Hamden Slough NWR is a large 3210-acre refuge dotted with prairie pothole sloughs and interspersed with cultivated farm land. The refuge kiosk is located in the west central portion of Minnesota in Becker County on 210th Street, about 1.5 miles northeast of Audubon, Minnesota. Visitors can get to the information kiosk by following the brown and white refuge signs on state, county, and township roads. It is managed by the Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District office which is located 2 miles north of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, via Hwy 59 North, then 1 mile east on CR 131, at 26624 North Tower Road.
Points of Interest
State, county, and township roads provide access to much of the refuge. A prairie chicken viewing blind is available from mid-March thru April. Observers can see the spectacular mating ritual of the Greater Prairie Chicken. Excellent wildlife viewing is available at Bisson Lake, during May and June. Shorebird and prairie songbird numbers peak from middle-to-late May. The Hesby Memorial Overlook with walkway and observation deck is located on the east side of Hesby Wetland. The refuge is listed on Minnesota’s first birding trail “Pine to Prairie Birding Trail”. The trail is over 200 miles in length with 45 sites to view birds.
Wildlife viewing, especially birding, is a favorite pastime at Hamden Slough NWR. Many roadways intersect the refuge and allow for easy viewing of the refuge’s natural resources. Favorites include the county road along the Big 6 wetlands and Highway 14 bisecting Bisson Lake. Both roadsides offer easy pull-off access and great views of refuge waters and wildlife. Booming prairie chickens in spring are a popular draw to Hamden Slough. The Greater Prairie-Chicken has long been a relic of the Minnesota tallgrass prairie, including the area of Hamden Slough. At one time, their range extended from south to north along the western edge of the state. But as more and more prairies were plowed, numbers dropped and the remaining prairie chickens were driven to inhabit either the high, dry beach ridges of glacial Lake Agassiz or low, wet ground-both unsuitable for the plow. The Minnesota DNR designated the Greater Prairie-Chicken as a species of special concern. Each year, biologists place a blind near the lek for people to observe the breeding spectacle up close. Reserve your spring morning in the blind by calling the office at 218-847-4431.
The area of Hamden Slough Refuge is known for its complex of prairie pothole wetlands, marshes and shallow lakes. Many historical accounts of the first settlers described the abundance of waterfowl on refuge waters. “Game was very plentiful, especially ducks, geese and prairie chickens. It was no trouble to keep our families in meat, as all we had to do was to look out on the lake in the morning and see where the ducks were…” (Wilcox 1907). Today, waterfowl numbers have rebounded since the restoration of numerous wetlands on the refuge. Common breeders include the mallard, blue-winged teal, canvasback and trumpeter swan; while all major waterfowl species are observed during migration.
When it comes to bird numbers on the Hamden Slough, shorebirds are second only to waterfowl. Up to 1000 shorebirds at one time have been observed using the refuge’s managed wetlands. Although migration boasts greater than 20 species, only the marbled godwit, killdeer, and greater yellowlegs breed on the refuge. The marbled godwit, a Regional Bird of Conservation Concern, uses wet prairies, grasslands, and marshes for breeding and nesting. These habitats are plentiful on Hamden Slough. During spring, it is likely visitors will hear the call of a godwit pair and see them flying low over areas of the historic location of Hamden Lake, especially along County Highway 106.