MRVAC News

World Migratory Bird Day Event at the Refuge

By Anne Hanley | May 3, 2018

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge will debut the Discover Nature App, a new mobile guide and trivia game, during World Migratory Bird Day festivities Saturday, May 12, at the Refuge.

The Discover Nature App guides visitors as they explore three units of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, providing points of interest and information on the Refuge’s diverse wildlife, habitat and history. The app also offers a family-friendly trivia game to play while visiting the Refuge. Interactive features allow users to upload and share their own experiences and photos of Refuge wildlife and habitat.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and partners will also host a special event that day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day at the Refuge’s Bloomington Visitor Center. Visitors can learn how to download and use the app, then walk Refuge trails on their own or join a Discover Nature walk at 12:30 p.m.

The May 12 event will also include a program by the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, bird-themed arts and crafts activities, mist netting and bird banding, and more.

The Discover Nature App is available now for free by searching for “Discover Nature” on iTunes or Google Play. Download the three Minnesota Valley units ahead of time to come prepared. The app will automatically open up when users arrive at the Bloomington, Rapids Lake or Louisville Swamp Units of the Refuge. Maps with access points and trails information are available on the Refuge website, fws.gov/refuge/Minnesota_Valley/map.html.

The Refuge’s Bloomington Visitor Center is located at 3815 American Blvd. E., Bloomington, Minnesota, 55425.

Visitors are encouraged to wear weather-appropriate clothing and shoes, and to pack a lunch or snacks if they plan to stay for the day.

For Refuge information, visit fws.gov/refuge/minnesota_valley/ or call 952-854-5900.

2018 Birdathon: May 1-15

By Bob Williams | May 3, 2018

It’s time to prepare for the 2018 MRVAC Bird-a-Thon FUNdraiser! Here’s how to participate: You simply ask friends and relatives to either pledge to donate a certain amount per bird sighted or a specified sum. Some birders will sight over 100 birds on a Bird-a-Thon day, so a pledge of 25 cents per bird could bring in $25.00 from one sponsor.

Download your Birdathon Pledge Form here!

You get to pick a day between May 1 and May 15 as your Bird-a-Thon day. You can bird anywhere in the world for up to 24 hours (less is fine) on your chosen day. This is an opportunity to spend a day birding while raising money for MRVAC. The funds will be used to support birder education efforts, such as programs at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, area parks and nature centers. We have also supported efforts like the Red Headed Woodpecker project.

Ideally, all donations that you collect should be submitted to Bob Williams by June 1, 2018. You can contact him at 612-728-2232 or by email at bxwilliams@cbburnet.com. It is best to give the donations directly to Bob at one of the general meetings, but they also can be mailed to MRVAC at PO Box 20400, Bloomington, MN 55420. You don’t need to sponsor a birder to donate; direct donations are welcomed as well!

You may also donate via the MRVAC GiveMN site.

Get your pledge form, and go forth and bird!

Book Review: Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East

By Mark Lystig | May 2, 2018

Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle EastBirds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East: A Photographic Guide 

  • By Frédéric Jiguet & Aurélien Audevard; translated by Tony Williams
  • Published by Princeton University Press
  • Paper list $29.95; ISBN 9780691172439
  • 448 pages; 5×7 ½ ; 2,200 color photos and maps
  • Publication date: March 22, 2017

This is a new field guide for the birds of Europe. It’s small enough to carry with you in the field (if you don’t mind toting a 1 ¾ lb. book). It has photographs, not drawings, and the authors have pointed out the field marks for each bird commonly found in the area, but the field marks are not emphasized as much as they might be in a drawn guide.

There are photos of the male, female, and juveniles where the plumage differs, and flight photos for many species where that might help identification. There are also some photos of vagrants that do not have the field marks identified. (European warblers tend to look pretty drab—to me—so you can get a warbler “color fix” by looking at American warblers in the vagrant section in the back, although most are shown in winter plumage.)

In the identification section of each species they give the average length or wingspan, and note any characteristic behaviors, as well as differences between races or subspecies where relevant. Where appropriate, they describe the male’s song and often the normal species contact call. Then a description of the normal habitat for the species is given where not obvious (e.g., at sea). Range maps showing the breeding, wintering and resident areas are included.

All the data is located on the same page; you don’t have to refer to a different section for any data. They have followed the “modern” taxonomic order as far as possible, but recognize that the order(s) has been subject to change in light of recent developments. Due to the changes, the scientific names may have changed from earlier guides, even if the common names are the same.

