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Beaver Creek Nature Area is about 10 miles east of Sioux Falls, or about 2
miles east of Brandon. The easiest access is to take Highway 11 south out of
Brandon. In less than a mile, you'll see Madison Street headed east.
Drive just past Madison Street and you'll see a seasonal vegetable stand on the
SE corner of a partial intersection. Turn left (east) and take that gravel
road (labeled 264th Street) eastward for about 2 1/2 miles. You'll see the
entrance to Beaver Creek Nature Area on your right.
W (coordinate of entrance road).
Beaver Creek Nature Area is a protected area of 165 acres just east of
the city of Brandon. For a birder, the attraction is a variety of habitats,
included some very nice mature forest lands that can be otherwise hard to
find in the area. Beaver Creek is a small creek meandering through the
heart of the Nature Area. The small, shallow prairie stream is
bordered with riparian lowland forest (Cottonwood, Willows, Box Elder, and
other tree species). Both the creek itself and the surrounding
riparian zone offer great habitat for a variety of birds and other wildlife.
On the hills on the south side of the creek is mature upland forest,
dominated by Burr Oak but also with Linden, Hackberry, and other trees.
The north side of the river is primarily open grassland. Beaver Creek
was once native tallgrass prairie, dominated by Big Bluestem, Switchgrass,
and Indian Grass, but much of the remaining grassland is now non-native
species, with scattered native grasses and flowers.
Beaver Creek has a very nice trail system, and despite the proximity to
Sioux Falls, there are rarely many visitors to the area outside of
"Homesteader Days", right after Labor Day. On most visits to the park,
a birder will find themselves alone, or perhaps you will occasionally pass
another visitor on a trail. With the lack of camping facilities,
Beaver Creek is always much less busy than the nearby Big Sioux Recreation Area, and a
birder won't have to worry about interruptions that may disrupt their
birding experience. A very nice trail system is found at Beaver Creek,
taking a hiker through meadows, riparian areas, and upland forest.
Click here to access a trail map for Beaver Creek Nature Area.
Points of Note (Click on numbers on the map to see
photos of the locations)::
Beaver Creek Nature Area has an excellent trail system
that provides a birder with access to all the varieties of habitat within the
park. Three different parking areas are found in the park, with both
southern parking lots offering close access to the trails. I always park
at the southwestern parking lot (near the old Samuelson log cabin, a family home
built back in 1872). From the southwestern parking lot, a trail heads
southwest along the edge of the creek and riparian trees, to a suspension bridge
that crosses the creek. The area around the bridge can offer excellent
birding (Point 1 on the
map). Watch the trees for songbirds, and be prepared for the
rattling calls of a pair of
Belted Kingfishers that always seem to be around.
is found just past the bridge. As you cross the bridge, you'll enter
an open brushy meadow with scattered small trees. When I first moved
to South Dakota in 1993, this area was more open than it is now, but in
subsequent years small locust and other trees have sprouted and been allowed
to grow. The once open meadow is on the path to becoming more of a
woodland, but it still offers great birding. The proximity to the
creek and the taller trees on the nearby ridge means you'll often find
songbirds in this area, moving back and forth between the two areas. It's
also an area where I've seen
Northern Bobwhite (Beaver Creek is the ONLY place I've come across
Northern Bobwhite in South Dakota to date).
Field Sparrows love this
area, and it's also a spot where I've seen
feeding on tent caterpillars that are often in the small trees here.
As you walk through the brushy meadow on the path, you'll hit a
T-intersection. If you follow the left (east) fork, the trail will
move up a ridge. At the edge of the brushy meadow, near the top of the
ridge, the open area meets mature Burr Oak forest. This location, on
the ridge top as you leave the brushy meadow, is one of my favorite spring
birding locations in the entire region. Given the topography, you're
almost at canopy level with some of the Burr Oaks that line the creek below,
but you're also on the forest edge. The spot can offer simply
spectacular views of migrating warblers and other songbirds in the spring.
Given the location on the ridgeline, next to the creek, there are times I'll
sit here for multiple hours, watching wave after wave of songbird move
through the canopy.
represents the heart of the largely forested trail that goes through the southwestern
quarter of the park. The trail forms a loop here, starting and ending
at the bench and T-intersection found in the heart of the "brushy meadow" at
As noted above, the trail climbs as you move out of the brushy meadow and
into the forest. For much of the trail as you loop around, you'll be
in upland forest. Parts of the trail skirt the edge of the forest,
offering opportunities to see edge-dependent species. However, much of
the trail moves through the heart of mature upland forest land. I've
seen more Eastern Screech
Owls at Beaver Creek Nature Area than I have in the rest of South Dakota
combined, and this forested trail is one area they're found. At the
far western end, the trail starts to move downslope again towards the creek.
