MRVAC News

Chip Notes – November-December, 2018

By Matthew Schaut | November 6, 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!

November 15: Holiday Auction

By Anne Hanley | November 6, 2018
Robin Kutz wheels in the food.

Get some of your holiday shopping done, have fun and raise money to support a variety of environmental education projects. Come and bid often, bid high and have fun doing it for our environmental education program!

  • 5:30 pm Drop off auction donations, check out the items on offer and enjoy refreshments. . 
  • 6:45 – 8:15 pm Live auction – Scott Clark & Monica Rauchwarter team up. This is a pairing not to be missed! 
  • 8:15 – 8:55 pm check out and clean up 
  • Why: Raise money for Refuge needs and other environmental education projects 

If you can donate auction items or provide refreshments, thank you!! 

  1. Make plans to drop off your contribution ahead of time. Coordinate with Anne: 952-936-0811(h), anne_hanley90@hotmail.com.
  2. Please let Robin Kutz know if you can bring some snacks. Call her at 612-723-2632 or email robinkutz13@gmail.com.
  3. If you need to bring your items on Thursday evening, please make every effort to deliver them between 5:30 and 6:15 pm so people can preview your items before the bidding starts.

To tempt you to attend, here are some Auction items we know about so far: 

Birding

  • All Seasons Wild Bird Store gift card 
  • Large bag of sunflower seeds

Books, original art and prints 

Food/treats 

  • Nothing Bundt Cakes 
  • Great Harvest
  • Lunds/Byerly’s gift certificate
  • Valley Natural Foods gift card
  • David Fong’s gift card
  • Wine
  • Cookies
  • Home-cooked dinner
  • Bavarian Mints (Rita Baden)
  • Krumkake ($10 per dozen) (Cheri Fox)
  • Homemade Bread

Events and Services

  • Party assistant for graduation event or other festivity of your choice (up to 4 hours)
  • 4 Tickets to Egypt’s Sunken Cities exhibit at Minneapolis Institute of Arts ($80 value)
  • Tickets to live performances
  • National Eagle Center package: admission for 2, NEC mug & small stuffed eagle
  • Personalized coaching: learn how to shop in the bulk aisle at a nearby co-op

December 15: Christmas Bird Count & Potluck Soup Supper

By MRVAC | November 6, 2018

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 robinkutz13@gmail.com 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 gburnes@comcast.net 
  • 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 towle001@umn.edu 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: http://moumn.org/CBC/locations_map.php.

November 15: Give to the Max Day

By MRVAC | November 6, 2018

‘Tis the season of giving, and as you plan your charitable donations for 2018, please consider donating to MRVAC. We’ve partnered with GiveMN.org to help make donations quick and easy: https://givemn.org/organization/Minnesota-River-Valley-Audubon-Chapter.

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, GiveMN.org, 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 GiveMN.org today.

Tim Leahy Passed Away this Spring

By MRVAC | August 30, 2018

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

By MRVAC | August 30, 2018

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 lois@alaskawild.org 

Treasurer’s Report: September, 2018

By Walt Stull | August 24, 2018

Here are the 2017-2018 fiscal year donations from MRVAC to organizations that support our goals of fostering a love of nature in children, improving bird habitat or supporting bird science. 

Audubon Center of the North Woods: $3000 for scholarships for residential K-12 school visits and summer camp 

Five Hawks Elementary School: $225 to establish a Chickadee Landing at the elementary school 

Refuge Friends Inc, the official citizen support group of Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (MVNWR):

  • $1500 for Blue Goose busing or support of activities coordinator to work with schools in getting them to the refuge for educational programming, wherever the need is greater. 
  • $775 for a sign at Old Cedar Avenue Bridge showing some of the birds that can be found there. 

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project: $3,000 for continued research on Red Headed Woodpeckers 

Matthew’s Musings – September-October

By Matthew Schaut | August 24, 2018

One of the pleasures of serving on the MRVAC Board is encountering interesting, kind people. A very recent encounter included meeting with a recently bereaved woman and her son to receive a generous donation in the memory of her husband Tim Leahy who had long valued MRVAC. To everyone’s surprise, it turned out that our past Treasurer, Bob Williams, was related to them! 

Those married to dedicated birders might be familiar with the kind of behavior Jared Diamond relates about himself in The World Until Yesterday while he is floating in the sea off the Indonesian coast with several other unfortunates many miles from shore holding onto the wreckage of a capsized canoe. While aware that he has only an hour or two to be found prior to the abrupt tropical sunset and ensuing darkness ending any probability of surviving, he still finds himself noticing the beauty of the natural scene around him and paying attention to and striving to identify the birds flying around him. Even in dire situations we can still find some joy. 

