MRVAC News

Excelsior Christmas Bird Count Summary

By Tracy Albinson | February 22, 2016

Submitted by Howard Towle 

Common MerganserSummary: The 2015 Excelsior Christmas Bird Count was held on Saturday, December 19. Conditions were reasonably pleasant with temperatures ranging from a low of 10 to a high of 28 and only a light breeze. The previous warm weather of the fall and early winter resulted in many lakes being partially open and most moving water being completely open. No snow cover made traversing trails far easier than on a normal count day.

The final count of species for the day was 58, a number that was exactly on the 20-year average. However, the count was anything but average. The total number of birds counted on the day was 23,356. By comparison, the total count last year was 5366 birds. The high total count was reflected in the observation that 7 species equaled or surpassed their highest count in the history of the Excelsior CBC. Another 11 species recorded their second highest total in count history. Considering that this count is in its 66th year, this is a pretty remarkable record.

Particularly notable were Common Mergansers – 13,030 were observed on Lake Minnetonka as they staged for their journey south. This exceeds the previous high of 7500 for this species and is, as far as I can tell, the highest count in Minnesota birding history away from Lake Pepin. Other species that were seen in record numbers included Bald Eagle (78), Red-tailed Hawk (53), Merlin (2), Red-bellied Woodpecker (84), Northern Flicker (9) and Pileated Woodpecker (19). Near record numbers were found for Trumpeter Swan (116), Ring-necked Duck (56), Common Goldeneye (415), Hooded Merganser (20), Wild Turkey (120), Ring-billed Gull (223), Great Horned Owl (13), Downy Woodpecker (171), Hairy Woodpecker (75), Eastern Bluebird (8) and Townsend’s Solitaire (3). On the other hand, winter finches were relatively scarce on the count. We didn’t record a single Purple Finch, only a single Pine Siskin and single Snow Bunting, although Common Redpolls were reported in three territories. Red-breasted Nuthatches were also quite rare; only a single bird was found at Carver Park.

Sixty-seven participants took part in the count this year: 7 as feeder-watchers, 21 through the program at Carver Park Reserve and 39 other field observers. Next year’s count will be held on Saturday, December 17, 2016.

  • The 13,030 Common Mergansers were counted by Dick Sandve, Bonnie Mulligan and Charlie Greenman who have been doing the Excelsior CBC together for many years. I’m sure everyone is wondering if it wasn’t really 13,029 or 13,031. Bonnie commented to me that they probably undercounted them as many were far out and obscured by mist rising from the lake.
  • Three Townsend’s Solitaires were found by Joel Claus and Joe Lindell at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, as well as a flock of 25 Common Redpolls. Joe who is new to the count this year noted that both species were lifers for him – now that’s a nice CBC.
  • The team of Renner, Martha and Abigail Anderson, Doug Kieser and Michael Manning covering the Blue Lake Water Treatment Plant and surrounding area found the count’s only Gadwalls (108), American Black Duck (2), Northern Shoveler (5), Ring-necked Duck (56), Lesser Scaup (1), Bufflehead (3), and American Coot (16). They also found the count’s only Belted Kingfishers (2) and Snow Bunting (1), and saw a flock of 25 Common Redpolls.
  • Other species that were reported in only one territory included Eastern Bluebird (8) and Red-breasted Nuthatch (1) found by the hardy crew at Carver Park under the direction of Kirk Mona; Sharp-shinned Hawk (1) found by Joel Claus and Joe Lindell; Rough-legged Hawk (1), American Kestrel (1) and Song Sparrow (1) found by Jerry Bonkoski in the Shakopee area, Northern Shrike (1) found by Laura Hanson, Nathan and Barb Cooley and myself in Chanhassen (really expected way more shrikes given the weather); Red-winged Blackbird (1) found by count newcomers Ken and Susan Schumacher west of Chaska; Common Grackle (1) spotted by Dennis Yockers, Sue Grant and Ken Larson in suburban Minnetonka; and a single Pine Siskin found by feeder watcher Kimberlie Dewey, who is also new to the count. Our feeder watchers seem to turn up one or two birds every year that are not found elsewhere.
  • Eight species were found in every one of the 15 territories in our circle. Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Junco and Northern Cardinal. The eighth is a little more surprising: Red-tailed Hawk. In the 70’s and 80’s these birds were found in only small numbers, if at all. They have clearly adapted to our urban culture well.
  • Five count-week birds (birds seen three days before or after the official count day, but not on the count day) were located this year. Up to three Short-eared Owls were found hunting in a field off Canterbury Rd on the southern edge of the count circle by Brad Abendroth, 5 Northern Harriers were seen by several observers looking for the owl in the same field and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Purple Finches were seen by John Cyrus at Carver Park.

