Golden Eagle Survey Jan 19, 2019

Sponsored by National Eagle Center

In mid-January, more than 200 citizen scientist volunteers from the National Eagle Center spread out across the blufflands of southeast Minnesota, western Wisconsin and eastern Iowa during the 15th annual Wintering Golden Eagle Survey, January 19, 2019. They were seeking Golden Eagles that winter in the hills and valleys of the region. 

The National Eagle Center greatly appreciates all the time and energy that these citizen scientists dedicate to this survey. This year they observed 145 Golden Eagles, the third most ever recorded for the survey. 

The last two years were poor weather years, including 2017 with all day fog, which then produced lower sightings of Golden Eagles. Before those poor weather years the number had been increasing over the years, it is likely that the increase is a result of more observers covering a larger area, and more experience on the part of the observers in picking out these hard to spot Golden Eagles. Several more years of data will be needed to show any kind of trends. 

Observers also recorded other birds, especially raptors, seen during the survey, including 583 red-tail hawks and 1,391 Bald Eagles. “That’s an amazing number of Bald Eagles for survey areas that are away from the Mississippi River,” says Golden Eagle Project coordinator and National Eagle Center Education Director, Scott Mehus. By comparison, the 2018 survey counted 1,202 Bald Eagles in the same areas. 

In the blufflands, Golden Eagles can be observed in the dense forested bluffs, often utilizing the upland prairies, sometime called goat prairies, as hunting grounds. In the upper Midwest, common prey items are squirrels, rabbits and wild turkeys. Golden Eagles are not typically seen near water as they do not feed on fish. 

Now in its 15th year, the Golden Eagle Survey has expanded to include survey areas from Stillwater, MN to Dubuque in southern Iowa, and across numerous counties in western Wisconsin. The survey gathers important data to document a regular wintering population of Golden Eagles in the Upper Midwest. The Wintering Golden Eagle Survey is part of an ongoing project to learn more about the Golden Eagle population in the blufflands region, including their migration patterns and habitat needs. 

2018 Bloomington Christmas Bird Count Report

Submitted by Greg Burnes, Bloomington Compiler 

We had a beautiful day (sunny sky with temps in the 30’s) for our 2018 CBC. 73 volunteers spent hundreds of hours walking, driving and feeder-watching the Bloomington CBC area. The group counted 8,236 actual birds and 59 species. This year’s results paralleled the 2017 count with a few notable exceptions. The Snowy Owls had not yet returned to MSP, so they did not make the count this year. We had a greater number of common species such as Mallards, Bald Eagles, American Robins and European Starlings. We will post the full 2018 results on the MRVAC website; they can also be found on the MOU website. 

There were a number of new volunteers this year due to some new reach-out campaigns. The LL Bean store in the Mall of American posted the CBC on their events page and Steve Weston hosted an informational session. From this outreach we had a group of 11 new participants assist with the count at the refuge. We also did some additional communication to past participants seeking new volunteers. Both of these efforts, as well as feedback from 2018 participants will help us drive increased participation in this important event next year. 

Thanks to everyone that participated and supported this important project. 

2018 Cedar Creek Bog Christmas Bird Count Report

Submitted by James Howitz, Cedar Creek Compiler 

The Cedar Creek Bog Christmas Count was held on Sunday December 16, 2018. The weather was perfect, with clear skies and a high of 44F. Snow cover was negligible. 

We found 24 Red-headed Woodpeckers, down from the record 83 in 2017, but above the long-term average of about 8. The bur oaks at Cedar Creek had a bumper crop of acorns the past summer, but the woodpeckers did not store them for retrieval in the winter. The northern pin oak acorn crop was moderate, and these were the acorns stored by the birds that remained for the winter. The Red-headed Woodpeckers at Cedar Creek in winter generally are near their acorn storage sites and we knew within a hundred feet or so of where each would be, so finding all 24 was easy. 

The highlight of the count had to be the three bluebirds along Isanti County Road 56 east of Highway 65. Two of the birds were male Eastern Bluebirds, but the third was a male Mountain Bluebird. Six other Eastern Bluebirds were found, the most ever for the Count. The Mountain Bluebird was new for the Count and for Cedar Creek and was the first ever reported in Isanti County. The other new bird for the Count was an Eastern Phoebe near Highway 65 and Sims Road. 

