This past weekend the 2009 Minnesota Master Naturalist State Conference was held at the Audubon Center of the North Woods near Sandstone, MN, and I was in attendance from Friday afternoon until Saturday evening.
I had hoped to arrive by the 3:00 PM Friday afternoon birding trip, but I ended up leaving about an hour later than I had planned. Fortunately, for me, the birding trip was delayed until 4 PM. Unfortunately, it started raining (hard!) around 3:45 PM, so we birded from the front porch of the Audubon center. They had this HUGE hopper feeder right outside the front door and we were able to see quite a few cooperative birds right at this feeder (I didn't get shots of the red-breasted nuthatch and pine warbler that also visited the feeder this afternoon).
Under the eaves of the front porch a Cliff Swallow had crafted this fine gourd-shaped mud nest. In spite of all of us standing on the front porch, she did finally fly into her nest. The pale spot on her forehead was quite noticeable as she peeked out at us from the nest entrance.
"Please go away now, large human......you've taken enough pictures!"
Here are some of my Master Naturalist classmates who also attended the conference (L to R): Kate, Linda, Joel and Barbara. Joel was in a previous class, but I already knew him from my Mayo days (plus he's one of Minnesota's "Top Gun Birders" -- to borrow one of Troutbirder's definitions).
This is the main conference room at the Audubon Center. As you can see, our group had it pretty much filled up. I loved all the windows around this room and especially the six stained-glass windows up towards the top of the wall (click to enlarge the picture).
I was excited when I first got the conference schedule to see that Ann Bancroft was going to be a keynote speaker on Friday night at our conference.
Ann told us stories of growing up in Minnesota and being inspired by her mom, of her polar expeditions, and most importantly of her never-ending goal to educate and inspire all people (and especially girls and women) to pursue their dreams in life--no matter how big or small. Talk about female superpowers!! If you ever get the chance to hear Ann speak, please do so, I guarantee you won't be disappointed. And the really neat thing is that she's not full of herself at all--just a genuinely nice and gracious person!
After our rainy Friday, Saturday morning dawned windy and cold. However, that didn't stop us hardy Minnesotans from getting outside before breakfast for the 7 AM bird hike.
There wasn't much bird activity this chilly morning, but I did get my first Ovenbird and Chestnut-Sided Warbler of the year. (When I was heading back to my next class session after breakfast, I did actually spot a few snow flurries in the air! I was really thankful I hadn't forgotten to pack my wool long johns!)
My morning classes were "Rain Barrels and Rain Gardens" and "Aquatic Plant Survey." Deb (Sand Creek Almanac) was one of presenters of the aquatic plant survey class. Here'a an "action shot" of Deb showing some of the participants what types of aquatic vegetation can be found during a lake survey (the plants are on the edge of the boat behind the person in the blue jacket).
I was happy to see Deb again and after class we were able to spend a little bit of time together enjoying lunch and catching up on some things going on outside the "blog world."
The Audubon Center of the North Woods provides quite a bit of its own power. They have a geothermal heating system, their own wind turbine, and these solar array panels (that move to follow the direction of the sun). We were happy that the sun did decide to come out late Saturday morning and even though it was still chilly, the sun made it much more bearable.
Our Saturday afternoon consisted of a field trip to Moose Lake, Minnesota (about 20 miles north of Sandstone. There we visited the Moose Lake Historical Society and 1918 Fire Museum (located in the old railroad depot).
We learned a little bit about the 1918 fire in our Master Naturalist class. More people lost their lives as a result of this fire than the famous Hinckly fire and when someone asked the gentleman at the museum why we never heard much about the Moose Lake fire, he told us that it was overshadowed by the WWI headlines of that time period.
This map in the museum shows the areas affected by that huge 1918 fire--all the way to the shore of Lake Superior north of Duluth!
After the museum, we also visited the Blacklock Galleries in downtown Moose Lake (no photos) and then headed out to the Moose Lake Agate and Geological Center at Moose Lake State Park.
I thought this Minnesota state map created of native stone and embedded in the floor of the Moose Lake State Park headquarters building was pretty neat.
After learning more about agates and agate hunting, we boarded the bus one more time to head out to a nearby quarry to search for our own agate treasures.
As you can see, it really turned out to be a pretty nice afternoon and everyone was pretty excited to get out into the quarry and become "rock hounds" for an hour or so.
I'm not much of a rock hound, so I used my time to enjoy the scenery and watch for birds. I always like seeing the birch trees of the north woods--we have very few of these lovely trees in southern Minnesota.
While I was wandering the woods at the edge of the quarry, I heard some frogs singing, so I decided to follow a little trail into the woods and see if I could find where the frogs were singing from. I came upon this pretty little pond (a vernal pool?) and was happy to see quite a bit of bird activity.
A shy Yellow Warbler
Palm Warbler (there were several of these guys around the pond)
On the way back to bus, I even managed to find myself a nice-sized little agate!
We were all loaded back on the bus and ready to head back for supper, but not before Amy (our trip leader) got the DNR van stuck in some loose gravel at the quarry. All of her passengers climbed out of the van and some of the guys from our bus headed over to Amy's rescue.
The conference did have sessions schedule for Sunday morning also, but I opted to depart on Saturday night after supper. This is just such a busy time of year for me and even though I'm only working part-time, I wanted to be able to have Sunday to catch up on some of my chores at home before the work week started again (I even managed to find time to give myself a much-needed haircut on Sunday morning!)
Have a good week everyone!