MRVAC News

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. 

Volunteer to Lead/Co-lead Bird Walks

By Cheri Fox | June 22, 2018

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 cherifoxj@gmail.com.

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. 

Bluebird Monitors Wanted

By Anne Hanley | May 4, 2018

Wanted: A monitor to check an Eastern Bluebird trail at Southview Golf Course: 239 Mendota Rd E, West St Paul, MN 55118.

Duties include checking a dozen bluebird boxes once/week starting May 1st for a minimum of 12 weeks.

One line abbreviated notes are taken and summarized at the end of the year to report results to BBRP (Bluebird Recovery Program). Training and data will be provided.

Contact Jack Hauser at jgshauser@gmail.com or call 952-831-8132

Wetland Monitoring Opportunity

By Anne Hanley | May 4, 2018

Hennepin County is seeking citizen scientists to gather data about the health of wetlands in their communities. Wetland Health Evaluation Program (WHEP) volunteers will work with other citizen scientists to monitor bugs and plants in wetlands. No experience is required, but an interest in wetlands, bugs and/or plants is encouraged. Hennepin County provides all of the training, equipment, and leadership.

Teams will be formed in the Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Corcoran, Eden Prairie, Maple Grove, Medina, Minneapolis, Minnetonka and Plymouth areas. Everyone is welcome in these cities and neighboring communities to join a team.

Applications will be accepted through June 1. For more information, contact Mary Karius at mary.karius@hennepin.us or 612-596-9129

Red-Headed Woodpecker Recovery

By Matthew Schaut | May 4, 2018

Final Report for MRVAC for 2017 Summer Research Season

By Keith Olstad, Convener, Research Team, RHWO Recovery Project, (612) 940-1534

Last December, our Red-headed Woodpecker (RHWO) Recovery research team submitted a grant application to the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter. Our primary request was for funds to defray expenses for increased volunteer and professional field-work to begin to answer these questions:

  1. What factors govern RHWO nest productivity and survival of juveniles into the next year?
  2. What “internal” factors (e.g., sex, body condition) and/or “external” factors (e.g., food availability, weather, population density) drive RHWO to overwinter at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (CCESR) or migrate?
  3. Where do RHWO go when they migrate? Do they migrate to the same place each year?

We were deeply gratified to receive a $3,000 grant from the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Club in 2017. We express a small part of our gratitude with this report on the application of these funds to critical research done this past summer, and offer to do a program for MRVAC detailing our work to date.

With support from a variety of funding sources (as reported in our initial grant proposal), we were able to hire a post-doctoral research coordinator, Dr. Elena West, to coordinate the work of our field research team. Dr. West worked half-time through the summer, and will continued to work this fall through December to analyze our data and formulate our research field work for 2018. Working with Dr. West at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (CCESR) were two full time seasonal research assistants, Candace Stenzel and Jesse Beck. Resources provided by MRVAC defrayed expenses for field work done at CCESR by this team and by about thirty-six volunteer “citizen scientists”, and helped with laboratory expenses for data analysis.

During the course of the summer, the field research team “processed” sixty-six RHWO at CCESR, fifty adults and sixteen nestlings/fledglings. (“Processed” refers to capturing, banding, taking measurements, drawing blood samples and feather samples for DNA analysis, and possible use of location devices, listed below.) Thirty-nine RHWO were newly banded, and twenty-two nests were monitored. Twenty adults were outfitted with geo-GPS backpacks, of which eight were recovered in late summer and early fall, meaning that CPS and/or geo-locator data were gathered from these birds. Fifteen juveniles were “marked” with radio backpacks, allowing their movement to be tracked. In all, seventy-two birds were captured.

Parallel to the work of the field research technicians, thirty-six citizen science volunteers contributed 1,550 hours to the 2017 summer RHWO research season. They worked on five specific projects:

  1. RHWO nest location;
  2. RHWO parental effort in feeding nestlings;
  3. Food use identification;
  4. Oak tree tagging;
  5. Nest cavity porthole installation.

Data collected to date will be analyzed for preliminary results during late fall and early winter of 2017. Blood samples taken from summer RHWO captures will receive lab analysis over the 2017-18 winter. Spring 2018 recaptures of transmitter birds will allow downloading data regarding winter locations of these RHWOs.

In addition to the research conducted on RHWO, over the summer fifteen guided hikes and programs about this project, led by RHWO Recovery Project volunteers, provided rich educational opportunities to over 200 people at CCESR.

The research team of the RHWO Recovery Project created a partnership with Dr. Henry Streby at the University of Toledo, who is initiating similar research in Ohio and other states. This partnership will make it possible to compare different population’s genetic patterns and adult and juvenile activities on a broader geographic scale for more conclusive research results.

A new round of grant requests will be issued in the coming months to support and expand our exciting research.

And thank you once again for your most generous contribution to the recovery of this splendid bird.