Some of the best places to look for birds in Minnesota are its cemeteries. We have more than 3,700 of them.
Cemeteries have grass and shrubs and trees, often lush landscaping and wooded edges, good bird habitat. Cemeteries offer easy walking. Cemeteries are quiet.
Texas has a field guide to cemeteries chosen as best for birding. Texas A&M University recently published "Cemetery Birding — an unexpected guide to discovering birds in Texas."
Author Jennifer L. Bristol points out that places designed for the departed can be teeming with life. Cemeteries were some of the earliest public parks in the country, she writes. Both statements remain true.
Begin in Minneapolis with Lakewood Cemetery, 250 acres of gently rolling land holding 4,000 trees, shrubs and specialty plants. It is known as a resting place full of local history, as an arboretum, and as a bird sanctuary that recognizes its appeal with seasonal guided bird walks.
Lakewood is on W. 36th Street at the eastern end of Hennepin Avenue S. Hours in this season are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In the administration offices, the pillared building directly beyond the gated entrance, birders can find a map of the property, a list of the tree species helping define Lakewood as a ranked arboretum, and a self-guided tour taking you to graves of many noteworthy people buried there.
The map is a good idea. Lakewood is divided into more than 50 sections, all separated by roads. Driving through the cemetery is allowed, as is getting lost if you must. There is no parking on the grass. Parking space is available near the entrance.
Visitors are expected to be respectful when walking through gravesites.
Two friends, Eva Neubeck and Monique Maxwell, have been regular birding visitors. Last year they watched a great horned owl family mature. Other species seen then included Baltimore orioles, other songbirds, ducks, cormorants (there is a pond), bald eagle and a resident flock of wild turkeys.
Their best sighting last summer was an American bittern. "It was a shock to see it," said Neubeck. Bittern would be a special sighting wherever, particularly in the middle of the city.
In mid-October, Maxwell said she saw kinglets, warblers, sparrows, finches, a white-breasted nuthatch, robins and a Cooper's hawk. "We've seen bluebirds there in the spring," she said.
Both women told me that the cemetery is simply a very pleasant place to walk. "The atmosphere of the place and the birds," said Neubeck. "it's a wonderful combination."
There are deer in Lakewood, as there are in the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial cemetery on Lake Street at Longfellow.
Lakewood on its southern boundary is adjacent to the T.S. Roberts Bird Sanctuary, a narrow piece of semi-wilderness — woods, brush and wetland — recognized for especially good birding.
Entrance to Roberts on its western end is across the street from the Lake Harriet Band Shell, on the eastern end in the Lyndale Park Rose Garden.
Kim Eckert's book "A Birder's Guide to Minnesota" mentions at least 13 cemeteries he found worthy, including Lakewood. (See sidebar.)
Sparky Stensaas, known for his devotion to the Sax-Zim bog birding area in northeastern Minnesota, found the Eckert references for me, and added to the list Old Frontenac cemetery in Goodhue County, a place where he has photographed tufted titmouse.
Another cemetery he mentions, one I have often visited, is in Two Harbors, along Hwy. 61 through town. Hang a right: It's worth a quick tour. You never know.
Birding is about habitat, Bristol notes in her book. Cemeteries offer attractive habitat in accessible locations. In rural areas, cemeteries can offer the best or only birding landscape for miles.
And wherever you go there is almost always a cemetery along the way.
Lifelong birder Jim Williams can be reached at email@example.com.
Cemeteries of note
A Google search for Minnesota cemeteries can be productive, results including addresses and often maps.
Minnesota cemeteries mentioned in Kim Eckert's "Birder's Guide to Minnesota":
Chippewa County, Sunset Memorial, Montevideo
Chisago County, Sunrise, north of Sunrise on Ferry Road
Dakota County, Acacia Park, Mendota Heights
Hennepin County, Lakewood, Minneapolis
Lake County, Lakeview, Two Harbors
LeSueur County, Woodlawn, Kasota Township
McLeod County, Oakland, Hutchinson
Otter Tail County, Oak Grove, Fergus Falls
Red Lake County, Oak Grove, Red Lake Falls
Stevens County, Summit, Morris
Swift County, Swift Falls County Park & Cemetery, Swift Falls
Wilkin County, Riverside, Breckenridge
Winona County, Woodlawn, Winona