Saturday, April 21, 2007

Birding Festival

I got back from the SW Minnesota Prairie Birding Festival about 5:45 this afternoon. We made record time driving home--approximately 3 hours from Luverne to Rochester!

We made several stops for birding on the way over yesterday afternoon and I added many first time birds to my list including Lesser Yellowlegs, Ruddy Duck, Greater White-Fronted Goose, Northern Shoveler, the Teals (Green-Winged and Blue-Winged), and a Northern Pintail, just to name a few. Joyce and Terry really know their waterfowl and I was amazed that they could identify a duck right away just by seeing where the white was on its head or what color its tail feathers were.

I wanted to see a Yellow-Headed Blackbird which I haven't seen since 2004 and we saw several around the edge of a small lake near Worthington, we also heard their raspy-sounding "don't you dare" call. We also stopped in another small town (I can't remember the name) to look at a nice purple martin colony with lots of martins flying in and out of the houses. While we were watching the martins, I happened to look up and saw a flock of a dozen or so white pelicans flying high above us.

We finally made it to Luverne, checked into our hotel and grabbed a quick supper at the China Inn buffet (imagine, a Chinese restaurant that played country & western music....."now that's different," as we say here in Minnesota). Then we made our way to the Luverne Elementary School where the festival was being held. We received a warm greeting and thanks for traveling all the way from Rochester! We didn't tell them we had been here before and that had been just a 'day trip' to see the Blue Grosbeak! (it's a birder thing)

We listened to a talk on binoculars and spotting scopes and then listened to Carroll Henderson's talk (with pictures) on birds of southwestern Minnesota. Carroll's a great speaker and gave us lots of good information and history on birds of the area. The evening finished with instructions to return to the school at 6 AM Saturday morning for the bus trip to the "Touch the Sky" prairie and Blue Mounds State Park for the birding portion of the festival.

As I was getting dressed this morning at around 5:30 I thought I heard thunder and so pulled out my trusty NOAA weather radio for the forecast: a severe thunderstorm warning for Rock County (where we were!) until 6 AM. Right after that, the sky opened up: heavy rain, pea-sized hail, and lots of cloud to ground lighting. We loaded up the car, locked the room keys in the motel rooms and headed to the school, hoping it might let up soon. Alas, the bus was just pulling out of the parking lot as we arrived. "No birding this morning," we were told, "come back to the school at 8:30." "But where will we go? We've already checked out of the motel," was our response. Fortunately Pam Dobson (one of the festival coordinators) had pity on us and invited us over to her Our House Bed & Breakfast ( for the interim. She treated us to homemade cinnamon rolls, fresh fruit, juice and coffee (now that's Minnesota Nice in the first degree). We had a wonderful time visiting with Pam, her husband Dan, and their guest.....Carroll Henderson. For me personally, it was really special just being in the company of people who love birds, are interested in bird and nature stuff and enjoy talking about it! It's kind of like finding an oasis in the desert -- you just keep drinking and drinking but it takes a while to quench your thirst. (After last week and dealing with the junk at my neighbors, seeing all the trash in my road ditch, and sitting through the township board meeting on the new construction project in my backyard, you can't even imagine how wonderful it was for me just to be with a group of people who actually care about the environment and want to do everything possible to preserve it.)

From left to right: Terry and Joyce Grier, Carroll Henderson, Dan and Pam Dobson (that's my plate right in front--with all the food on it!)

We finally headed back to the elementary school for the conclusion of the festival. Our first speaker gave a short presentation on digiscoping. Then it was time for Keith Radel (from the Bluebird Recovery Program) to tell the story of what we can do to become successful bluebird landlords. Keith has an incredible success rate in fledging bluebirds from his trails, but it wasn't always so, and he shared with us what he's learned over the years (through a lot of trial and error) so those of us who want to try and help raise more bluebirds can do it right the first time! I've heard Keith talk on several occasions, but he's such an entertaining speaker and so passionate about the bluebirds that I always learn something new and it renews my enthusiasm for the bluebirds.

Keith Radel emphasizes a point in his talk!

Our last presentation of the festival was Carroll Henderson speaking about Landscaping for Wildlife. His book of the same title was the first book I purchased to help me decide what plants to use for landscaping the 5 acres we're currently living on. Most of the trees and shrubs he talked about today are planted somewhere on my yard. I also learned about some new flowers and plants that are especially good for attracting hummingbirds that I'm going to try this summer.

That's Carroll Henderson at the podium, but they had already dimmed the lights over him, so I didn't get a very good photograph.

All in all, it was a great festival. We offered a few suggestions for making the festival better, including trying to schedule it on the first weekend in May (so more of the spring migrants could be seen) and posting more information on the website.

Before leaving town, we headed out to Blue Mounds State Park where there had been a report of a Rock Wren earlier in the week. We didn't see this wren, but did see quite a few Western Meadowlarks (love their song!), watched a Rough-Legged Hawk catch a snake and fly away with it, and saw a bat (big brown?) flying out near the rocky cliffs on the southeast side of the park.

Western Meadowlark perched on an interpretive sign in Blue Mounds State Park.

Another interpretive sign in the park.

The pond and dam in the park, near the campground.

During this trip, we saw more than 40 species of birds. I had a great time, it was tiring but fun, and it's great to be home.

1 comment:

Pam Dobson said...

Ruth: thanks so much for the blog and great pictures. I am glad we were rained out giving me the opportunity to learn from you experienced bluebirds. with yuor expertise, we plan to have another great Southwestern Minnesota Birting festival in 2008.

Pam Dobson