This claims to be the first comprehensive field guide to all the species recorded in Europe, including resident winter visitors, common migrants, and rarities. The guide covers 860 species, with 2,200 photographs. This is probably the best guide to have for the most recent scientific data on each species.

Walt Stull: MRVAC’s New Treasurer

By Walt Stull | May 2, 2018

I have been a longtime, but inactive member of Audubon and am looking forward to being more involved as Treasurer of MRVAC. I have been retired for three years and am what I would describe as a recreational birder. My other interests are golf, travel and reading.

Our back yard with woods and feeders is a favorite place to bird especially with spring migration. A favorite out-state place to bird is the Sax-Zim Bog.

Two places in Minnesota I have not birded, but look forward to visiting are the Detroit Lakes area and Salt Lake in western Minnesota. My most adventurous birding trips were to Belize and Ecuador/Galapagos Islands.

Walt Stull, mathemagicland@Q.com

Elect 2018-2019 Board Members

By Matthew Schaut | May 2, 2018

Please join us at the meeting on Thursday, May 24 to vote on the slate of nine candidates for the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter board of directors. At present, here’s the list, but there may be last minute changes;

  • President: Matthew Schaut
  • Vice President: Steve Weston
  • Treasurer: Walt Stull
  • Secretary: OPEN
  • Members at Large (5): Becky Lystig, Ken Oulman, Monica Rauchwarter, Rita Baden, OPEN

Matthew’s Musings

By Matthew Schaut | March 9, 2018

The January 2018 Refuge gathering was an enjoyable affair. What is better than hearing about, and seeing video of penguins in action?

In the audience was a young professional biologist. In her early teens she had applied for and received money from MRVAC to attend environmental summer camps. She sited these camps as one of the key reasons she chose a career studying and positively impacting our precious environment.

If you are aware of an interested youth, or a program which serves youth, now is the time to submit your proposal! This can be done at http://mrvac.org/grants/ or talk to any board member for more details. MRVAC’s mission is to support environmental education with the donation dollars we receive from each of you. Thanks!

It doesn’t seem possible, but the environmental assault seems to have accelerated over the last couple of months. The coastlines have been opened up to unlimited drilling, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been put at risk, multiple national monuments are being opened up to mineral claims, 30% tariffs have been put on imported solar panels, the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty has been degraded in its ability to protect nonhuman beings, and the Polymet environmental review process truncated – all by executive fiat.

Apparently, that is how our government now works? I don’t know if lawsuits will slow these unconscionable actions, but they will not hurt. I do know that resistance means gumming up the works in every way possible. We must also know what we want and accept no less. (The other side has a clear picture of what it wants – and stops at nothing.) We must do what reason and conscience prompts – and never forget the spirit of Standing Rock or Martin Luther King Jr.’s Arc of Justice. The planet needs this.

The Culture of Make Believe, David Jensen

I’d like to share a book with you, Derek Jensen’s The Culture of Make Believe. It is a model of conscience and soul-searing reflection on the processes in American history and psyches that have always been there, but which we often repress. The book seems prescient because the unacknowledged cruelty has been unmasked by the Trump Presidency but the injustice to the environment and to the disenfranchised have always been dominant processes in our society.

Our Constitution has never fully protected anyone from being enslaved, lynched or from having their village wiped out. Nor, to be frank, did our Founding Fathers. If the current tribulations cause us all to do a little more soul searching and become more engaged in politics, we will all be better for it.

Jensen is a perfect guide. He is passionate, he feels the pain, he refuses to turn a blind eye, he witnesses – and he is kind. I cannot think of a better book to read for these times.

Take care out there.

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project

By Anne Hanley | January 11, 2018

Research Team Final Report for MRVAC for 2017 Summer Research Season

By Keith Olstad November 25, 2017 

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker, courtesy USFWS

Last December, our Red-headed Woodpecker (RHWO) Recovery research team submitted a grant application to the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Club. Our primary request was for funds to defray expenses for increased volunteer and professional field-work to begin to answer these questions:

  1. What factors govern RHWO nest productivity and survival of juveniles into the next year?
  2. What “internal” factors (e.g., sex, body condition, etc.) and/or “external” factors (e.g., food availability, weather, population density) drive RHWO to overwinter at Cedar Creek ecosystem Science Reserve (CCESR) or migrate
  3. Where do RHWO go when they migrate? Do they migrate to the same place each year?

We were deeply gratified to receive a $3,000 grant from the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter. We express a small part of our gratitude with this report on the application of these funds to critical research done this past summer, and offer to do a program for MRVAC detailing our work to date.