In my last musing, I admitted my despair. Kind people have responded with encouragement to keep fighting and not succumb to despair. That is not a danger for me. I firmly believe it is healthy to be honest about the existential realities of living – we are creatures bounded by time, certain to die, weaving the threads of time and space that constitute being within a process we call evolution which takes no prisoners. At some level, we all know this. The current dire environmental situation brings it to the fore of consciousness where it becomes hard to ignore, and where the appropriate evaluation of our odds does merit despair. Yet we are all still attuned to natural beauty, enjoy our families and have good days. 

I went to Isle Royale National Park in June with my son, our first trip to the archipelago. In the trip report I’ve written for the Geological Society of Minnesota, I write that I have never taken more congruent breaths in my life! John Keats might indicate why: 

Song 

I had a dove and the sweet dove died;

And I have thought it died of grieving.

O, what could it grieve for? It’s feet were tied,

With a silken thread of my own hand’s weaving.

Sweet little red feet! Why would you die –

Why should you leave me, sweet bird! Why?

You lived alone on the forest-tree,

Why, pretty thing, could you not live with me?

I kissed you oft and gave you white peas;

Why not live sweetly, as in the green trees?

On Isle Royale the habitat was congruent with what our ancestors experienced during the long duration of hominid evolution. Only in modern times have our feet been tied by a silken thread; civilization’s delicacies have entailed the loss of the forest green. It matters. To the dove inside each one of us, and to the birds and other creatures still trying to survive in a denuded and rapidly altered world.

I will keep up the fight, even with incongruent breath. My current priorities are preserving the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act. Please join me! 

Book Review

By Anne Hanley | June 22, 2018

Butterfly Gardening: North American Butterfly Association Guide, by Jane Hurwitz 

Published by Princeton University Press 

This very attractive book is a good introduction to gardening for butterflies. Interspersed with lots of great photos you will find an overview of the main butterfly families and some guidance on identification. If you have enjoyed some butterflies in your yard and are thinking about making it more attractive to a wider variety of butterflies, this book is a good place to start. 

Some butterfly books and articles focus only on nectar plants for your garden, but this book spends equal time on the plants that support the caterpillars. You will see that various species feed on grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees. 

I also learned that not all butterflies consume flower nectar; some eat tree sap, rotting fruit and animal dung. This isn’t going to help you select plants for your front yard, but you might consider setting up a hanging shelf for watermelon rinds or other fruit. 

Nearly half the book describes gardens and gardening tips for different parts of the country. The two chapters most relevant for our area are “Butterfly Gardening with Trees: Eastern Deciduous Forest” and “Prairie-Plant Inspired Butterfly Gardens: the Grasslands”. 

In the Resources – Plant and Garden Design section of Butterfly Gardening, I was pleased to see Heather Holm’s book Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants. 

You will also want to look for local plant information – e.g. the plant list at http://nababutterfly.com/regional-butterfly-garden-guides/ and click on the Minneapolis one, written by Kathy Heidel. Some of you will remember Kathy Heidel from her years as a naturalist with Three Rivers Park District and the MRVAC bird ID classes she co-taught with Karol Gressor. 

Or try the plant list from the Xerces Society: https://xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/plant-lists/ 

If you want detailed information on Minnesota native plants including photos of the plant in all stages of development with details on growth habit, bloom time, color and where it is found in the state, visit https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/ 

Matthew’s Musings: July/August

By Matthew Schaut | June 22, 2018

It’s hard to know, but the world may have ended the day the uber-handsome Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, bought the moribund Kinder-Morgan pipeline for 4.5 billion dollars. Part of me hopes he did it in order to shut it down. The rest of me suspects he has revealed that Canada is a petro state. That Canada is not any different from Russia or Saudi Arabia (or what used to be called the United States). That the Earth as we know it has ended. As Bill McKibben says – “game over.” 

How is it we continue to live in a post-apocalyptic world? It’s not something I can wrap my mind around. 

Trudeau’s incredible betrayal is matched by the infamy of my local politicians at the local level. Here in pseudo-liberal Minneapolis I am told that it is too expensive to build carbon neutral housing. (It’s not too expensive, really, it’s just that the return on investment might take a little longer – or have to take account of environmental costs…) If Minneapolis can’t/won’t do it, I guess nobody will. The situation is disgusting, and these people disgust me. Individual bad choices or unwillingness to make the tough, right choice is going to continue to get us in trouble. But this is nothing compared to dooming Gaia itself – this good Earth and all its creatures – to ecocide. 

Yet we go on. I go to work. I read. I play the piano. I maintain my MRVAC affiliations. I bird. I enjoy my children and my grandchild. Nothing I do anymore, however, is taken for granted. The birds I see today I know I may not see tomorrow. My grandchild I know may die of asphyxiation if the ocean’s bluegreen bacteria stop producing oxygen in sufficient quantities. Or he may die due to a run-away greenhouse gas reaction, leaving the Earth in the Venusian condition. What a tragic waste of a beautiful thing, a water-blessed, blue planet, maybe the only one in the cosmos. 

Tell me what to do with this.