MRVAC News

Golden Eagle Survey Jan 19, 2019

By MRVAC | February 28, 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

By MRVAC | February 28, 2019

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

By MRVAC | February 28, 2019

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

By MRVAC | February 28, 2019

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 MRVAC | February 28, 2019

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 www.cedarcreek.umn.edu 

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 www.rhworesearch.org. 

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. 

2019 Bird-a-Thon Challenge: May 1-15

By Walt Stull | February 28, 2019

2019 marks the 52st Anniversary of the incorporation of our chapter. Last year we raised over $2,000 – it would be great to top that. 

Those of you who plan to go birding to raise money should choose a day between May 1st and May 15th. You can go birding anywhere in the world on that day. Sponsors usually make their pledges as a flat amount or on a per bird basis, so the more species you identify, the more money you can raise. 

Download your 2019 Bird-a-Thon sponsorship form here!

You don’t have to go birding alone. The more eyes and ears you have the better. You can start at 12:01am and bird until 11:59pm if you have the stamina. The funds that we raise with our Birdathon will be used to fund grant requests that are submitted to us. In the past these have included grants to local nature centers and schools, to the MN Arboretum, the Audubon Center of the North Woods and the MN Valley NWR. Most of our grants support educational efforts directed at children. 

Here are a few simple tips: 

  • Don’t be afraid to ask! Most people are reluctant to ask for donations, but I am always surprised at how many people are willing to help, especially when they understand what the money will be used for. Be sure to tell them that it is our 51th anniversary.
  • Plan out your route! Pay attention to the weather and the latest reports on MOU, e-bird and Facebook. The best results are achieved if you can visit a variety of habitats on a nice day.
  • Tell your sponsors what you did! Most sponsors have some interest in what you are doing and will want to know what the highlights of your day were. This will help you in upcoming years to ask for repeat sponsorship.
  • Use a sponsorship form! Forms can be downloaded here or you can get one from Walt Stull (see below for his contact info). This helps you keep track of who your donors are and how much they have pledged.

All donations that you collect should be submitted to Walt Stull by June 1, 2019. You can contact him at 612-889-3550 or at mathemagicland@Q.com. It is best to give the donations directly to Walt at the general meeting, (4th Thursday – May 23) 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! 

2018 Holiday Auction Raises Money for Educational Projects

By MRVAC | December 20, 2018

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. 

February 28: Roads to Conservation with MNDOT

By Steve Weston | December 19, 2018

with Beth Brown & Christopher Smith – Minnesota Department of Transportation 

Chris and Beth from the Office of Environmental Stewardship of the Minnesota Department of Transportation have the responsibility of conserving and protecting the natural resources along our state’s highways. They will provide an overview of the MN DOT stewardship program and highlight some of the staff’s efforts to protect and nurture plants, fish, birds and other fauna in and around roadside habitat. 

Thursday, February 28

  • 7:00 pm: Socialize with coffee and cookies
  • 7:30 pm: A brief MRVAC business meeting followed by the featured speaker.

Where: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, 3815 American Blvd E, Bloomington. Take Hwy 494 to 34th Ave. Go south to American Blvd; turn left and go 2 blocks. Center will be on your right. Enter through the door at the middle of the building.

Public Transit: Accessible by METRO Blue line (Hiawatha light rail). The Visitor Center is a couple of blocks east of the American Boulevard stop.

2019 Trumpeter Award Nominations

By Anne Hanley | December 18, 2018

Each spring for 15 of the past 17 years, MRVAC has presented the Trumpeter Award to one of its members for outstanding long-term contributions to MRVAC. We are soliciting nominations from you; tell us who you think should be our next recipient. Please send in a nomination by Jan. 31. The selection committee, which is composed of the previous years’ recipients, will review the nominations and forward their choice to the Board. The award will be presented at a subsequent meeting. 

There are two ways to get a nomination form: 

Completed applications can be sent to Becky at markbeckylystig@comcast.net or mailed to Becky Lystig, 1741 Sartell Ave, Eagan, MN 55122. 

Previous Trumpeter Award recipients: 

  • 2001 Karol Gresser
  • 2002 Joe White
  • 2003 Pat & Jack Telfer
  • 2004 Edith Grace Quam
  • 2005 Craig Mandel
  • 2006 John Rehbein
  • 2007 Lois Norrgard
  • 2008 Jack Mauritz 
  • 2009 George Tkach 
  • 2010 Bob Leis 
  • 2011 Anne Hanley & George Skinner 
  • 2012 Steve Weston 
  • 2013 Bob Williams 
  • 2016 Mark & Becky Lystig 
  • 2018 Dave & Rita Baden

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!