MRVAC-funded pollinator gardens underway

By Lee Ann Landstrom, Board Member

Rain and pollinator gardens in three Bloomington schools are in place this summer, thanks to contributors to the Minnesota Valley Audubon Chapter’s grants program.

Normandale Hills Elementary School

MRVAC – with Nine Mile Creek Watershed District’s help and expertise -- co-sponsored a rain and pollinator garden at Normandale Hills Elementary School. The project’s goals were to reduce mowed turf areas on school grounds; increase pollinator and bird habitat; create a teaching garden for students to learn about phenology, plants, pollinators, birds and other natural processes; and contribute a community site to help neighbors learning about conservation.  It was planted May 21.

They transformed a grassy low spot into a beautiful raingarden with all plants pollinator favorites attractive to different bird species.  More than 100 parents and student volunteers prepared the shallow basin by removing sod and adding compost, mulch and a fence.  Fifth graders then helped plant more than 400 native flowers and shrubs. As a bonus, students made stepping stones in art class to create a path through the garden. Teachers plan to use the project as part of their lessons, giving students a real-world application for their studies.

The project wasn’t without challenges.  Sod mitigation was tough when covering it with tarps didn’t work, so they rented a sod cutter to remove some of it.  Another challenge was the fire drill in the middle of teaching nearly 70 students how to plant a root-bound plant plug.  Some of the plants did not get correctly planted as a result and will have to be replaced next year.

The fifth graders now have a better understanding of watersheds, raingardens and their function and native plants.   They deemed flower-planting fun, and there’s a system set up to water them over the summer.  The watershed district will install an interpretive sign – citing MRVAC as a donor – in the garden to teach passersby about its purpose.  It will continue to work with the school to replace plants as needed and create lesson plans that include the raingarden.

Jefferson High School

I assisted in planting the large pollinator “Unity” garden at Bloomington’s Jefferson High School June 4. This is a project of the Earth Corps club at the school. Earlier, volunteers cut and turned over the sod to kill the grass. The Tree Guys and Joel Sniegowski donated mulch and delivered it to be spread on the overturned sod. So the site was ready for 541 neonicotinoid-free native plants, planted by volunteer students, National Honor Society students, Jefferson teachers, Rotarians, Isaac Walton League members, Oak Grove Church parishioners and school neighbors.  Teachers and neighbors created a plan to water the site twice daily to combat the long, hot, dry spell.

Funding came from: MRVAC ($1,500), Lower MN Watershed District, Bloomington Rotary, Will Steger’s Climate Generation, World Citizen Scholarship and several individuals. The club is working with teachers in different areas, including science, art, English and special education. Several student clubs will do follow-up maintenance. Here is a link for a winter presentation about the project:

Photos by Lee Ann Landstrom and Nine Mile Creek Watershed District


Link to: May MRVAC Program Recording -- Vultures, the vet's drugs and the environment

Vultures are essential for ecosystem health because of their role in removing animal carcasses from the environment.  But many threats are propelling the global vulture population decline.  Are veterinary drugs one of the culprits?

In the late 1990’s their populations declined dramatically (99%) in the Indian Subcontinent due to intoxication with diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) used in cattle. Diclofenac was banned in many of the Asian countries involved, but it is now approved for veterinary use in large animals in the European Union. Considering that the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) has over 95% of Europe’s vulture population, what is the risk of diclofenac (and other veterinary drugs) to vultures in the Iberian Peninsula?

Irene Bueno Padilla of the University of Minnesota answered the question, "Are Vultures in the Iberian Peninsula at Risk to Veterinary Pharmaceuticals?”

Here is the program recording link: Passcode: QX$Ej2W%

Also, a head's up:  Join us for MRVAC's second field trip of the year: Miesville Ravine on Sunday, June 6th at 7:30 a.m. It's free and open to all.  See the events section.

givemn logo

Spring Bird-a-thon: It's happening now!

