Pig’s Eye Island

BIRDS IN PARTICULAR

In 1838, Pierre ‘Pigs Eye’ Parrant, an illustrious squatter, built a tavern at the head of Fountain Cave, which became known as Pig’s Eye Landing; US Mail delivery included. Parrant was making and selling liquor to squatters like himself, fur traders, soldiers, and Native Americans. It was an epicenter along the Mississippi River for a few years, until he was run off by the military. Q roadside marker along Shepard Road, about a quarter mile southwest of Randolph depicts this history.

Our renegade from Canada, ‘Pig’s Eye,’ ended up with a beer, a regional park, a lake, an island, and almost a city named after him. Kellogg Mall Park that overlooks the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul has an iconic image of him on a stone pillar. (I am going to speculate the beer and pillar images are a real live entrepreneur who lived in Stillwater many years ago.)

So, Pig’s Eye Island is home to a very large heron rookery where birds live together; these colonized water birds include great-blue herons, great egrets, double-crested cormorants, black-crowned night herons, and yellow-crowned night herons. They build platform nests high in trees. The spectacularly, beautiful, lanky great-blue heron pair builds its nest with a ‘dramatic stick transfer ceremony’ all the while doing the ‘stretch dance.’ It has one of the largest black-crowned night-heron nesting sites, accessible only by boat or spotting scope.

Since my boat is a sage-camouflaged two-person kayak, the thought of paddling the Mighty Mississippi amidst rusty, Brobdingnagian barges, down a nine-foot channel, is scary. I prefer driving to Grandview Park, in South St. Paul, setting up the spotting scope on a perfect pocket-sized overlook for three. It gives you great access to the herons flying in and out of the rookery. It is like a heron airport in late summer. (Great blues and egrets will be flying over the river westward everyday then in search of food.) It is also a great opportunity to look out, see the heights and horizons of greens and blues, moreover, letting our city eyes look long and down.

This area on the Mississippi is a designated Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA) with more than 89 species identified — Bob Jansson, birder extraordinaire, has been there counting. Eagles roost in the rookery as their nests are nearby. Turkey vultures soar the thermals. American redstarts, American goldfinches, warbling warblers, house finches, song sparrows and three swallows, the tree, the barn and the northern roughed-winged are nesting there as well. This is also a migratory lay-over for American pelicans and ring-billed gulls in both spring and autumn.

The Island is closed from April 1 – July 15 because of breeding, but you can obtain a permit to enter during this time and walk through muck, mud, and mosquitos. I did notice a few great egrets flying mid-June in Grandview Park and tiny playground, 353 Grand Ave W., South St. Paul. The understated St. Stephan’s Romanian Orthodox Church is across the street.

Pig’s Eye Regional Park has limited access but is now closed for repairs. I have walked, biked, and snowshoed the park in past years. Entering off Warner Road you can park your car along the fence. There is an archery range there. The Great River Passage Initiative has included this park in its plans. This is the same initiative for Victoria Park across from Nova Classical Academy and Mississippi Market off West Seventh Street.

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