A fair number of the beautiful birds painted by John Audubon doubled as handy meals. Some days, the nineteenth-century wildlife artist would down dozens of birds with his gun, and his notebook features lively asides about particularly tasty portrait subjects. This fact seems especially germane in a state where the idea of tracking what's called "non-game wildlife" seems practically countercultural. The truth is, though, there are many thousands of folks scurrying around the brush with nothing but some high-caliber binoculars. A good place to get a start on a birding life-list is the Old Cedar Bridge in Bloomington. (To get there, take Hwy. 77 to Old Shakopee Road, and turn left at the Spur station onto Old Cedar Avenue.) The bridge, which is shut off to traffic, spans the Minnesota River, and in the marshes that flank the east and west banks, you can see mallards, mergansers, and buffleheads; coots and bald eagles hover around nearby. The best time to visit might be early May, when many species of migrating birds visit the river valley. Before the foliage grows in, one has a good chance of spotting numerous varieties of warblers: the common yellowthroat, yellow-rumped, blacks and whites, and chestnut-sided. Slightly larger and slower--and therefore easier to see--are vireos, which also pass through this area. (Keep on the lookout for rose-breasted grosbeaks, and northern orioles, too.) The local Audubon chapter and other volunteers join officers from the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge to lead weekly birding hikes year-round.


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