Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
I took a trip in July to spend a day with members of Minnesota’s Quail Forever organization. QF is a conservation-based group devoted to perpetuation of its favorite bird, the Bobwhite quail.
QF guys firmly believe they are working in the interests of a wild bird.
Bob Janssen, a Chanhassen resident who is godfather of Minnesota birding records and author of a book on the same, disagrees. He told me a day before my trip to Houston County that there hasn’t been a wild Bobwhite in the state for decades.
This is what wild means to the American Birding Association:
1) A population large enough to survive a routine amount of mortality or nesting failure. 2) Sufficient offspring produced to maintain or increase the population. 3) A population meeting those conditions for at least 15 years.
Members of Quail Forever in Houston County insist quail there have always been wild. For Janssen and others, the issue is quail raised and released.
Quail devotee Paul Schutte, who is crafting quail paradise on 190 acres of farmland there, said he knows of no one in that corner of the state who raises and releases quail.
We met on Schutte’s land. Since 1999 he has tuned it to the needs of quail. He has mowed and cut. He has planted trees and wildflowers. He has planted what most of us would consider weeds, including ragweed, a quail favorite. How can you doubt a guy who plants ragweed?
Modern agricultural practices — pesticides and herbicides and crops replacing cattle — have reworked quail-friendly landscape. The needs of the birds barely match reality.
Quail populations here once were undisputed, dropping into suspicion in the 1980s. This was about the time neonicotinoid chemicals began to be agriculture staples. Neonicotinoids are one of the suspects in loss of honeybees.
That makes the conservation efforts of groups like Quail Forever and cousin Pheasants Forever important. They raise money and provide hands-on labor that offer habitat and hope.
Belief has put quail on the landscape, their whistled calls bouncing over the green hills of Houston County in the early morning. Wild or not, the pleasure of the song is the same.
If you get to Duluth yet this summer, the Great Lakes Aquarium on the south side of the harbor complex is well worth a visit — for an exhibit of paintings and photographs of birds.
Duluth resident Karl Bardon’s multiple talents are on display in a selection of stunning photos and beautiful paintings. The photos are relatively recent work, and include the best single photograph of an owl I’ve ever seen. The paintings reflect a near life-long interest in art.
Karl has worked at Duluth’s Hawk Ridge as a raptor counter during the annual fall raptor census since 2007. In summer he works for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on the state biological survey program. He began and continues a non-official count of non-raptor bird species in the fall as well. He has worked in the Arctic radio tracking eider, in the Gulf of Mexico studying trans-Gulf migration from the platform of an oil-drilling rig, and searching for Tapaculos (bird species) in Chile. He also has spent many seasons as the waterbird counter at both Whitefish Point in Michigan and Cape May, New Jersey. His bird-related field work is extensive.
His paintings ( art degree came from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis) reflect his broad interest in birds. The photos are chosen mostly from a set he did one foggy spring day on Park Point when grounded warblers let him get within touching distance for detailed portraits. The owl photo that hangs outside the exhibit gallery, shows a Great Gray flying with a vole in its mouth. This is a large image, detailed, the colors of the bird and its northern-Minnesota setting looking like the work of an artist carefully choosing his colors. It’s an extraordinary photo. Other owl photos from northern Minnesota accompany it. All are for sale.
Karl told me that his specialty has been waterbirds, having spent many seasons at Whitefish Point and Cape May. “But after witnessing the awesome migration through Veracruz, Mexico as an official hawk counter in 2006,” he said, “I decided raptors are pretty cool, too.” This fall will be Karl’s fourth season at Hawk Ridge.
He grew up in North Oaks in the Twin Cities where his father got him into bird-watching at an early age, A quick synopsis of his birding work can be found at the Hawk Ridge website (http://www.hawkridge.org/about/staff.html#Karl).
Karl is as active in Minnesota birding as his time allows, certainly one of the state’s best birders, one of its most productive. This exhibit gives him a well-earned spotlight. See it if you get to Duluth. It closes Sept. 8.
The aquarium is worth a visit at any time. Exhibits cover Minnesota waters, Lake Superior at the fore, of course, plus some salt-water displays. There are a few birds on display, lots of fish in aquariums that stand tall, floor to floor, and wonderful exhibit of otters, with chances for you to watch those animals being fed.
Below, Karl’s photo of a Blackburnian Warbler.
Many years ago, when we were living west of Excelsior and my interest in birding was turning seriously serious, I spent much of my birding time at Carver Park Reserve. Many of the bird questions I had — and they were numerous — were answered by Kathy Heidel. She was a naturalist on staff there from 1968 through 2003. Kathy died May 17.
There must be thousands of people like me who had their questions answered by Kathy. She took your interest in all things wild and natural and sharpened it, in my case to a continuing passion for birds. One day in early spring I hurried to the nature center from a park lake to tell Kathy about the unusual loon I had just seen, a new bird for me. I described it, and she said, gently, with a smile, yes, the Common Merganser.
Memorial donations are welcomed by Kathy’s family and Three Rivers Parks. They can be sent to: Kathy Heidel Memorial Fund-LNC, Three Rivers Park District, 3000 Xenium Lane N., Plymouth MN 55441. They will be used to continue support of Kathy’s efforts to educate people about the wonders and preservation of our natural resources.
Laura Erickson, Duluth resident, birder, author, radio personality, and blogger, has been given the Roger Tory Peterson Award by the American Birding Association. She is honored for a lifetime of work on behalf of birding. Laura has been particularly focused on birding for youngsters.
She is author of six books about birds: "101 Ways to Help Birds;" "Sharing the Wonder of Birds with Kids," which won the 1997 National Outdoor Book Award; "The Bird Watching Answer Book;" For the Birds: An Unusual Guide;" and"Twelve Owls" and "Minnesota Birds of Prey," both illustrated by Betsy Bowen, artist from Grand Marais.
Laura has been producer of her own radio show about birds since 1986. This brief and entertaining bit about birds can be heard on public radio stations in Duluth, Grand Rapids, St. Cloud, and Thief River Falls. She also is a busy public speaker. Laura's web address is www.lauraerickson.com
Congratulations to an outstanding educator and ambassador for birding.
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