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.
If you use recordings of bird calls on your iPhone or iPad or other such devices you're probably not getting the volume you might want. I'm not, not even when plugging in my old clam-shell speaker, small and handy, but lacking carrying power. Take a look at some new speakers highly recommended by David Pogue, the New York Times tech guy. Go to http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com,"Terrific Sound in a Tiny Package."
Biographies of men who had much influence on birding here and in North America recently have been published. One details the life of Thomas Sadler Roberts, founder of the Bell Museum of Natural History, the other the life of Alexander Wilson, a Scot recognized by many as the founder of American Ornithology.
Roberts, a medical doctor, was born in 1858, and came to the city as a boy. He was a boy interested in birds. His lifelong interest was recorded in journals that eventually became the basis for the two-volume set “Birds of Minnesota.” It was and remains an essential tool for understanding birds here.
Roberts was here when Passenger Pigeons roosted in city oak trees. He taught the University of Minnesota’s first ornithology class. He and his students rode by streetcar from campus to Lake Harriet for birding fieldwork.
The author of the Roberts book, Sue Leaf, skillfully recreates his time and place, his contributions to ornithology, his work as a physician, and as the force that created our Bell Museum.
The book takes takes us on a unique history trip. It covers birds, medicine, and the development of Minneapolis as a city, with Roberts as our guide.
The book is titled “A Love Affair with Birds.” It’s the most readable biography/history book I’ve read in a long time. The University of Minnesota Press published the book.
Wilson is the man for whom Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, Wilson’s Plover, and Wilson’s Storm-petrel are named. Contrary to what many people believe, it was he, not John James Audubon, who earned recognition as father of ornithology in the U.S.
Wilson expressed his interest in and passion for birds through an extraordinary talent as an artist. The book contains reproductions of almost all of his work with North American birds. He was unusual for his time because he kept notes of his observations. The book quotes from these, offering a sharply focused look at a naturalist’s world more than 200 years ago.
Wilson arrived in Philadelphia in 1794. He traveled widely throughout the country as it existed then, sketching and painting as he went.
Audubon arrived in the country in 1803. He too traveled widely in search of birds to paint. His famous work, including 700 species of birds, was published in two volumes between 1827 and 1839. He did not include the knowledgeable text that made Wilson’s work so valuable. But Audubon’s books, showing paintings of birds life-size, has become perhaps the most valuable of all early work on North American birds.
Audubon sought subscriptions for his book, traveling to England with paintings to seek support. He was successful. Wilson also traveled to find subscribers who would finance printing of his work. He was less successful, but the first volume of “American Ornithology” was published in 1808, an issue of 250 copies.
Wilson and Audubon met in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1810. Audubon was working on his paintings, traveling to find birds. Wilson was seeking subscriptions for his work. He spent part of two days with Audubon, before leaving almost securing Audubon’s signature as a subscriber. Audubon’s business partner at that time discouraged Audubon from signing, and he did not.
That was the first edition of an intended eight. Wilson was working on the final volume at the time of his death in 1813. His work was the first scientific publication in this country.
The book is titled “Alexander Wilson, The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology.” It was written by Edward H. Burtt Jr., and William E. Davis Jr., published by Harvard University Press.
A rare opportunity to see dozens of paintings by three of the world’s finest wildlife artists is now available at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts in Orono.
The work is by the Hautman brothers, Jim, Joe, and Bob, broadly known for their domination of the federal duck stamp art competitions. Combined, they’ve won 10 federal competitions and more than 50 for state conservation stamps. Jim lives in Chaska, Joe in Plymouth, and Bob in Delano.
The exhibit contains examples of their work with waterfowl as well as a broad selection of paintings of other wildlife species. This is a retrospective, following their careers as artists. Many of the pieces are for sale.
The paintings are on display until Oct. 26. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Friday, and Saturday 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The center is closed Sundays.
The center is located two and a half miles west of Wayzata. Merge onto Highway 12 west from its junction at the westen terminus of I-394. Take the County Road 15 exit. Follow County 15 for 2.5 miles to Northshore Drive. Take a right turn. The center is two blocks ahead on the right.
Fall is a great time to visit Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in the northwestern corner of the state. Sandhill Cranes are the main attraction right now, with hundreds on the ground and many more on the way.
The refuge serves as staging ground for thousands of migrating cranes moving south from Canada and Alaska. There is a lack of water this year, only an estimated 10 percent of available wetlands actually wet. Cranes, even though they prefer it wet, will stop at the refuge as they migrate through. As many as 4,000 birds can be expected.
Many species of grassland and wetland birds can be seen here during migration, spring in particular, and as nesting residents. Cranes nest here, along with Greater Prairie Chickens and Marbled Godwits. During a visit to the refuge a few years ago I saw my first-ever Badger.
The refuge, about 36,000 acres of land, was established in 2004. Major intent was to preserve and restore native tallgrass prairie and wetlands.
The refuge is featured in the most recent issue of the magazine “Refuge Update,” published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The article notes that reconstruction of prairie at Glacial Ridge is the largest contiguous tallgrass prairie project in U.S. history.
The refuge also is the largest contiguous tract of Wetland Reserve Program land in the state.
Work on restoration and conservation is a join effort between the USFWS, The Nature Conservancy, and the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service through its wetland reserve program.
The refuge is located about 50 miles north of Detroit Lakes and 20 miles south of Thief River Falls. Access is from U.S. Highway 2.. Immediately to the east is Rydell National Wildlife Refuge. Not far to the south are three more refuges: Hamden Slough, Tamarac, and Northern Tallgrass Prairie.
It’s a fair drive from the Twin Cities, but Glacial Ridge a beautiful place to visit if you like prairies and prairie wildlife. The other three refuges are, of course, also well worth a visit. (Below, cranes in migration.)
A pair of Cooper's Hawks nested in a yard adjoining ours this summer. They were quiet and secretive neighbors. We assume they raised chicks. We never saw one, though, a disappointment since they were so close at hand. We could watch the nest until the trees filled out with leaves. One of the adults, the female I believe, visited our yard late Tuesday afternoon. The bird took a shaded position in a tree while it unsuccessfully looked for prey. Four species of hawks nest nearby -- Cooper's, Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Broad-winged. For me, Cooper's is the most handsome.
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