The few open water sites produced the usual Canada Geese, Trumpeter Swans and Mallards, but also 8 Wood Ducks, 2 Northern Pintails, and 1 Blue-winged Teal. 

It was a good year for owls with the expected Great Horned and Barred Owls being recorded. The 2 Northern Saw-whet Owls eclipsed the old record of just one. As on other Minnesota Christmas Counts, it was a good year for Red-breasted Nuthatches, Pine Siskins, and White-throated Sparrows. 

Other notable birds include Great Blue Heron, Northern Harrier, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Belted Kingfisher. 

The total of 50 species broke the old record of 48. The total of 2619 individual birds was not a record, but was above the 72-year average of 1672 birds. 

2019 Excelsior Christmas Bird Count Report

Submitted by Howard Towle, Excelsior compiler 

Nearly ideal weather conditions with bright sunshine, temperatures reaching into the low 40’s, and very little wind led to an excellent day of birding on Saturday, December 15, for the 67th Excelsior Christmas Bird Count. Through the efforts of a record number of participants, 76 field observers and 14 feeder watchers, a total of 59 species and 7,554 individuals were counted. 

The 59 species were the most seen since 2007, when 62 species were recorded, and was slightly above our 20-year average of 57 species. The total number of individuals was also slightly above average for years in which Lake Minnetonka is frozen over and not hosting 100’s to 1000’s of Common Mergansers. 

A few of the more unusual sightings from this year’s endeavors: 

  • A Carolina Wren visited the feeders of Barb & Denny Martin in Shorewood long enough to allow a photo, only the third observation in the last 58 years and the first in 15 years; the Martins also hosted the count’s only Fox Sparrow, a species seen in about half of our counts.
  • Renner, Martha and Abigail Anderson and Michael Manning counting in the Blue Lake area south of the Minnesota River scared up a couple of hardy Wilson’s Snipe, the first since 2012 and a species found only four times in the past 20 years. This group also found 14 waterfowl species at Blue Lake WTP and Blue Lake, including a couple of Mute Swans that have only been recorded twice before on the count.
  • Joel Claus, Joe Lindell and Alan Branhagen covering the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum found a single Eastern Bluebird, a species found only ten times in 58 years. This group also contributed the count’s only Sharp-shinned Hawks and one of two Song Sparrows found.
  • Paula O’Keefe and her family found two Red-shouldered Hawks in Bloomington, a species found only three previous times in the past ten years.
  • Bill Marengo heard and then located a Northern Saw-Whet Owl in the cedars at R.T. Anderson Conservation Area, the first since 2008 and only the third in the past 20 years. Bill and Esther Gesick located the other Song Sparrow for the count.
  • Bob Heise, counting in the southwestern corner of our circle, came up with our count’s only Northern Shrikes and Rough-legged Hawks.
  • Steve and Maria Duane found a late Hermit Thrush for the second time in four years. This was only the sixth Hermit Thrush in the past 58 years.
  • The Carver Park crew found the count’s only Common Redpoll, a single bird, and also the count’s only Ring-necked Pheasants.

Several species were found in record numbers this year. The most notable was Northern Flicker. Seventeen Flickers were observed in six different territories and at three feeder stations, far surpassing the previous high of nine. Not surprisingly, Wild Turkeys also reached a record high number of 155 individuals. 

Record high counts were also found for Red-bellied Woodpeckers (123) and Black-capped Chickadees (1,111), likely due to the excellent coverage of the area that we had this year. Pine Siskins were found in good numbers (114), the most since 2008, and 16 Red-breasted Nuthatches was the most since way back in 1995. Bald Eagles were seen in all but three territories and the total of 56 was the second highest, a great recovery for this once endangered species. 

Ring-necked Pheasants continue to decline in our circle. Only two birds were observed this year at Carver Park, the lowest total in our history. By contrast, 300 pheasants were counted in 1978. We also struck out on Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles, which are found more often than not. And only 14 Canada Geese were found compared to over 3,000 last year. 

