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!

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