Idea of the day

Your used optics

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

If you’ve upgraded to new or better binoculars or spotting scopes, here’s an excellent way to recycle your old optics. The American Birding Association has a program known as Birder’s Exchange. You send your optics (in good repair, please) to ABA, and it sees that they are put to good use in Central American and other countries where “our” migrant birds winter, where conservation efforts are important, and where resources are very limited. Researchers working in these countries often have no binoculars and not even identification books, particularly books in Spanish. You can help with books by contributing funds to purchase the one guide to North American birds that has a Spanish-language edition (Kenn Kaufman’s recent guide). This is an important effort that the ABA has been pursuing for years. Hundreds of binoculars and scopes have been donated. More are needed. To participate, package the items carefully and send them to Birder’s Exchange, ABA, 4945 N. 30th St., Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80919.

Buy your new duck stamp today (Friday)

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

The 2009-2010 federal duck stamp goes on sale today (Friday, June 26). Every person with an interest in or concern for birds should buy one. Ninety-eight percent of the $15 cost is used to purchase land for national wildlife refuges and waterfowl management districts. Purchase of the stamp is required if you hunt waterfowl. Benefits of stamp funds reach far beyond ducks, however. The habitat created for waterfowl, like refuge habitat, supports hundreds of non-game bird species. If you’ve ever birded at one of Minnesota’s national wildlife refuges you know what I mean. Buy the stamp. Hunters put them on their hunting license. I stick mine on the cover of my Sibley identification guide. Put yours somewhere where you and others can see it often. Let it serve as a reminder of the importance of this purchase. Most post offices will have the stamp on Friday, as will many sporting goods stores. Minnesota’s 13 national wildlife refuges, all offering excellent birdwatching, are Agassiz, Big Stone, Crane Meadows, Hamden Slough, Mille Lacs, Minnesota Valley, Rice Lake, Rydell, Sherburne, Tamarac, and Upper Mississippi River. There are eight waterfowl management districts covering more than 267,000 acres. (Images from US Fish and Wildlife Service)minnesota.jpg 2009-duck-stampmedslah.jpg

Chimney Swift nesting towers

Saturday, March 14th, 2009


Chimney Swift nesting towers are popping up in Minnesota. This is important because swift populations are not growing, and they are losing their preferred nesting sites. When Chimney Swifts were known as American Swifts the birds nested in tree snags or hollows. These birds cannot perch or stand. When not in the air they cling to a rough surface — the inside of a tree snag or the inside of a chimney. The name changed when chimneys became part of our landscape, and the swifts took advantage. The birds build a nest of sticks stuck to the side of a chimney with their saliva. A nesting tower is a construction about 14 feet high and 18 inches square. It provides a perfect nesting opportunity. The one pictured is on the west shore of Mille Lacs Lake, thanks to the local Ojibwa tribe. Another is in place at Aveda headquarters in Blaine, courtesy of that company. About half a dozen others are in the planning stages. This should be helpful for the swifts. We cut tree snags down. The design of new chimneys today makes nesting by swifts impossible. The towers are helping us keep swifts in the air here. For more information go to web address

Birding dress code

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

   We were in Churchill, Manitoba, in mid-June for some birding. This was high season there, so other birders also patrolled the roads. On one stretch of tundra we mingled with a small birding-tour group. It included a man wearing a red rain outfit. One of his companions were overheard muttering, “Doesn’t he have any color but red?” Birds are sensitive to color. Bright colors generally are considered a bad idea. The theory is that primary colors and close relatives are unnatural, more visible, and therefore more likely to spook birds. It makes more sense to blend with the habitat — tans and browns and grays, natural colors. Who outfits you for birding, Tommy Hilfiger or Eddie Bauer?   

Clean it up

Friday, July 4th, 2008

Birding idea of the day:

My friend Charlie often would go birding with a large trash bag tucked into a pocket. He would fill it with trash found wherever we were — along a road, at a park, on a beach — and haul it home. Charlie believed he had an obligation to give as well as receive.