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Birds and Binoculars


For a growing number of travelers, birding is becoming a prime vacation activity. It’s gone from being a rather marginal activity to one that is gaining the attention of travel marketers worldwide.

With its varied habitats of north woods, the Mississippi River, and of course, our abundant lakes, Minnesota is a prime location for those who want to witness the colorful feathered plumes up close in the wild. And according to those in the know, now is the time to get out the guidebooks (or apps) and binoculars, as spring migrations make for good viewing.

I will admit that I have never jumped into the whole birding activity with both feet. But I have gone on many walks in the woods with a small set of binoculars with the hope of seeing a few species. And I have family members who are much more serious about the activity than I, with goals like many bird-watchers of identifying as many species as they can. As for me, I enjoy strolls along the lakeside trails near my home, watching the Wood Ducks, American Egrets, Mallards and other waterfowl as they make their way along the water’s edge.

Whether you are a novice or a seasoned birder, you may want to consider some of these upcoming activities to learn more about birds and some tips to witness and photograph those elusive species on your list:

St. John's Arboretum Birding Day, May 12

The 2,740 acres that make up the Saint John's Arboretum have been deemed an “important bird area” in Minnesota, especially during the peak of migration. In partnership with the Minnesota Ornithologists Union, the birding day organizations have created a guided hike throughout the grounds. The early morning hike begins at 5:30 a.m. (another begins at 8 a.m.) in order to witness the many birds that are active early in the day. Register here. The costs ($12 for members, $16 for non-members) include a breakfast and a lunch at 1 p.m. following the tour. According to the organization’s website, birds on view have include the Gray-cheeked Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Avocet, Harris sparrow and many others.

Walks for the Curious: Sing Like the Birds, May 19

Join Naturalist Matt Schuth at the Arboretum for a guided two-hour tour at the University of Minnesota Arboretum, located southwest of the Twin Cities near Chaska. Register here for the event. The cost is $5 for members, $7 for non-members. The Arboretum houses more than 1,000 acres of gardens, landscapes, and nature areas that encompass everything from native prairies to wetlands. Within these grounds tourists will not only find an abundant variety of cold-hearty plants and flowers, they will also see the birds who love them too.

Festival of Birds, Detroit Lakes, May 17-20

One of Minnesota's largest birding festivals takes place next weekend near Detroit Lakes. It’s the 15th annual Festival of Birds. According to their site, the area is known as a transition zone between tall grass prairie, northern hardwood, and conifer forest ecosystems. As a result, 90 percent of the state’s bird species have been seen in the area; more than 200 birds have been recorded during past festivals. A full schedule of workshops, tours, and guest speakers make up this four-day event. Register online. The full event fee is $10, with extra costs for special dinner events. It sounds like it’s a birder's paradise.

If you are a novice, like me, and would like to know more about birding, you may find more resources at the American Birding Association.

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Whether you are a seasoned Twin Cities traveler or planning your first trip to Minnesota, this blog will introduce you to many new adventures to add to your itinerary. From day trips and scenic discoveries to luxurious girls weekends, travel tips, and insider scoops, our editors will give you all the information you need to enjoy your stay Up North.

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