With support from a variety of funding sources (as reported in our initial grant proposal), we were able to hire a post-doctoral research coordinator, Dr. Elena West, to coordinate the work of our field research team. Dr. West worked half-time through the summer, and will continued to work this fall through December to analyze our data and formulate our research field work for 2018. Working with Dr. West at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (CCESR) were two full time seasonal research assistants, Candace Stenzel and Jesse Beck. Resources provided by MRVAC defrayed expenses for field work done at CCESR by this team and by about thirty-six volunteer “citizen scientists”, and helped with laboratory expenses for data analysis.

During the course of the summer, the field research team “processed” sixty-six RHWO at CCESR, fifty adults and sixteen nestlings/fledglings. (“Processed” refers to capturing, banding, taking measurements, drawing blood samples and feather samples for DNA analysis, and possible use of location devices, listed below.) Thirty-nine RHWO were newly banded, and twenty-two nests were monitored. Twenty adults were outfitted with geo-GPS backpacks, of which eight were recovered in late summer and early fall, meaning that CPS and/or geo-locator data were gathered from these birds. Fifteen juveniles were “marked” with radio backpacks, allowing their movement to be tracked. In all, seventy-two birds were captured.

Parallel to the work of the field research technicians, thirty-six citizen science volunteers contributed 1,550 hours to the 2017 summer RHWO research season. They worked on five specific projects:

  1. RHWO nest location
  2. 2. RHWO parental effort in feeding nestlings
  3. Food use identification
  4. Oak tree tagging
  5. Nest cavity porthole installation

Data collected to date will be analyzed for preliminary results during late fall and early winter of 2017. Blood samples taken from summer RHWO captures will receive lab analysis over the 2017-18 winter. Spring 2018 recaptures of transmitter birds will allow downloading data regarding winter locations of these RHWOs.

In addition to the research conducted on RHWO, over the summer fifteen guided hikes and programs about this project, led by RHWO Recovery Project volunteers, provided rich educational opportunities to over 200 people at CCESR.

The research team of the RHWO Recovery Project created a partnership with Dr. Henry Streby at the University of Toledo, who is initiating similar research in Ohio and other states. This partnership will make it possible to compare different population’s genetic patterns and adult and juvenile activities on a broader geographic scale for more conclusive research results.

A new round of grant requests will be issued in the coming months to support and expand our exciting research.

Please feel free to contact me with further questions or concerns about our project’s use of your grant, and to explore setting up a program for MRVAC detailing our work and our vision for future work. And thank you once again for your most generous contribution to the recovery of this splendid bird.

Contacts: Keith Olstad, Convener, Research Team, RHWO Recovery Project (612) 940-1534

Chet Meyers, chair of the Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project (612) 374-5581

Audubon Chapter of the North Woods Receives Century Farm

By Anne Hanley | January 11, 2018

By Bryan Wood, Audubon Center of the North Woods

Ruby & Roger Trapp

Once in a while, an act of generosity leaves you humbled by its magnitude. You can’t help but take a step back, astounded by the goodness of people and their desire to want to leave the world a better place. You marvel at the kindness individuals can show through an organization transformational gift and during these times saying thank you to them simply isn’t adequate. They deserve much more as you try and adequately express your profound gratitude.

Roger and Ruby Trapp are those people. With the substantial help of Audubon Center of the North Woods Board Member Susan VanGorden, Mr. and Mrs. Trapp this summer completed a land transfer of their 101-acre century farm to the Audubon Center of the North Woods. This land, which marks the north boundary of ACNW’s property, has been in Roger’s family since his grandfather Alfred McKay purchased it in 1900. Roger was born there and grew up on the farm that produced flowers, produce, pick-your-own raspberries, chickens, turkeys and cattle. The farm is still in operation today, producing corn.

Of the 101 acre tract the Trapps gifted to ACNW, 48 acres is tilled farmland, with the remaining 53 acres a mix of beautiful hardwood and conifer stands. This land gift would be met with great enthusiasm at any time, but is especially exciting now as it fits into ACNW’s larger plan to have a working educational farm in the future. Food in many aspects is where we each have the largest impact on our planet. Indeed, 70% of all human land use is for food production and the current food system is heavily reliant on fossil fuels for fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, production and distribution. The average item on an American’s plate has traveled 2,000 miles. With our population expected to reach over 9 billion by 2050 and climate change threatening to reduce crop yields by 25%, our ability to feed the world, while caring for our planet is of paramount importance. A United Nations study concluded that the only way to sustainably do that is through local, polyculture farms that are more resistant to disease and less energy intensive.

