By John Lauritsen

MARIETTA, Minn. (WCCO) — Did you know that one of Minnesota’s 10,000-plus lakes is actually a saltwater lake?

As a result, it attracts all kinds of unique plant and animal life not native to our state.

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In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen takes us to Marietta to show us why the lake has become a destination for bird lovers.

“We’ve get some birds that you only see west of here, plus we got some birds you only see east of here,” said Ken Larson.

As the birds flock to a 300-acre lake in western Minnesota, the people flock, too. This body of water, which creeps into South Dakota, is a mecca for bird watchers like Larson.

“We’ve seen people from Europe, we’ve seen people from Canada, I’ve met people from Japan,” said Larson. “These things are not birds that you see every day, and that’s what makes it fun.”

Fun and a bit of a mystery.

“It’s a hidden gem. The Salt Lake is a big deal for us,” Curt Vacek said.

(credit: CBS)

Vacek is the area wildlife supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources. He said the lake is land-locked so it fills up with minerals. Alkaline soils run off into the water making it a legitimate salt lake.

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“You can literally taste it and it tastes like sea water,” said Vacek. “We also have brine shrimp, which are kind of unique to that area. They’re just microscopic, almost. Really tiny invertebrates.”

Rare plants like salt grass and rare insects like the crimson salt-flat tiger beetle have also been known to grow and live here.

“The vegetation and the insects, the invertebrates all attract these wonderful birds that you normally don’t see in other places in Minnesota, like American avocets,” said Vacek.

Eared grebes, whimbrels and Wilson’s phalaropes also come from far away for the salt water. In the mid-70s a Salt Lake bird count began for enthusiasts, and became an annual event.

Even during a windy, spring day on the prairie, Larson believes time spent here is more than worth it. A paradise for both bird watchers and the 145 species of birds that fly here.

“Standing right at this spot I probably saw 20,000 snow geese flying overhead. We’ve seen flocks of a thousand or more tundra swans on here,” said Larson. “When you have a view of that type of nature, it’s really exciting.”

The DNR says Salt Lake will naturally drain and re-flood after so many years, though it’s been decades since that’s happened.

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When it does drain, salt will blow across the prairie making it look like there are wildfires across the prairie.

John Lauritsen