t or won’t remember what came before today?  The people and organizations I referenced above are intent on keeping this small part of the world’s collective dementia at bay and I’m grateful for them.  Even if the physical remnants are few, some of those links to our past do remain and seem to me, worth searching out.  And hats off to the Black-crowned Night Heron for hanging in there until we understood how important it was to protect and preserve their home.  Thanks for the visit.  Corey    Here’s the “hint” I promised for last week’s Mystery Photo. Corey


Where am I now?


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