Over the coming years, ACNW plans to turn the 48 acres of farmland into an organic, polyculture farm where produce, permaculture, pollinators, free-range poultry and grass-fed beef intermingle to provide food for our meals served at the Dining Hall. With the farm contiguous to our existing property, it easily allows for myriad educational opportunities with our K-12 schools, summer camps, post-secondary courses and adult programs. This all will require funds to build up the farm and its infrastructure and efforts will now begin towards securing those funds.

In a way, the Audubon Center of the North Woods is coming full circle. Our existence is due to the generosity of the Schwyzer family donating their farm to become a nature sanctuary and in our first 48 years, environmental education has been taught primarily through nature study.

Today, there is increasing interest in society on where our food comes, the impact it has on our land and water, and how we can make more environmentally conscious choices. As we approach our 50th anniversary, we are poised to expand our environmental programs to include agriculture through a working, educational farm that will provide learning opportunities for individuals and empower them to grow or raise more of their own food and make informed choices. And we have Roger and Ruby Trapp to thank for that. Their farm and legacy will live on as it educates and inspires for generations to come. “We believe in getting kids outside, and want others to enjoy the farm as I have.” Roger said. We invite you to join us in expressing our deepest gratitude to Roger and Ruby, and to join us on this exciting journey ahead.

Birders and Birding

By Bob Janssen | January 11, 2018

The older I get the more I like birders, the younger ones especially. Yes, we older birders are OK, even with our faults and some of us, who are really old, with our ignorance of the digital age. I would like to ask your indulgence while I do my best to relate a story of a recent bird trip made up of young birders and one old guy.

In early September I was leading a bird class for North House Folk School at the end of the Gunflint Trail. Josh Watson of Grand Marais was my very able and experienced “young” assistant. Josh did a great job in finding birds like a Golden-crowned Kinglet which I can no longer hear because of their high pitched song. A few weeks after the class my phone rang and it was Josh saying “let’s plan an October trip to Cass County to get your list for the county up to 225”, I replied “That would be just great”. The phone call ended with Josh saying, “I will get the guys (John and Chris Hockema, and Shawn Conrad) together and we will go to Cass County at the end of October and get you three species”. I didn’t have a single scoter species for Cass County so they would be the target birds for our trip. Our plans were to go to Cass County on October 26, 27 and 28.

October 26 came and it was snowing but that did not stop our heading north. I picked up Josh at his grand-mothers house in Ham Lake and we headed for our motel In Pine River, Cass County and the meeting with Shawn Conrad. The three of us headed for Walker and the sewage ponds to look for the reported Harlequin Duck, a really “choice” bird for Cass County. It didn’t take long for us to find the Harlequin Duck, # 223 for Cass County. A Harlequin Duck, a good dinner in Walker and a sound night’s sleep in Pine River really were a good start for the trip.

Early the next morning we were joined by John and Chris Hockema and to my surprise we were joined by Becca Engdahl and her friend, Alex Burchard, two young, up-and-coming and enthusiastic Minnesota birders. Our first stop was the Walker Sewage Ponds to look for the Harlequin Duck which Chris needed for his list. A long search proved futile, we could not find the bird, our first disappointment.

To make a long story short, we spent the rest of the morning touring Leech Lake, Cass Lake, and the Cass Lake Sewage Ponds in hopes of finding any species of Scoter, no luck. Shawn knew of some bogs in the area where we might find a Boreal Chickadee. Beautiful Pine Grosbeaks and Gray Jays were present but no Boreal Chickadees. The day wore on and my list stayed at 223. We were all concerned that our target species, scoters, had all but disappeared or were just not here as we had hoped. Shawn said “let’s try Lake Winnibigoshish, I know some good spots where there should be scoters”. On the way to “Winnie” we traveled through some beautiful wooded evergreen areas, all of us were thinking Black-backed Woodpecker. Mile after mile no luck, all of a sudden Shawn said “STOP”. I wondered why, I hadn’t seen or heard a thing. We stopped and we were all quiet when we heard the tap of a Black-backed Woodpecker stripping bark from a tree. We had difficulty pin-pointing the sound but finally we saw the bird on a downed log, # 224 for Cass County. It was a life-bird for Becca and she crept within 15 feet of the bird, and took wonderful photos and she said it was one of the most rewarding birding experiences she had ever had. Her experience with the woodpecker was a real treat for all of us.

Then Shawn said once again “Let’s go to Winnie, there have to be ducks on there”. We searched the bays and shoreline for over an hour without finding a single duck. Finally our luck changed and we found a bay full of water birds, grebes, both Red-necked and Horned plus a few Pied-billed Grebes and a few Long-tailed Ducks and Lesser Scaup. All of a sudden Josh hollered “there is a scoter”, all scopes went to that spot and there was a White-winged Scoter, #225 for Cass County. This turned out to be the only scoter we saw on the trip but it was a “big” one.