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery

By Jim Stengel, Red-Headed Woodpeckery Recovery 

The Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery project (RhWR) is now in its twelfth year of working to halt the decline and promote the recovery of Red-Headed Woodpeckers (RHWOs) in Minnesota through habitat preservation and restoration, research, and public education. Volunteers have done surveys of RHWOs from the project’s beginning. 

At the University of Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in East Bethel, trained citizen science volunteers locate breeding pairs of RHWOs and their nest trees, and many continue to monitor the birds through their breeding season. Since 2017, we have also sponsored collaborative research there. Our lead researcher, Dr. Elena West, is currently planning this year’s field work, procuring tracking devices for the birds and hiring field assistants, while we are also welcoming new members, engaging new volunteers, and raising money to fund this research. We hope that you can join us in this exciting endeavor! 

You Can Help 

You can help by reporting RHWO sightings on eBird. If you find one or more active nests outside of Cedar Creek, let us know. If you own or manage oak savanna or property with dead or decaying trees of any kind, save the snags wherever safety and health permit, and limit understory growth in support of RHWO habitat. 

If you’d like to join us as a trained citizen scientist to survey and monitor RHWOs at Cedar Creek, plan to attend an orientation there on Saturday, April 13. Or sign up for a guided tour of Cedar Creek’s RHWO nesting territory. For more on these and other opportunities, visit 

You can also help us and the birds by joining Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery project for just $20/year. 

Contributions of $150 and $210 will purchase radio-transmitters and geolocator devices that we attach to birds to study their habitat use and incubation in cavities. Contributors get to name and follow the bird wearing their device. Any amount you donate would help us match a current pledge of $2500. For updates and more information please see 

Donate online or make checks payable to Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis (RHWR on the memo line) and mail to Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis, P.O. Box 3801, Minneapolis, MN 55403-0801. 

2018 Holiday Auction Raises Money for Educational Projects

We had a successful and entertaining Holiday Auction at the Refuge Visitor Center on November 15. We raised $2226 (a bit less than the $2700 we raised last year). 

Our fabulous auctioneers, Monica Rauchwarter and Scott Clark sold many fabulous items donated by members as well as from these generous companies and local organizations: 

  • All Seasons Wild Bird Store – Bloomington 
  • Artistry Theater, Bloomington 
  • David Fong’s 
  • Vortex Optics 
  • Fantastic Sam’s 
  • Great Harvest Bread Company 
  • Lakewinds Natural Foods – Richfield & Minnetonka 
  • L.L. Bean 
  • Lunds/Byerly’s 
  • Mia – Minneapolis Institute of Arts 
  • National Eagle Center, Wabasha 
  • Nothing Bundt Cakes, Eden Prairie 
  • Science Museum of Minnesota 
  • Valley Natural Foods Co-op (Burnsville) 

Donations via Give to the Max day totaled $1312.76. 

Thanks to everyone who donated either at the auction or online. 

December 15: Christmas Bird Count & Potluck Soup Supper

You are invited to join us for the 119th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. All levels of experience are welcome. Young birders with good eyes and ears are especially appreciated as an addition to a team of more experienced birders. Come help us count the birds!

Soup Supper: On Saturday 12/15, gather between 4:30 and 5 pm to help set up for a potluck soup supper at the Diamond Lake Lutheran Church, 5760 Portland Ave 55417. Juice and coffee will be available from 5 to 5:30 and the meal begins at 5:30 pm.

Please bring soup, veggies, fruit, bread or dessert. Please contact Robin at 612-723-2632 or if you have soup-supper questions. You are welcome at the supper whether you counted with the Bloomington CBC or not.

