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.
A film about the rapid melting of ice on Greenland, entitled “Chasing Ice,” opens at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis Dec. 7 for a one-week run. You can see a preview at www.chasingice.com/see-the-film/trailer/
Two of the Minnesota pelicans radio tagged this fall so their movements can be tracked have arrived at their wintering territories on the Gulf of Mexico.
Four American White Pelicans are sending signals to a research team. The study is intended to provide information on where on the Gulf the birds spend the winter, their migration paths, and their movements in Minnesota when they return in the spring.
Impetus for the study was evidence of oil and oil dispersant chemical found last summer in eggs and bodies of pelicans nesting here. About one-third of the world population of this bird nests in Minnesota.
One of the tagged pelicans arrived east of the mouth of the Mississippi River in mid-October. Its radio signal is spasmodic, but one reading did arrived on Nov. 21.
A second bird arrived on the Gulf Nov. 14. It is located south of Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Two birds are taking more leisurely trips. One of them flew 175 miles on Thanksgiving to a location on the Arkansas River. The second pelican moved through central Mississippi this weekend, the last signal showing it near Greenwood, Mississippi.
The project is a partnership between Audubon Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Non-game Program, and North Dakota State University.
To see the map and follow the pelicans go to http://mn.aOneudubon.org/
Below, American White Pelicans
Minnesota waterfowl hunters have to date purchased 85,181 state duck stamps for the current season, according to a recent report in the Minneapolis StarTribune. That's 300 more than sold by the same date a year ago, which is good news. Those hunters also had to purchase the federal stamp as well, so sale of those must be up by even more, given whatever non-hunter purchases. That amounts to almost $1.3 million in federal stamp revenue. Duck stamp money is used to buy or lease land for national wildlife refuges and waterfowl management areas.
Some of those hunters belong to Ducks Unlimited, the national conservation group. Minnesota has 36,872 members of the organization according to a note I recently received from DU when I renewed my membership. Those hunters, through DU memberships and activities, raised $2,305,258 in 2011. Fewer than half as many DU members as waterfowl hunters in general. Almost twice as much money as federal duck stamp sales here.
The DU money goes to habitat purchase and conservation, supporting far more non-game bird species than ducks. That's why I belong to DU. For the same reason I also am a member of Delta Waterfowl and Pheasants Forever.
The 2012 federal duck stamp.
Four Minnesota pelicans are taking backpacks with them on their annual migration trip to the Gulf of Mexico.
The American White Pelicans are part of a large colony that nests in west central Minnesota. First-year birds – those hatched this past spring – will spend a full year on the gulf once they reach it. Mature pelicans winter there, migrating back here for nesting.
Minnesota pelicans were on the gulf when that BP oil rig went bad, spilling millions of gallons of oil into the water. The dispersant chemicals used in the cleanup effort probably just added to the problem for birds.
Early this summer researchers took blood samples from adult pelicans in the Minnesota colony, and collected about two dozen eggs for scientific examination. Traces of oil and dispersant were found in both birds and eggs.
To learn more about the birds’ habits on their winter visit south, five pelicans were equipped with solar-powered geolocators – radio transmitters. Four of the birds have been followed since as they make wander toward the gulf.
A transmitter weighs about three ounces. It is four inches long and an inch and a half wide. Think of it as an iPod for birds. The transmitters are fastened to the birds’ backs with what you would call shoulder straps if you think of birds having shoulders.
This is not an inexpensive project. Each transmitter costs $3,500. They have a life expectancy of about five years. It will cost about $1,000 per year to process the data collected. The transmitters have GPS units that take a reading every 24 hours.
The information goes first to a satellite, which in turn sends it to a ground station. There, someone converts that info to email and sends a message to Mark Martell, director of bird conservation for Audubon Minnesota. Martell posts regular updates on the pelicans to one of Minnesota’s birding email networks.
The project is a joint effort involving Audubon, North Dakota State University, and the Minnesota DNR Nongame Wildlife program.
At last report (Oct. 9) the birds continued movement began in July, although each bird seems to have its own idea of how to get to the Gulf. One bird was in Mississippi, moving over 300 miles in the previous 26 hours from a location in Missouri. A second bird was near Des Moines, Iowa. A third bird flew from North Dakota into South Dakota, its transmitter reporting in from near Watertown. The fourth bird flew 40 miles north of its previous location to a spot on the Illinois River near Peoria. All of the birds began their trips at Marsh Lake, an impoundment of the Minnesota River located near Appleton.
The photo of the pelican with the backpack transmitter was taken by Carrol Henderson of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
"Out of the blending of human and animal stories comes the theme that I hope is inherent in all my books: that man is an inescapable part of all nature, that its welfare is his welfare, that to survive he cannot continue acting and regarding himself as a spectator looking on from somewhere outside."
- Fred Bodsworth 1918-2012, author of Last of the Curlews
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