The light was fading but we still had time to check further on “Winnie” but to no avail. There just were not any more waterfowl to be found. We had a great meal together in Walker that evening, a few bottles of beer, lots of bird talk and then a great night’s sleep in spite of Chris’s snoring which shook the whole motel at times.

The next morning we tried the Walker Sewage Ponds again but the Harlequin had disappeared. Birding strategy was discussed and it was decided that we would go over to Lake Superior and look for the reported Red Phalarope in Lake County and the Pacific Loon in Cook County. We failed on the Red Phalarope and then we decided to split up, the young birders would go north for the Pacific Loon and I would head south for home. They got the Pacific Loon and I stopped in Two Harbors where I spotted a small group of birders looking through scopes. They were looking at a Mountain Bluebird which was a new Lake County bird for me. I drove back home a very happy birder, 225 for Cass County and a new county bird for Lake County!

Driving home from Two Harbors I was thinking about how fortunate I was to have young birding friends who were great companions and most helpful with their enthusiasm about finding and enjoying birding, it was a good ride home!

Matthew’s Musings

By Matthew Schaut | January 11, 2018

Happy New Year! I’m glad it’s a little bit cold and some places are getting snow. There was snow in Texas and Florida, lake effect snow around the Great Lakes. All that moisture in the sky due to the added heat in energy. Speaking of which, the upper Midwest has seen the largest Winter temperature gains as a result of climate change in the continental USA. Canada – an upper Midwest writ large, has even higher gains (along with its peninsular appendage, Alaska. And that other appendage, Antarctica???).

As I write, the US Congress may pass a particularly grim trickle-down tax “reform” bill. I pray the Senate and the House of Representatives will be unable to reconcile their versions. Patagonia has gone to war against the Trump administration and its Interior Department hatchet men in reaction to the “decision” to shrink Bears Ears and other national monuments to benefit uranium salesmen and fossil fuel speculators. Fossils, native art and artefacts, animals and ecosystems – be damned, all of you. You just don’t monetize well.

The oligarchs on the national scene play for big money. The money at the Minnesota State level can’t be as good, yet our US Representatives continue to be whittle away at our environmental legacy to benefit Chilean multinationals. I speak of Representatives Nolan and Emmers (different sides of the aisle, but, hey, you know… there’s dark money talking) efforts to bring sulfide mining to the Boundary Waters, while at the same time eroding the environmental review process and our rights as citizens to have input.

Our own good governor Dayton, of late, has raised his voice in favor of “some kind of sulfide mining” which is a position I can’t fathom. Dayton had seemed a friend to Minnesota’s waters after his efforts to establish standards for buffers along waterways. Now he appears willing to risk the Boundary Waters and the Great Lakes. Attrition may be at work, and the socialization of the wealthy wherein manliness is established by “making deals.” We don’t joust or duel anymore, we make deals. Early socialization is hard to overcome. It also matters who we spend our time with.

Corporate (and oligarchic) attrition is relentless, as corrosive force as powerful as water. The wealthy can afford to continually scratch at a door until a “no” becomes the “yes” they want to hear. To maintain a no is difficult. Obama seems to me to have been a master at avoiding the hard “no”, since that then becomes ammunition for manufactured media outrage. Yet a hard no is justified to prevent sulfide mining in Minnesota or a Line 3 pipeline “expansion.” The soft “no” enables endless cajoling by oligarchs with bottomless reservoirs of wealth – even more corrosive in our current dark money post-Citizens United environment – until eventually, enough decision-makers – lawmakers, executives, judges, — are turned and a project moves forward to its inevitably disastrous consequences. But who cares about that, the oligarchs have already left town before the clean-up starts, and their pockets seem to have gone empty!

We must stand strong against these corrosive attempts to destroy our environment. It might already be too late to prevent our dying in the currently accelerating climate change catastrophe. That is a just comeuppance to our complicity in creating the mass extinction event currently decimating the world’s flora and fauna.

Or, maybe, just maybe, we’ll have converted to solar and wind power and have absolutely no need for any more fossil fuel and water destroying nonsense. We can’t let what remains of our environmental rights and natural world be destroyed in a last, absurd, corrupt feeding frenzy at the dying of the fossil fuel age? It’s a shame we can’t count on our local representation to protect our neck of the woods. A hard “NO” would be kind of refreshing, like cold and snow in winter.