BEST PLACE TO BIRD WATCH (2001)
The easiest place to bird watch these days might be one's computer. The Minnesota Ornithologists' Union (www.cbs.umn.edu/~mou/) maintains a list--approved by their "records committee"--of some 423 species spotted in the state. And the sad fact is, however many hours you spend with a pair of binoculars glued to your face, you're not going to see a magnificent frigate bird--a glorious tropical creature with a wingspan of some seven and a half feet, which has on extraordinarily rare occasions been blown by hurricanes from the Gulf Coast to our frostier climes. All the same, once Minnesota's arctic winds abate and the biblical flooding subsides, friends of the birds are wont to head outdoors to experience the more frustrating and stirring process of identifying birds. This is when you should zip down I-94E to Highway 120, where a turn northward will take you to a small city-owned nature center. This site includes wetlands and woodland habitats, a number of groomed paths, and a wooden boardwalk out onto a lake. It is here that one can spot such waterfowl as pie-billed grebes, great blue herons, green herons, and common egrets. During migration times, when a bird's commute can take longer than a drive on 494 during rush hour, the nature reserve plays host to a great variety of warblers: northern parulas, chestnut-sided warblers, mourning warblers, and others. (Early-spring wildflowers can also be seen here in abundance.) For those who wouldn't know a scarlet tanager from a cardinal--or from a crow--the Minnesota chapter of the National Audubon Society runs a full calendar of tours and activities: www.audubon.org/chapter/mn/; or call the helpful Suzanne Plass at the nest in St. Paul; (651) 225-1830.