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The Big Sioux Recreation area is located
the southwestern corner of the city of Brandon, just 5 miles from the eastern
edge of Sioux Falls. From I-90, the Big Sioux Recreation area is easily found. Take exit
406 and head south into Brandon. Follow the road (Splitrock Blvd.)
south through Brandon, for approximately 3 miles. Just as you're passing
Huset's Speedway, a small race track on the east side of the road, you'll
take a hard right onto Sioux Blvd. You'll immediately pass an
elementary school and come to a stoplight. Turn left at the stoplight
onto Park Street. Head west about half a mile, and you'll find the
entrance to the Big Sioux Recreation Area on the right.
From I-229 in Sioux Falls, take exit 7 to Rice Street, and head east 6
miles to Brandon. Take a right at the first stoplight as you get into
town, onto Sioux Blvd. Go south on Sioux Blvd. 1.5 miles to the next
stoplight, at Park Street. Turn right and go west on Park Street,
where you'll find the entrance to the Big Sioux Recreation Area on the right
in about half a mile.
The image below represents color aerial photography of the
Newton Hills State Park area, as seen on Google Earth.
34' 22" N, 96° 35' 41" W
(coordinate of main entrance to park).
The Big Sioux Recreation Area lies along the Big Sioux
River on the southwestern edge of the city of Brandon. The river runs
through the heart of the park, and is bordered by bottomland riparian
forests, with massive cottonwoods near the river and old, twisted burr oaks
on the slopes leading up from the river. The entire western half of
the park is an open grassland with some scattered shrubs, set on rolling hills
leading to a high ridge on the western edge of the park. Smaller
grassy and brushy openings can be found on the east side of the river.
Dense deciduous forest and open woodland is found along much of the eastern
side of the river. The diversity of habitats make the Big Sioux
Recreation Area a nice place to find a wide variety of birds.
The park is popular with for camping, picnicking, and
hiking in the summer. Campground areas in the southern part of the
park are nearly always full during the summer months, especially on
weekends. Several popular hiking trails are found in the park, leading
through open grassland, along the river, or through dense forest.
Archery ranges have been set up on the west side of the river. In the
winter, the area is popular for cross-country skiing.
Birding can be good at all seasons. In May, the birding can be
terrific, as the summer crowds are still not around, the summer residents
are arriving, and it is peak migration for many songbirds. The summer
months can be very productive, but you do have to often deal with full
campgrounds and busy hiking trails, especially on weekends. The campers are
largely gone by fall, and I've had particularly good luck with migrating
sparrows at this time of year. In winter, you'll have the park to
yourself at times, and can find the typical winter species of South Dakota,
with the potential for some surprises.
Points of Note (Click on numbers on the map to see
photos of the locations):
favorite time and place to bird in the park is in May, at
point 1 (see map to
the right) along the river. This small strip, a paved hiking path squeezed
between the river and the campground, can be truly wonderful for spring
migrants, as well as the summer residents. Sumac and other brush is found
between the path and the river, while juniper trees are found between the path
and the campground. Walking the path in the spring is often characterized
by many species of songbirds, flitting between the brush and the junipers.
This area is good at all season, even in winter, when the cover offered by the
shrubs and trees, and the often heavy loads of juniper berries, attract many
birds at times.
Right at the entrance to the park, along "Park Street", is an open grassy
field with scattered shrubs (point 2). This area is wonderful for
sparrows, especially in the fall, where you may find a large variety of
species. The fence line along the road is also a good place to look
for bluebirds and kingbirds.
The paved path along the river at
point 1 continues through forest land
around point 3
and beyond. This is a nice path to look and listen for
woodland species and it can be good for migrating songbirds in the spring.
Point 4, the campground area, USED to be a good birding location outside
of summer, when the campers have largely left. The campground is a mix
of large cottonwoods, locust trees, maples, junipers, pines, and many
shrubs. Berry-filled shrubs and juniper trees used to line the roads
along the campground, and attracted many birds
in the fall and winter. The evergreen trees offered shelter that often
held some surprises. Sadly, that's all gone now. The SD Parks
people ripped out all the vegetation along the road, and the bird life is
definitely much less than it used to be. The photo accompanying point
4 on the map shows what the area used to look like. Now it's open from
one end of the campground to the other, with no "pesky" vegetation to get in
the way of the summer camping hordes.
Taking the footbridge across the river takes you to the much less used
western side of the park, a large expanse of grassland with scattered shrubs
and trees (point 5). There are a couple of little wet meadows that can
hold Sedge Wrens and other surprises. On one windy fall day, I had a
memorable experience watching soaring hawks by walking to the ridge top on
the western edge of the park.
Point 6 is the start of the "Valley of the Giants" Hiking trail. As
you start on this trail towards the north, you'll go along a bluff
overlooking the river, and are at eye level with a canopy of old Burr Oaks.
This spot can be excellent for watching migrating songbirds in the spring,
as they move about the canopy. Continuing on, the trail drops to a
riparian forest area around
point 7. Some of the largest old, dead
trees have been removed, but this area still has some of the "giants" for
which the trail is named, particularly very large cottonwood trees.
Point 8, and really the entire eastern boundary of the park, is marked by
a treeline of junipers. The belt of junipers tends to be thicker at
the northern part of the park, and kind of trickles out towards the park
entrance, but the entire belt can be great in the winter, as the juniper
berries attract quite a few birds. The shelter offered by the trees
also can result in some surprises.
Birds of Note:
The variety of habitats in the park brings with it a variety
of bird species. My favorite thing to do in the park is look for warblers
(and other migrants) in the 2nd or 3rd week of May. You will always find
Yellow Warblers (breeds here),
American Redstarts (breeds here),
Common Yellowthroat (breeds here),
Tennessee Warbler, and
Yellow-rumped Warblers in the spring. You never know what other warbler
species you may find. Other species I have found in the park include
Warbler, Mourning Warbler,
Black-throated Green Warbler,
Wilson's Warbler, and
The list of other warblers you may find is probably nearly as long.
Another group of birds I have a lot of luck with in the park are
Sparrows are common around the many areas of sumac, from Spring
Chipping Sparrows are common in summer, as are
Migration and winter bring a wide variety of sparrows, including
Sparrows, Harris's Sparrows,
The Big Sioux Recreation Area is an obvious place to look for woodland
species. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are quite common, as are
Indigo Buntings and
Scarlet Tanagers are
less common, but still often seen.
Gray Catbirds and
can be found in thickets throughout the park. Both
Yellow-billed Cuckoos can be found (often just heard), while
Yellow-throated Vireos, and
Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers can be seen
flitting in the canopy. Although not (yet!!) confirmed to breed here, you can
find Ruby-throated Hummingbirds from May through September in the park.
The park supports a large number of woodpeckers, including many
Hairy Woodpeckers, as well as
Nuthatches are common all year, while
Brown Creepers can be found in migration and in winter. I have found four species of owls in
the park, Eastern Screech Owls,
Great Horned Owls,
Short-eared Owls, and
Cooper's Hawks are occasionally seen in the summer,
Northern Goshawks less often seen in the winter, and
Bald Eagles could be
seen flying overhead at nearly any season (a local nest is nearby).
Other Birding Locations (sorted by distance):
Additional Information - Big Sioux Recreation Area: