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.
Minnesota got blanked in the competition for artwork to appear on the 2013-14 federal duck stamp (aka Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp).
Robert Steiner, an artist from San Francisco, California, won with an acrylic painting of a Common Goldeneye. Steiner's painting will be made into the 2013-2014 duck stamp, which will go on sale in late June 2013.
The stamp sells for $15, and raises about $25 million each year, providing critical funds to conserve and protect wetland habitats in the National Wildlife Refuge system. This land benefits wildlife and people, including birders.
Seventen of 192 entries made it to the final round of judging. Paul Bridgeford of Des Moines, Iowa, placed second with his painting of a pair of Northern Shovelers. Gerald Mobley of Claremore, Okla., took third place with his painting, also of a pair of Northern Shovelers.
This is Steiner's second Federal Duck Stamp Contest win. His art previously appeared on the 1998-1999 Federal Duck Stamp. (That previous image was of a Barrow's Goldeneye.)
Announcement was made Saturday by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, during the annual art contest.
Winners for the current stamp and its predecessor were two of Minnesota's Hautman brothers, Joe and Jim. Robert Hautman did enter this year, but didn't place. Combined, the brothers have won the duck-stamp competition 10 times.
Here are the top three paintings in this year's competition.
In today's (Wednesday) Home and Garden section of the StarTribune I have a column about American White Pelicans that breed in Minnesota. The pelicans winter on the Gulf of Mexico. Since the BP oil spill on the Gulf the birds have returned to nesting grounds carrying oil and oil-dispersant pollutants. Scientists in Missippippi, however, might have found a dispersant that is not harmful to birds. Read on.
It’s counter-intuitive to think that a constituent of peanut butter could keep oil off birds. After all, what holds the pickles, chips, or banana slices in the sandwich if not the peanut butter?
Scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) have, however, used edible ingredients found in peanut butter, ice cream, and chocolate to fashion a dispersant that allows oil to run off a duck’s back, just like water. Toxicity testing is yet to be done, but food-safe ingredients bode well for success.
A paper describing the chemical was delivered in August at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. Presenting the paper was Dr. Lisa Kemp of USM, a member of the team there that developed the chemical.
“The use of traditional dispersants is really a lesser-of-evils choice that has to be made,” Dr. Kemp said in an email. You either let the oil be or disperse it to lessen its impacts.
“Many of the traditional dispersants contain petroleum distillates as solvents and many are good wetting agents. They allow the oil to spread and stick to surfaces better,” Dr. Kemp wrote.
“Our dispersant is very different than these traditional dispersants,” she wrote. “Ours is a solid product made from food-safe ingredients. It doesn't contain any solvents or petroleum distillates.”
Once dispersed with the new chemical, oil still floats on the surface of the water in small droplets. But – and this is the key -- the droplets have become non-sticky.
“We have done laboratory testing where real, untreated duck feathers were dragged through the dispersed oil and rinsed in clean water,” she wrote. “Any visible crude oil was removed.”
This means that birds coming in contact with spilled oil so treated self-clean by simply leaving the water. The treated oil runs off.
No longer would teams of volunteers have to handle birds to remove oil, Dr. Kemp wrote. In addition, the new dispersant does not include harsh surfactants, she said, so it doesn't remove all of the natural oils birds use to condition feathers.
“Our product is at the prototype stage,” she cautioned. “We haven’t used it on an oil spill, and it still needs to go through toxicity testing.” That will determine if the chemical is harmful to birds if ingested.
“However, we’re using all food-safe ingredients that are eaten in a variety of products by people every day,” she wrote.
(Really, how can an ingredient in chocolate possibly be harmful?)
In foods the dispersant ingredients are used to stabilize oils so they don’t separate quickly, as a thickening agent, or to improve the feel of food in your mouth, she explained.
team is collaborating with the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Lab on initial toxicity testing.
The inventor of the technology is Dr. Robert Lochhead, and the other members of the team are Drs. Sarah Morgan, Daniel Savin, and Les Goff.
For more information, the Web site ScienceDaily has a news release on the dispersant. Go to
Some of us – lots of us – haven’t yet bought a current duck stamp. I wonder what those folks have done recently to make things better for birds. The stamp does make things better for birds. Priced at $15, it funds purchase and lease of land for national wildlife refuges and waterfowl breeding sites. The refuges support hundreds of animal and plant species, including hundreds of species of birds. Buy a stamp. It does make a difference.
What do you do with the stamp after purchase? The question assumes you aren’t a waterfowl hunter who must attach the same to the hunting license. Well, with apologies to David Sibley, I attach my stamps to the cover of his identification book. I get to enjoy the beautiful artwork on the stamps, and occasionally other people see the book and perhaps are motivated to buy a stamp. Here’s my copy of the Sibley book. Or, you can take something like a clear plastic baggage tag (small size), and put the stamp on or inside the tag, then fastening the tag to your binocular strap. Display of the stamp helps sales.
“The Last of the Curlews is a wonderful book about birds. It’s a fictionalized account of the lives of the last pair of Eskimo Curlews, last as in a species about to be gone forever. It was published in 1955, selling over three million copies. Its author, Canadian Fred Bodsworth, died Sept. 15. His book remains in print (Amazon, $10.17 Thursday morning). It’s a classic in birding literature, one of the finest fiction accounts of natural history. What we lose when a species goes extinct is made clear.
Golden-winged Warbler, a Minnesota bird you’ve might never have seen, is special. This species is as special to Minnesota as any other bird that breeds here, perhaps more so.
That’s because more of these warblers breed in Minnesota than anywhere else in the world.
The bird is very pretty. It’s white and gray and black with golden trimmings. During nesting season, 42 percent of that species is in our woods. Aitkin and Mille Lacs counties, a two-hour drive north from Minneapolis, could be considered ground zero for these birds.
More of them nest there than anywhere else.
Biologists once believed that this warbler preferred and needed willow/aspen swamps and young aspen forest as nesting habitat.
Research in Minnesota in the past three years has shown that things are not that simple. The birds also use mature forest adjacent to those two habitat types. This complicates forest management.
With the mother load of Golden-wings comes a responsibility for those birds, said Carrol Henderson, non-game wildlife manager for the DNR.
Studies of Golden-wings and their habitat needs are currently underway in north and west central Minnesota.
“We’re trying to tease out information from that research to help us write forest management guidelines,” Henderson said. “We’d rather manage the land correctly to begin with than play catch up. It’s easier that way.”
Audubon Minnesota also recognizes our importance to this species. It has named Golden-wings as one of 13 Minnesota Stewardship Species. These 13 species have at least five percent of their global and North American breeding range in the state.
Lee Pfannmuller, interim director of Audubon Minnesota, told me that the Golden-winged Warbler is doing better here than nearly anywhere else.
“It’s long-term population trend in the state is actually increasing,” she wrote in an email, ending the sentence with an exclamation point. (Bird population increases are hard to find.)
Elsewhere in its U.S. range (east from Minnesota into New York and south to Kentucky) Golden-wing population is dropping. Habitat is a concern.
Interestingly, another bird species also bears some responsibility. Blue-winged Warblers interbreed with Golden-wings, those offspring diluting and diminishing Golden-wing numbers.
Habitat in Central America, where the warbler winters, is another problem. It’s thought to be declining. This makes Minnesota research and forest management even more important.
The stewardship list is Audubon Minnesota’s way of saying that these birds deserve particular conservation attention.
The other 12 species (and the percentage of their population breeding here) are American White Pelican (18%), American Woodcock (10%), Baltimore Oriole (5%), Black-billed Cuckoo (10%), Bobolink (13%), Chestnut-sided Warbler (6%), Nashville Warbler (5%), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (6%), Sedge Wren (33%), Trumpeter Swan (13%), and Veery (6%).
A Golden-winged Warbler
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