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An open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond

A Field Guide to the Natural World of the Twin Cities


A Field Guide to the Natural World of the Twin Cities


Buy two copies of this book. One for yourself, the other a gift.


Wear it out. Mark pages, write notes (space provided), underline, fold back corners, stick a couple of book marks inside to save favorites. 


Here is proof that you need not go beyond the boundaries of the metro area to find new and exciting natural places to visit, and fascinating to see.


Author John J. Moriarity has divided the book into landscape sections — prairie, savannah, Big Woods, Oak woods, wetlands and marshes and swamps, fens and bogs, lakes, rivers, urban and suburban. Examples of what you can find in each are given. It’s an eclectic variety.


He finds special places everywhere, then sharp-focuses on the plants and animals to meet there. All are illustrated with excellent photographs taken by Siah St. Claire.


Moriarity is senior manager of wildlife for the Three Rivers Park District. The book’s dust jacket describes him as a”genial expert on the remarkable diversity of plants and animals in the region’s habitats.” That’s perfect.


St. Claire formerly was director of Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley for 35 years. His photos give tightly focused attention to all subjects.


This came to mind: the books highlights not only birds and reptiles and trees and flowers, but also worms and seeds and mussels and beetles.


I was particularly pleased to see shrews, mice, mudpuppies, begger ticks, and reed canary grass given their due.


This is not an all-inclusive guide. This book, with its fine maps, guides you to places where you can explore for what interests you, or what might catch your interest once you meet it. The selections highlight your visits, giving you and your curiosity a head start.


Here’s a challenge — consider the book the list of a lifetime nature-based scavenger hunt.


Visit the woods and swamps and prairies. Find everything the authors have featured. (The prize will be self-evident once you begin the quest.)


Here’s an opportunity to discover the wonders of places you might never seen even though they are short drives away. No site is more than 60 miles from downtown Minneapolis.


(University of Minnesota Press, durable binding, 412 pages, index, stuffed with excellent color photos, large, detailed maps by F&H Geograpics, $29.95 wherever interesting books are sold.)




7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov.  28, 2018, Barnes & Noble HarMar, 2100 Snelling Ave, St. Paul. Discussion and signing.


1 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 8, Magers & Quinn Booksellers, 3038 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. Holiday signing only.


7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, Bell Museum of Natural History, 2088 Larpenteur Ave. W., St Paul. Discussion and signing.


7 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 13, Common Good Books, 38 Snelling Ave. S., St Paul. Discussion and signing.

Metro Ospreys have a BFF


Everybody needs a friend. Ospreys in our metro area have a BFF in Vanessa Greene. She “fell in love instantly” with an Osprey chick at Carver Park in Carver County years ago. (Best Friend Forever in case you have no female teenager at home.)


Greene was there to help band chicks. Eventually, she became monitor of the birds’ nesting activity in the greater metro area. She’s been doing it for 25 years, and sees no reason to stop. She works from her Minnetonka home.


She began as a wildlife technician for what is currently the Three Rivers Park District. The district was working to reintroduce the species to this area. The affects of DDT on Osprey and eagles, loss of habitat, and persecution contributed to a rapidly diminishing population of the birds.


The district ended its monitoring program when it felt the reintroduction effort had reached its goals. Greene was hooked on the birds. She didn’t want to stop. 


She left the park district in 2008, after 15 years of volunteer work, to create the Twin Cities Metro Osprey Watch.


“There are so few long-term research projects,” she told me, “and after 25 years of collecting data in a consistent manner on all known nests in the eight-county metro area, I can see no reason to stop! 


“I think the longer this effort continues, the more we will know about the specific behaviors of these magnificent raptors, as well as the long-term results of the reintroduction effort. 


“Ospreys are an indicator species,”she said, “which means they’re at the top of the aquatic food chain. They eat fish almost exclusively. The health of their population reveals much to us about the health of our environment.”


Her work has value far beyond the territory she travels to monitor nests. She has published research papers in peer-reviewed journals. She has a Facebook page and a blog where she shares census results and behavioral stories. She shares information with other scientists.


She hopes sharing with the public will generate interest in the natural world.


She says the number of birds in her monitoring program — growing each year — spreads her effort “pretty thin.” That’s where volunteers enter the scene.


“I have a crew of wonderful volunteers that help me monitor all these nests, and we always need more help,” she told me. “The volunteers that hang in there year after year become very valuable.”


Ospreys nesting in the metro area are adapted to living near people. As evidence, you see their nests on cell-phone towers, ballfield lights, transmission towers, and other man-made structures.


Greene drives over 10,000 miles each year to gather data on 135 known nests. There will be more next year. Ospreys hatched this past summer tend to return to their natal area when they migrate back here in the spring. The Osprey population is growing rapidly, she says.


That’s why volunteers are so important to her work. “We need the public’s help in reporting nest locations,” she said.


Report to Greene if you find a nest, any nest. She will sort out the new ones, and put them on the map. Visit or


You also can provide help and give yourself a fascinating summer by becoming a volunteer. Greene will not ask you to drive 10,000 miles.


Ospreys build large stick nests, this one on a platform built for nesting. You see these in Three River district parks. Ospreys are large, dark, handsome birds. They fly with a distinct kink in their wings.


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