Three counts are associated with MRVAC: 

  • Bloomington CBC – Saturday 12/15
    • The Bloomington CBC (Saturday, Dec. 15) is centered on the Black Dog Power Plant on the Minnesota River and includes parts of Bloomington, Burnsville, Richfield, Eagan, Apple Valley, and smaller parts of other cities.
    • Contact: Greg Burnes, 612-205-3071 
  • Excelsior CBC – Saturday 12/15
    • The Excelsior CBC (Saturday, Dec. 15) is centered on the intersection of Hwys 5 and 101 in Eden Prairie and includes parts of Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Excelsior, Chanhassen, Chaska and Shakopee.
      • Contact: Howard Towle at or 612-710-1451 no later than December 8.
    • Alternatively, you can participate in the Excelsior count by helping to cover a portion of Carver Park.
  • Cedar Creek Bog CBC – Sunday 12/16

There are about 80 Christmas Bird Counts being held throughout Minnesota. For more information and to participate in other counts go to:

November 15: Give to the Max Day

‘Tis the season of giving, and as you plan your charitable donations for 2018, please consider donating to MRVAC. We’ve partnered with to help make donations quick and easy:

One of MRVAC’s main objectives is to teach children about the importance of getting outdoors, experiencing nature, and caring for wildlife and the environment. To achieve these goals, we provide birding curriculum materials to schools, provide funding to enable busing to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, and conduct and organize river cleanups in the community. We also provide funding to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center to hire interns.

GiveMN links donors with organizations that are working to make Minnesota a better place. Its online giving website,, enables charitable giving any time and any place, allowing people to donate with ease and enthusiasm. GiveMN brings innovation, energy and fresh ideas to Minnesota generosity.

GiveMN is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and an affiliate of Minnesota Philanthropy Partners. Explore today.

Tim Leahy Passed Away this Spring

MRVAC lost a great friend and mentor for many birders with the recent death of Tim Leahy.

Tim was an accomplished birder who, though he birded throughout the country and world, had a special fondness for the Minnesota River Valley, so close to his home in Bloomington.

Many of you may have met him during field trip outings down at the Old Cedar Bridge or at the Bass Ponds; Tim was an incessant birder and never shy. Anyone who would be around him would be sure to be told what it was that he was seeing out there, and he never hesitated to ask others who seemed to have their scopes or binoculars trained on a particular location what it was that they were seeing. Birding was always a community activity when it came to Tim, and he never considered his latest outing complete unless he could talk to people about what he had seen. 

Tim’s first birding teacher was his mother and since he has passed on his love of birding as well as his passion for making bird lists to many including his grandson, Justin. The birding community will miss him. 

Memorials may be directed to Minnesota Opera, Minnesota Handball Association Juniors Programs, or MRVAC.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Threat

An atrocity coming: Proposed 3-D seismic exploration in our Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 

By Lois Norrgard, National Field Organizer, Alaska Wilderness League

Firth River, Arctic NWR (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The Bureau of Land Management will soon announce a proposed plan for 3-D seismic exploration across the 1.5 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, with a public comment period to follow. 

The initial plan is the polar opposite of what drilling proponents promised when drilling language was passed in the tax bill last year. Instead of a small footprint and a careful process, they want to deploy a small army of industrial vehicles and equipment with a mandate to crisscross every square inch of the Arctic Refuge’s biological heart. This scheme will put denning polar bears at risk and leave lasting scars on the fragile tundra and its vegetation, all of this before a single drill rig has been placed or length of pipeline installed. The tracks left in the ground hold water and affect melting. 

The Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain is the biological heart of America’s most iconic wildlife refuge. Birds from all 50 U.S. states raise their young there, alongside other species including caribou, polar bears and muskoxen. The area is considered sacred by the Gwich’in people, who have relied on the Porcupine Caribou Herd for their food, and their culture, for thousands of years. Despite all the evidence that the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain has incomparable value for its wilderness, wildlife and subsistence resources, the plan fails to reference or say it would conduct any scientific study on the impacts. 

In the plan it calls for two massive teams of 150-160 workers, living in mobile camps that would be moved up to two miles every few days throughout the coastal plain by giant sleds, long-haul fuel tractors, fuelers, loaders and trucks. Working continuously in two 12-hour shifts every day from this December through May, these teams would cross the coastal plain in multiple 90,000-pound trucks that would send vibrations into the ground to map out oil and gas resources. That is 10,000 pounds heavier than the 18-wheeler trucks that traverse America’s highways. 

Seismic exploration does not belong in America’s largest and wildest refuge any more than development belongs in Yellowstone Park or the Grand Canyon. Please stay informed about this issue – and watch for the official public comment period to open. We all need to raise our voices against this atrocious idea! For more information email