The last section of the trail as you loop back towards the T-intersection is
along thick lowland forest along the creek itself. The lowland area is
a nice spot to walk through in spring and early summer, as many times you'll
hear Ovenbirds and
Wood Thrush singing.
Point 4 is the the
road itself that leads to Beaver Creek. The east/west gravel road that
runs from Highway 11 on the west to Beaver Creek is labeled as 264th street,
but locally it is called "Spook Road". As you head east from Highway
11 towards Beaver Creek, Spook Road crosses small creeks several times,
passing through pockets of trees and other riparian vegetation. Given
that the vast majority of gravel roads in South Dakota pass through wide
open expanses of cropland or grassland, it's a definite departure from the
norm. The woody vegetation along the road can be great for songbirds.
Note that in recent years, Minnehaha County has started to remove quite a
bit of the roadside vegetation, citing a safety hazard of trees so close to
the road itself. In the areas where the roadside trees have been removed,
birding has significantly declined in quality.
Birds of Note:
A birding trip to Beaver Creek (and the nearby Spook
Road) is typically to look for songbirds. With both lowland riparian
forest and upland forest, as well as grassy open patches that offer a lot of
edge habitat, the variety of songbirds you may potentially see is quite high.
The best time to visit the park is May, when migration is in full swing.
Particularly around the middle of the month, you'll have both the arrival of the
typical summer breeding birds, as well as many neotropical migrants moving
through. The spring warbler migration is sometimes hit or miss in eastern
South Dakota, but when it's "on", birding at Beaver Creek can be spectacular.
On the one ridgetop mentioned in conjunction with
Point 2, I've had days where 15 or more warbler species, along with
other songbirds, may be moving through the ridgetop canopy of Burr Oaks.
Warbler species mimic those typically found in eastern South Dakota in the
Spring. Overall during the spring migration,
are usually the most common.
Common Yellowthroats and
Yellow Warblers are common
breeders that will also be found at Beaver Creek throughout the summer.
American Redstarts and
Ovenbirds also staying to breed.
Wilson's Warblers are some of
the somewhat less common migrants that are still usually found in small numbers.
However, every spring there are always some of the less common warblers mixed
in. Other species I've seen at Beaver Creek are
Cape May Warblers, as well as
Northern Parula and
While springtime warblers are a great attraction, there are also many
other songbirds that either migrate through in the spring, or breed at
Beaver Creek in the summer. During the spring migration, you could see
as many as six Vireo species in a given day.
Blue-headed Vireos are
migrants, while Red-eyed,
Bell's Vireo all may breed
here (the latter two being less common that the first two). Flycatchers are
also common migrants, with several of the confusing Empidonax flycatchers
moving through, while
Great Crested Flycatcher, and
Eastern Kingbird all are local breeders.
all migrate through Beaver Creek, while
Wood Thrush are sometimes
found as breeders. As with most of South Dakota, spring and fall
migration may bring a wide variety of sparrow species to the area.
Summer breeding birds are typical of those found in eastern forests of
the U.S. (with many thus somewhat hard to find in eastern South Dakota).
Several species of woodpeckers breed at Beaver Creek, with
along with Northern Flicker
Sapsucker, all quite common.
Northern Cardinal, Brown
Thrasher, and Cedar Waxwings
are also usually quite common. Less common but sometimes seen breeding birds
include Blue Grosbeak,
Scarlet Tanager, and
Beaver Creek (and Spook Road) are where I've had my best luck in the area in
find Cuckoos, most often
Black-billed, but I've also seen
While songbirds are the biggest attraction for me, Beaver Creek also is a
terrific location to look for
Eastern Screech Owls
(including what seems to be a booming population of the "red-phase" owls
that are rarer in South Dakota) and
Great Horned Owls. Common
raptors are Cooper's Hawk,
(winter), Red-tailed Hawk,
and even Bald Eagle (a nesting
location is about 3 miles away). I don't see
Northern Goshawks around
the area very often, but have seen them here on multiple occasions in the
winter. While not the major draw for birders visiting Beaver Creek,
the creek itself sometimes hold wading birds (primarily
Great Blue Heron and
Green Heron) or shorebirds.
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