Tambopata Macaw Project Program

By Tracy Albinson | February 22, 2016

by Annie Hawkinson, www.macawproject.org

Location: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Visitor Center

Thursday, April 28

7:00 pm: Socialize with coffee and cookies

7:30 pm: A brief MRVAC business meeting followed by the featured speaker.

MacawThe Tambopata Macaw Project, located in the remote Peruvian Amazon, has been studying parrots and clay-lick use for more than 20 years. This region of SE Peru sees the highest concentration of clay-licks in the world, and every morning hundreds of parrots, alongside other herbivores consume this rich earth along the Tambopata River.

Ms. Hawkinson will speak about her experience as field leader with the project, provide insight into current research and volunteer opportunities, and share breathtaking pictures of Amazonian wildlife.

Where: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center 3815 American Blvd E, Bloomington. Take Hwy 494 to 34th Ave. Go south to American Blvd; turn left and go 2 blocks. Center will be on your right. Enter through the door at the middle of the building.

Public Transit: Accessible by METRO Blue line (Hiawatha light rail), The Visitor Center is a couple of blocks east of the American Boulevard stop.

Birding Guatemala

By Tracy Albinson | February 22, 2016

by Larry Sirvio

Location: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Visitor Center

Thursday, March 24

7:00 pm: Socialize with coffee and cookies

7:30 pm: A brief MRVAC business meeting followed by the featured speaker.

Red-lored Parrot
Red-lored Parrot, by Larry Sirvio

Guatemala is an attractive birding destination with more than 720 bird species and a high diversity of ecosystems. Guided by Guatemalan resident Knut Eisermann, we spent several days in the highlands followed by 3 days in the tropical lowlands of Tikal, perhaps the best spot I’ve ever seen for birding. The last few days were spent in southern coastal wetlands which featured good rum drinks as well as some interesting shorebirds and a resident pygmy-owl.

Where: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center 3815 American Blvd E, Bloomington. Take Hwy 494 to 34th Ave. Go south to American Blvd; turn left and go 2 blocks. Center will be on your right. Enter through the door at the middle of the building.

Public Transit: Accessible by METRO Blue line (Hiawatha light rail), The Visitor Center is a couple of blocks east of the American Boulevard stop.

Your Help is Needed for Climate Watch, A New Citizen Science Program

By Tracy Albinson | December 30, 2015

Eastern BluebirdBy Audubon Minnesota

Audubon Climate Watch is a new citizen science program that explores how North American Birds are responding to climate change. In 2014, Audubon released the Audubon Birds and Climate Change report highlighting the risks that climate change poses to birds.

Now, you can help by observing birds and learning more about how birds are responding to climate change.

MRVAC members are needed to volunteer for a few hours during the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Jan. 15-18, 2016. This will kick off the pilot phase of Climate Watch. MRVAC will be a key part of the collaborative team that develops materials and resources, including mapping tools, for Climate Watch and will have the opportunity to represent the Audubon chapter network in helping to create this new national program.

The pilot will focus on areas of predicted change for bluebirds and targeted area maps will be provided so volunteers can survey appropriate habitat within the grid cell. At least 10 volunteers are needed.

If you are interested in volunteering for this project, please contact Greg Burnes, gburnes@comcast.net or Ashley Peters, apeters@audubon.org for more information on how to participate.

Birds of Minnesota State Parks

By Tracy Albinson | December 30, 2015

by Bob Janssen, author & bird expert

Location: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Visitor Center

Thursday, February 25

7:00 pm: Socialize with coffee and cookies

7:30 pm: A brief MRVAC business meeting followed by the featured speaker.

Bird-of-MN-state-parksBob Janssen will talk about the 11 years of work he did inventorying birds in the Minnesota State Parks and creating the book Birds of Minnesota State Parks. Learn about the 10 best parks for birds in the state and tips for the best birding in local state parks.

Where: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center 3815 American Blvd E, Bloomington. Take Hwy 494 to 34th Ave. Go south to American Blvd; turn left and go 2 blocks. Center will be on your right. Enter through the door at the middle of the building.

Public Transit: Accessible by METRO Blue line (Hiawatha light rail), The Visitor Center is a couple of blocks east of the American Boulevard stop.

Migrate, Hibernate or Deal With It

By Tracy Albinson | December 30, 2015

by Mark “Sparky” Stensaas, The PhotoNaturalist

Location: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Visitor Center

Thursday, January 28

7:00 pm: Socialize with coffee and cookies

7:30 pm: A brief MRVAC business meeting followed by the featured speaker

SparkyStensaasWinter is a force to be reckoned with in the North. Birds, mammals, amphibians, and even insects not only survive but THRIVE in the winter woods of the boreal forest.

