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. 

Chip Notes – November-December, 2018

Great Horned OwlThe Fall season of MRVAC-sponsored presentations at the Minnesota River Valley National Wildlife Refuge began with an ample and appreciative audience benefiting from Ben Douglas’ experience in finding rare birds by his own efforts.

Ben’s talk was very well organized and his strategies can be used by any motivated birder. One of the things I most appreciate from his talk was his adaptability. Take birding style. Ben likes to put in some miles when he birds, yet he admits that his good friend Mike Nichol’s style of remaining in one place and seeing what passes by might often be the better strategy. Study migration trends, weather patterns, landscapes, “find your own hawk ridge” and watch what flies by. Observe a single snag. Get to know a specific area very well, in different seasons, at different times of day, in different weather.

The second thing I most appreciate from his talk is his advice to take any observations, any new behavior seen, any new sound heard, as an opportunity to solve a mystery. By remaining actively curious, but even more, by making active efforts to solve the mystery, we become better, more knowledgeable co-inhabitants of the natural world.

I used this attitude on my next walk from my house to the YWCA. This time I didn’t just wonder what that leaf was, I looked it up on my IPhone. Pin oak! Finally, I know what a pin oak leaf looks like! Isn’t it a bit pitiful that it’s taken me this long? Ben advocates that we use the technology at our disposal in the here and now to solve mysteries. I am so used to doing most of my birding in places where there never was and still isn’t an internet connection (typically, the western UP of Michigan), that I don’t automatically avail myself of the internet tools available to increase my knowing of the world. Wired or not wired, I could always be better at jotting down my questions and observations, and taking active steps to solve them as soon as I am able. I tell the persons I serve in my work all the time that treating ourselves with an attitude of curiosity and our problems as puzzles to be solved is a great antidepressant. And it is! It bypasses the worried-ruminating parts of our brain.

The third thing I want to note is that when one uses all of Ben’s strategies, rare birds remain rare birds. Take owls. He shared his tips for finding owls – check evergreen, especially cedar, groves, especially groves along edges of field and prairies. Check EVERY tree. Stare at the tree. Walk slowly. Check again. Put time in over hours, days, months, years… Ben shared that he has indeed found rare owls. Then he showed his chart. If I remember correctly, seven rare owls between 2013 and 2018! Rare owls remain rare owls! Finding them is a hoot, but the real joy is the opportunity of (in Ben’s case) daily immersion in the natural world.

The last thing I want to say is that coming to MRVAC Refuge presentations can have consequences! Ben shared stories of the Minnesota State Parks Big Year he did this year. The seeds of this effort were planted when he listened to Bob Janssen’s talk on the birds of Minnesota’s State Parks a couple of years ago. So be careful if you plan to come to our next talk – you might find yourself making plans to see every kiwi in New Zealand, or something absurd like that…

Finally, a congratulations to the Ney Nature Center. Their grant proposal for binoculars and a spotting scope to allow the youth they serve to be able to view in fine detail the birds they see on birding walks was approved by the MRVAC Board at our September meeting. Have a worthy grant idea!

Know someone who serves our target population (youth, particularly underserved youth) in and around the Minnesota River watershed)? If so, do submit your proposals.

Enjoy a splendid Fall!

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:

August 18: Henderson Hummingbird Hurrah

Birds, Butterflies & Blooms

Produced by Henderson Feathers

9 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Rain or Shine!

  • Bender Park: 200 N. Third Street
  • Minnesota New Country School (MNCS): 210 Main Street
  • Garden: Corner of 4th Street & Oak Street

9:00 am – noon: Hummingbird Banding in the garden

9:30 am – 10:30 am: Garden Tour – Master gardener Sarah Malchow

9:30 am: Painting with Lana Beck…$15 fee (2 hour Session)
(Limited Class Size of 12, please pre-register at 507-665-6570 to save a spot!)

10:45 am – 11:30 am: David Rice, Gardener/Instructor (MNCS Speaker)

12:30 pm: Painting with Lana Beck…$15 fee (2 hour Session)
(Limited Class Size of 12, please pre-register at 507-665-6570 to save a spot!)

1:00 pm – 1:45 pm: Donald Mitchell, Master Gardener (MNCS Speaker)

1:45 pm – 2:30 pm: Garden Tour – Master gardener Jackie Smith

2:45 pm – 3:45 pm: Al Batt, Author & Humorist (MNCS Speaker)
Educational Displays: MN River Valley Audubon Chapter
Monarchs – MN Ext. Blue Earth County, Cody Sievert – Bees & More!

4:00 pm: Drawing for Raffle Prizes! Need not be present to win!

9:00 am – 4:00 pm: Children’s Activities – MNCS Library
Includes Coloring Contest / Cash Prizes!!!
Lillipop Clown, Face Painting & More!
Hummingbird Mall Vendors… Food… Raffle Prizes!!!

FREE Fun for the Whole Family!

Volunteer to Lead/Co-lead Bird Walks

Would you be willing to share a favorite birding spot with other MRVAC members? Birding by bike or canoe might be fun! Pick your favorite park or trail, somewhere close by or further afield, and then contact me, Cheri Fox, about adding an outing to next year’s field trip schedule. We’d love to have a few more field trip leaders. I can be reached by phone at 612-590-1261 or

If you have been thinking about leading a walk but are a little unsure about it, you may set up a field trip with a co-leader. You need not be an expert, you just need to be welcoming to your participants and have some experience with the trip location. For example, it’s very helpful if you have birded there before, know the park features (restrooms, optional trails back to the parking lot) – and where at least a few birds are likely to be found. 

2018 Birdathon: May 1-15

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 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!