By Bob Williams

MRVAC Board Member and Bird-a-thon Coordinator

This year we are introducing a new format for our spring fundraiser, formally known as the Bird-a-thon. GiveMN has initiated a spring fundraising event called SpringForwardMN so we are asking you to consider donating during that event. It runs from May1 to May 11. GiveMN has two features that help with our fundraising effort. First, you can donate using a credit card. Second, they offer bonuses at random that may help boost our fundraising drive. All you have to do is log on to the GiveMN website and look for the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter.  If you prefer, you can always donate by sending a check to MRVAC, PO Box 20400, Bloomington, MN 55420. Our goal is to raise $1,000 during this drive. Those who donate at least $50 will receive a link to Birdflight and Music Patterns, a beautiful video put together by the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra.  The money we raise will help us to continue actively supporting area organizations whose projects are in line with our mission statement.  Please consider making a donation and enjoy spring migration safely.  You can find the GiveMN link here:  http://Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter | GiveMN


If you like the Sax-Zim bog, you've gotta see this!

In a beautiful new short film, Tomas Koeck takes you on a tour of what makes the boreal forest -- and our own Sax-Zim bog -- so special.

The National Audubon Society and the folks who work to protect the bog have joined to help produce Sentinels of the Boreal, a 10-minute documentary that points out how important boreal forests are in our bird conservation work.  You'll recognize many of the characters -- avian and human.

The boreal forest is the world's largest piece of forested wilderness in the world, stretching from Maine to Alaska in the Americas and being a prominent biome in Europe and Asia. This forest is home to many different species of wildlife, including moose, warblers and even wolves. Yet few of these species can capture the mystic as one of the most elusive animals in the Americas, the great gray owl. Join Koeck as he takes you on a tour of what makes the boreal forest so special and why one should fight for the survival of this massive forest! Parts of this film were captured right here in Minnesota at Sax-Zim Bog!

Here's the link:

Link to: April MRVAC Program -- Waterbird Use of the North Ottawa Impoundment

Here's the link to the April MRVAC program, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Christine Herwig talk about  waterbird use at the North Ottawa Impoundment.  Christine is assistant regional manager for ecological and water resources in Minnesota’s northwest region.  Located in Grant County, this impoundment was created to reduce flooding along the Red River but has a secondary benefit of providing habitat to birds. Christine will talk about the monitoring efforts and some of the rare and unusual species that have been observed.

Here's the link:

GoToMeeting Transcripts


LeeAnn Landstrom - Northern Cardinal

2020 Christmas Bird Count Results

By Rick Magee

It was as a December day, Saturday the 19th. Overcast, cold, but not as cold as other years being between 25 and 30 degrees above zero with no precipitation and little wind. Snow cover was thin, bare in some places, as much as two inches elsewhere. Ponds were frozen, lakes and streams still had areas of open water. It was a good day to go birding. Except that it was 2020 and there was a world-wide pandemic. Participation was limited to people who had been part of previous Bloomington Counts. No carpooling was permitted, nor was gathering for breakfast before going out or for the traditional soup supper and compilation at the end of the day. Nevertheless, it was a successful count for the 62 people who were able to take part.

Each year, the Saturday before Christmas, the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter sponsors the Bloomington Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Our count is a circle with a 15 mile diameter centered on the National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center located near the MSP airport and the Mall of America. It is a suburban area with major rivers, many lakes, forested parks, open areas, and a variety of other habitats.

The 2020 CBC was not remarkable for the number of species seen, but it was a good year. Sixty species were identified. This year was a record for the number of trumpeter swans spotted at 463. Other species of interest were Red Shouldered Hawk, Snowy Owl (at MSP), Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-throated Sparrow (5), Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, and Brown-headed Cowbird. Red Crossbills have been in the area this winter and two were found during the count, visitors from the north that are unusual for our CBC. Also of particular interest for our circle was the report of a Broad-winged Hawk late for its flight south to warmer weather. Another report was of 80 eagles in three convocations in Burnsville. One aerie was near the Burnsville dump and the other two were along the Minnesota River. With a spotting scope, about 40 were congregating at the active dumping zone of the landfill.