Our visiting winter finches are especially adapted to our harsh winters. Learn how they do it through stunning images and HD video of some rarely-seen critters in this interesting and entertaining presentation.

Sparky will also be signing his new book, Winter Finches & Friends of North America, and have the field guides he publishes for sale as well.

Where: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center 3815 American Blvd E, Bloomington. Take Hwy 494 to 34th Ave. Go south to American Blvd; turn left and go 2 blocks. Center will be on your right. Enter through the door at the middle of the building.

Public Transit: Accessible by METRO Blue line (Hiawatha light rail), The Visitor Center is a couple of blocks east of the American Boulevard stop.

Old Cedar Parking Lot and Trailhead Have Reopened, May Experience Intermittent Closures

By Tracy Albinson | December 30, 2015

Work on the water control structure and associated levee at the head of the Bluff Trail from Old Cedar Avenue has been partially completed. This partial completion has allowed for the safe reopening of the Old Cedar Avenue parking lot as well as the trailheads from the parking lot to Hogback Ridge and Bluff Trails.

The rebuilding of the boardwalk extending onto Long Meadow Lake will begin sometime in December. To accommodate the delivery of materials and construction of the boardwalk, the Old Cedar Avenue parking lot and head of the Bluff Trail will experience intermittent closures during business hours.

Due to private property encroachment on the Bluff Trail approximately 1/2 mile west of Old Cedar Avenue, a short trail detour has been established. Please respect private property and follow the detour.

The trailhead to Hogback Ridge Trail from the Old Cedar Avenue parking lot has also been reopened as planned work has been temporarily suspended due to winter weather conditions.

Full or partial closures of the trails, trailheads and parking lot at Old Cedar Avenue are likely again in the spring and summer of 2016 as project work is completed in the area.

Holiday Auction & Give to the Max Raises Money for Educational Projects

By Tracy Albinson | December 30, 2015

By Bob Williams, MRVAC Treasurer

We had a fun and successful Holiday Auction at the Refuge Visitor Center on November 19. We raised a total of $2,000 which is about the same as last year. Thanks to spirited auctioneering by Mark Lystig and Scott Clark we raised $2000 from both member donations and items from these generous companies:

  • Abdallah Candies
  • All Seasons Wild Bird Store (Minnetonka)
  • Aveda
  • Benda Photography
  • Bloomington Arts Center, (aka Artistry)
  • Chanhassen Dinner Theater
  • Dardis Designs
  • Eagle Optics
  • Great Harvest Bread Company
  • Jensen’s Café (Burnsville)
  • Lunds/Byerly’s
  • Milio’s Sandwich Shops
  • Minneapolis Institute of Art
  • Mixed Blood Theater
  • Natasha Drexler; Wallace Method therapy
  • Nothing Bundt Cakes, Eden Prairie
  • Old Log Theater (Excelsior)
  • Refuge Friends Inc
  • St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
  • Valley Natural Foods Coop (Burnsville)

On Give to the Max Day in November, 26 donors gave $1,785 to MRVAC. This is about $500 more than we raised in last year’s Give to the Max event.

In past years we have used the money raised in November to help support programs at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, local schools and nature centers that are geared toward environmental education for young children. We plan to do the same with the money raised this year.

We thank all of the members who gave their time and/or money for these fundraisers.

Call for Trumpeter Award Nominations

By Tracy Albinson | December 30, 2015

Each spring for 13 of the past 15 years, MRVAC has presented the Trumpeter Award to one of its members for outstanding long-term contributions to MRVAC. We are soliciting nominations from you; tell us of who you think should be our next recipient.

Please send in a nomination by Jan. 31. The selection committee, which is composed of the previous years’ recipients, will review the nominations and forward their choice to the Board. The award will be presented at a subsequent meeting.

There are two ways to get a nomination form:

  • Find the nomination form at www.mrvac.org/award
  • Call Becky Lystig (651-452-1133) to have a copy mailed to you.

Completed applications can be sent to Becky at markbeckylystig@comcast.net or mailed to Becky Lystig, 1741 Sartell Ave, Eagan, MN 55122.

Previous Trumpeter Award recipients

  • 2001 Karol Gresser
  • 2002 Joe White
  • 2003 Pat & Jack Telfer
  • 2004 Edith Grace Quam
  • 2005 Craig Mandel
  • 2006 John Rehbein
  • 2007 Lois Norrgard
  • 2008 Jack Mauritz
  • 2009 George Tkach
  • 2010 Bob Leis
  • 2011 Anne Hanley & George Skinner
  • 2012 Steve Weston
  • 2013 Bob Williams