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South Dakota Birding Hotspot

Dakota Nature Park, Brookings

Brookings County

Click on points to view actual ground photos and birding information for those locations.  Use the Google tools to switch between road maps, terrain, or satellite images.


Dakota Nature Park is on the southern edge of Presho, just a bit west of I-90.  It sits on the northwestern corner of the intersection of 22nd Avenue South (a north-south road) and 32nd street south (an east-west road...also "215th street" in the statewide section road nomenclature). There are parking lots on both the eastern and southern sides of the park. The eastern parking lot is just off of 22nd Avenue South, while the southern parking lot is next to the Larson Nature Center building just off of 32nd street south.

Geographic Coordinates:

44° 16' 9" N, 96° 46' 36" W (coordinate at the Larson Nature Center building on the far southwestern corner of the park).


Dakota Nature Park is a 135-acre outdoor facility along the south side of Brookings. South of Brookings are a number of very large gravel pits, some of which are still active. Dakota Nature Park is built on land originally occupied by both former gravel pits, and the old Brookings landfill. It's a relatively new facility, with the old landfill capped and restoration beginning in 2013.  The reclaimed landfill sits on the northeastern side of Dakota Nature Park, a very large grassy hill that overlooks the rest of the park. The southern and western parts of the park are where former gravel pits lie, with open water ponds and surrounding marshland vegetation.

A series of paved and unpaved trails winds through the park. One advantage of birding Dakota Nature park...nearly every habitat type you can typically find in eastern South Dakota is represented here. Grassland dominates the reclaimed landfill. Four open water ponds are found in the park, with more directly adjacent to the park boundaries. Cattails marsh and wetland are found near some of the ponds. Deciduous forest is found in and around wetland areas on the western side of the park and in several other locations, while a strip of evergreen trees (pine) line the trail on the northern side.

The park is well populated with informative displays, benches for resting, a covered pagoda here and there, and the large Larson Nature Center building. With many of the trails paved, it's highly accessible. As I write this (April 2019), some of the trails were slightly flooded after a winter with a huge amount of snow, but personnel at the Larson Nature Center said that was unusual. The trails are all flat, with the exception of the trails up to the top of the reclaimed landfill. The Nature Center building itself is very nicely done, with informative displays, interactive elements for kids, and large windows overlooking a feeder complex.

Points of Note (Click on numbers on the map to see information and photos for each location):

You can't go wrong walking any of the trails in and around the park, but a good place to start is the Larson Nature Center building (Point 1 on the map) on the far southwestern edge of the park, just off of 32nd street. There's a large parking lot just south of the building.  It will be the busiest place in the park, but is also a good jumping off point for walking the trails. It's a relatively large building, at over 5,300 square feet, and has some nice displays and information about the park. Someone is usually on hand to provide guidance. Of course one highlight of the Larson building itself are the feeders in and around the complex. The north side of the building offers comfortable seating and large windows that look out over the "Middle Pond", with a variety of feeders just outside of the windows. Particularly on a relatively quiet day with few visitors it's a good location to check on migrant and resident songbirds that may take advantage of the feeder offerings.

Just to the west of the Larson Nature Center building is a trail that heads west and then north through an area of deciduous trees, shallow ponds, and wetlands. A boardwalk (Point 2) runs north/south on the western edge of this small trail loop, overlooking a shallow pond and going through some dense cattail marsh. The small shallow ponds and adjacent wetlands may hold some of the typical wetland birds found in South Dakota. Two small boardwalk offshoots jet into the wetland and allow closer looks at birds in the open water of the ponds.

Point 3 is the reclaimed landfill itself, a towering mound that's been capped and planted with grasses. A rather abrupt habitat change from the surrounding treed areas, ponds, and wetlands, the grasslands are large enough to attract some of the typical grassland species of South Dakota.

Point 4 are the ponds themselves. There are four main ponds in the Dakota Nature Park itself. All of the four main ponds are deep enough to attract waterfowl and wading birds, and fish are present in each of them. East pond on the far southeastern corner of the park is the deepest (and one also stocked with trout, which makes it popular with fishermen). Island pond is the largest and does indeed have a small island in the center. A covered shelter on the south shore of the island pond provides a nice location to sit and watch birds on the pond. Middle pond is the one that the north side of the Larson Nature Center building overlooks, while North Pond is in the northwestern edge of the park. Note there's also a complex of wetlands and shallow ponds on the west edge of the park (which includes the area of the boardwalk in Point 2).

Finally, Point 5 is a paved trail on the northern edge of the park that's part of a larger trail system. It's popular with bikers and joggers, but the vegetation around parts of it make it unique for Dakota Nature Park and worth checking out. The trail is bordered by pine trees at certain locations which can hold different types of birds than may be found in the deciduous woodland found elsewhere in the park.

Birds of Note:

With the variety of habitats found over the 135 acres of the park, nearly 200 bird species have already been identified within the park. The mound of the reclaimed landfill is a pretty large contiguous patch of grassland, and despite being on the edge of town, can attract many of the typical grassland species in South Dakota. There's also a large, open grassy area just to the west of the park that can attract grassland birds. Species like Western Meadowlark, Dickcissel, and Bobolink have been seen here, Field Sparrows and migrant sparrow species. Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows are common summer breeding birds in and around the park, and can be seen foraging for insects in the grassland areas. As with most grassland areas in the state, Eastern Kingbirds are also commonly seen here.

The deciduous woodlands, adjacent open grasslands, and interspersed ponds and wetlands offer great habitat for a number of "edge" species.  Yellow Warblers are a common sight and sound in the park, as are Common Yellowthroat. Orchard Orioles nest here, as do ever present (and ever-singing) Song Sparrows. Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbirds, and House Wrens are common in summer and often set the summer's background theme "music" in the park.  Eastern Phoebe are found hanging out near the park's waterways.

The woodland and treed areas of the park hold traditional eastern US forest species including Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Baltimore Oriole, the occasional American Redstart, Black-capped Chickadees, Blue Jays, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Wood Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. American Woodcock can be heard (and seen) doing their early spring display flights in open areas near woodland edges.

A walk along the ponds and associated wetlands might be punctuated by the chattering of Belted Kingfisher, or the cries of a Wood Duck that takes flight as you walk past. Green Heron are common, as are Great Blue Heron. You might find an elegant pair of Hooded Merganser, Common Yellowthroat lurking in the wetlands, or Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds calling from the cattails.

And of course you never know what less common species may show up. Osprey have actually been seen surprisingly often in recent years, leading to some speculation that they may be breeding nearby (quite rare in the eastern part of the state). Caspian Tern have been seen here, as have Black-crowned Night-Heron. Red-shouldered Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Veery, Grasshopper Sparrow, Rusty Blackbird, Golden-winged Warbler, and Bay-breasted Warbler are other species that have been seen here on rare occasions.

Other Birding Locations (sorted by distance to Dakota Nature Park):