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Things I have seen for myself.

Precious little. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a page on their web site indicating that the best time to view the tundra swans is from mid-October through mid-November. In 2010, mid-November was too late in the season; in 2011, mid-October was too early. The website suggests that they only appear in large concentrations on the flight south.

Things my dad told me, but haven't been able to independently verify.

Tundra swans summer in Canada, and on their migration to winter grounds well south of Minnesota, they spend a little time in wetlands and lakes near the Mississippi River in a region bordered by Weaver, Minnesota on the south and by Alma, Wisconsin on the north.

You're supposed to be able to see them from a scenic overlook off of Highway 61 just past Weaver, a place called Weaver Bottoms. On the Wisconsin side, the best place is in Rieck's Lake Park just outside of Alma.

I've been to both of these places on multiple occasions, but I have never seen a tundra swan at either one of them. I'm not sure if it's just been poor timing; it's possible I've been hoodwinked.

Things I learned accidentally along the way.

One thing is that the turnoff for the scenic overlook in Weaver is just north of the intersection with County 74. Just south of it there's signage for another scenic overlook but this one is on the far side of the highway and is really just service road access to a couple of nearby cemeteries. Further down that service road there is apparently good hunting; we saw a Hmong father/son duo armed with rifles on our way in, and saw them dressing a deer by the side of the road on the way out. A mile or so further down we got out in a grass parking lot; nearby was a sign warning that everything on the east side of the road was state property and that trespassing was prohibited. The sign was riddled with bullet holes. If you make the same wrong turn we did, please note that there are probably much better places to stop and pee.

The other thing is that there are actually a ton of wineries on the Wisconsin side of the river once you get that far south. Valley Vineyard in Prescott is a small, rustic tasting room nestled into a large property in essentially residential land. They're pretty new to the scene but I liked some of their wines. On the Minnesota side of the river, Falconer Vineyards in Red Wing is one of the best wineries in the region; they make a very decent table wine out of Frontenac grapes, and an unfortified port-style wine from the same fruit has won awards and given me a couple of vicious hangovers through the years. Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery, just south of Maiden Rock near Stockholm, Wisconsin is an apple orchard, and the best thing they sell is hard apple cider. The apple wine I tried was not so good, but their selection has varied quite a bit from year to year. Danzinger Vineyards is in Alma itself, and it's a gorgeous location with about $5 million in recent construction: a generously sized tasting room, with a large dining area and a deck overlooking miles and miles of the Mississippi River. They have a lot of fruit wines, some of which are better than others, but the reason I went back the second time was because they have some very nice white wines made from La Crescent grapes; the owner claims to have hired the most qualified professional winemaker of any winery in the Midwest. The tasting was on the stingy side the second time around; this was perhaps because the tasting room was packed by people on a bus tour along the Great River Road Wine Trail.

A cheese shop in Nelson, Wisconsin sells reusable bags with cutouts making them perfect to carry six wine bottles. These are a great way of transporting your wine back from a failed trip to watch the migration of tundra swans, should your trip fail in the way mine always do.

Wabasha is on your way back to the Twin Cities from Alma because it's one of the only bridge crossings on the Mississippi that far south. If you miss seeing the tundra swans because you came a little too early in their migration season, there's a nice restaurant in Wabasha, Minnesota called Stacy's Kitchen and Catering that does all-day breakfast, and really goes over the top with Halloween decorations.

Freight rail lines run essentially the entire length of the Mississippi from Wabasha to Red Wing, and there are trains active even on the weekends. If you brought a camera to photograph the tundra swans but didn't see any, consider using the camera to photograph some of the boxcar graffiti on the way. A lot of them are just throw-ups but if you're lucky you'll see a couple of end-to-end burners, which can be really impressive.

Things I hope to see in the future.

Tundra swans.

Or, in their stubborn continued absence from my life, there's a very nice winery in Winona, MN which isn't that many more miles south along the river. It's called Garvin Heights Vineyards and I've been hoping to entice my dad down there for a visit by pointing out that they have several wines named for Saint Urho. My father's side of my family is Finno-American and we observe St. Urho's Day every year; Garvin Heights wines might make a good addition to our celebrations.

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