There were eagles perched alone and flyovers throughout the circle. More than 12,200 individual birds of all species were tallied that day. There were some misses of species we often get other years. They included American Kestrel, Sharp-shinned Hawk, bluebirds, Mourning Doves, and Common Redpoll. They represent our challenge for next year. The 2021 Bloomington CBC will be Saturday, Dec. 18. Have your optics ready!

Editor’s note: You can find the complete 2021 CBC results for this and all Minnesota counts at The report indicates that we had 62 birders in 32 groups that walked 86 miles and drove nearly 600. (No ski miles reported.)

LINK TO: March 25 meeting: Rob Schultz on Wolves & Cheetahs

Rob Shultz, executive director of Audubon Minnesota, will talk about his research on cheetahs in Namibia at the March 25 MRVAC meeting. The presentation will focus on the approach to predator conservation in Africa and how this research has altered his perspective on conservation issues in Minnesota.

Schultz should know: He also has served as executive direction of the International Wolf Center in Ely. Audubon Minnesota was established in 1979 and throughout its history Audubon’s committed members have contributed to the rich conservation legacy in Minnesota. The organization and its supporters have worked to create bird-friendly communities, protect water for birds and people, and create a healthy climate.

The link to  the recording of Rob's talk is here

Owls of the Eastern Ice Program: Follow-up and Link Instructions

Dr. Jonathan Slaght, the  Minnesota author who recently published the Times Nature Book of the Year, Owls of the Eastern Ice, followed up on the tales of his adventure with this photo of him standing in typhoon damage to owl habitat.  In the February MRVAC program, Slaght took us on his adventure – part of his Ph.D. dissertation fieldwork – into the Siberian winter to find, study, and hopefully save the world’s largest and most elusive owl.  Typhoon Lionrock, mentioned at the end of his owl book, devastated large swaths of fish owl habitat in 2016.  Fish owls must have large trees with cavities for nesting.  In 2018, Slaght went with Rada Surmach to try to find the nest tree of the pair that lives in that area.  The old nest tree had been knocked down and eventually they did find the owls' new nest tree.   Surmach's photo show some of the devastation that spread over the whole river valley home to the nesting pair.  Because of media ownership issues, we're not able to post a link to the recording on  However, if you're interested in seeing the recording, send a message with a request for the link to Steve Weston,


February Program Link: Owls of the Eastern Ice with Dr. Jonathan Slaght

Join MRVAC members and guests Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m. CST to hear Dr. Jonathan Slaght (rhymes with “cat”), the  Minnesota author who recently published the Times Nature Book of the Year, Owls of the Eastern Ice.  Dr. Slaght will take us on his adventure – part of his Ph.D. dissertation fieldwork – into the Siberian winter to find, study, and hopefully save the world’s largest and most elusive owl.

The book is rich in details about the dense forests of the Russian Far east – Amur tigers, frozen rivers, radioactive hot springs – and the Blakiston’s Fish Owl, a subgroup of eagle owls that specialize in hunting in riparian areas, including grabbing fish from holes in the river ice.  Dr. Slaght is a talented writer who profiles the colorful characters – hermits and fellow fieldworkers alike.  He provides details birders find fascinating, including how to trap a 10-pound nocturnal raptor for study.  He is a wildlife biologist and author working for the Wildlife Conservation Society as its Russia & Northeast Asia Coordinator.

Want a teaser?  Check this out: How Big is a Fish Owl? ("Owls of the Eastern Ice" book teaser) - YouTube

To Join virtual meeting click on this link:
Our Meetings are free and open to all.  We use GoToMeeting, which will require a quick but easy download for first time users to join the meeting.  Instructions:
1) When you first login in you may be asked to enter the ID number (960709157)
2) You will be prompted to choose your audio method and camera by clicking on the settings icon on the top right corner. After that you should be able to hear and see everything or if you choose to call in, dial in to join.
3) We will mute everyone as we get started. You can ask questions by opening the chat window, which we will monitor. Questions will probably be held until the Q&A period after the meeting.

Kaufman January MRVAC program recording now available

Kenn Kaufman's Jan. 28 program on the "Secret Superheroes of Birding" was recorded and is now available.  Click on the link below.

GoToMeeting Transcripts