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The Great River Birding Festival will help visitors get a little wild

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In trees, on the water and soaring overhead -- birds of all sizes, colors and varieties will be on display this weekend at the annual Great River Birding and Nature Festival.

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The event runs May 11-13 in communities around Lake Pepin.

Presented by volunteers from Mississippi Valley Partner communities, the festival is endorsed by the Audubon Society as a unique educational experience to connect people with nature. Through hikes, boat tours and even mini-train rides, the organizers offer people many ways to get up close and personal with nature.

There's a headquarters site on each side of the Mississippi River. In Minnesota, it's Hok-Si-La Park north of Lake City just off Highway 61. Contact the park manager at (651) 345-3855.

On the Wisconsin side, stop at Nelson General Store, located at 208 N. Main St. Contact people are Jim and Laura Grandy, (715) 673-4717.

Following is a sampling of key events:

May 11: Birding by motorboat in Indian Slough, hike with naturalist Bruce Ause in Frontenac State Park, walk the backwaters at Sand Point Delta.

Events at Hok-Si-La will include a Friday-Saturday trade show with silent auction and a seminar on hunting with a camera with an outdoor photographer. Ecologist Ann Pierce will present a session on using native plants in landscaping at 6 p.m., with emphasis on endangered species, local genetic stock and restoring plant communities.

Starting at 3 p.m., there will be an educational opportunity for kids: fish seining for native Lake Pepin fish. Experts will demonstrate netting fish at Ohuta Park Beach near the Lake City Marina. Fish will be identified and placed in an observation aquarium for viewing at the Lake City Chamber of Commerce.

At 6 p.m. a reception is planned at Wings Over Alma, 118 N. Main St., Alma, Wis., with a 7 p.m. program by Jon Hawk Stravers. A "new age river rat," he has been working on and writing music about the Mississippi River for 30 years. He has been doing an inventory and monitoring projects involving red-shouldered hawks.

May 12: Birding by motorboat, by kayak in the Weaver backwaters, by hiking, by walking the blufftop meadow at Frontenac State Park, and by listening at Hok-Si-La Park.

A rare opportunity to go birding by mini-rail car in the Tiffany Wildlife Area and Chippewa Bottoms near Durand, Wis., is offered at 7 a.m. May 12 and 13. A number of endangered and threatened species live there, including the Massassaga rattlesnake, Blanding's turtle, red-shouldered hawk, bald eagle, great egret and three fish.

Brian Pember of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be in the gallery from 1 to 1:45 p.m. and 2:15 to 3 p.m. May 12 at Wild Wings Gallery, 2102 Highway 61 S., Lake City. The presentation is titled "Ducks on a Stick: Divers & Dabblers of the Upper Mississippi River."

Other workshops will include bird banding at Hok-Si-La; gardening with water for wildlife at 1 p.m. at Garden Pub, Highway 35, Pepin; and a historic Lake Pepin presentation on board the Pearl of the Lake paddleboat with Katie Himanga, Lake City mayor. That night only, there'll be a sound hunt for frogs and owls in the Frontenac area.

The evening reception will be a wine and cheese party at 6 p.m. at Hok-Si-La. Speaker at 7 p.m. will be Kim Risen, a guide, photographer and writer, on "The Natural World Through Binoculars."

May 13: Many of the same birding sessions will continue, along with hikes in the Weaver Dunes and Mossy Hollow, and an outing to find mushrooms, wildflowers and birds in the Frontenac area.

The $5 Great River Birding and Nature Festival Button is available at Hok-Si-La and the Chamber of Commerce in Lake City, Garden Pub in Pepin, the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Nelson General Store in Nelson, and Wings Over Alma in Alma. Schedules of events also will be available. The button will provide entrance to many hikes and seminars.

Events are detailed on the Web site http://www.mississippi-river.org/birding/index.html, or go to www.mississippi-river.org and click on birding.

Some events require reservations, and some involve fees such as a state park pass or the button.

For information, call Mary De Roos, festival coordinator, at 877-525-3248.

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