We believe in connecting people with nature. Our monthly programs are FREE and open to the public. Most meetings are held the 4th Tuesday of each month at Quarry Hill Nature Center. Our speakers give presentations about a wide range of topics - not just birds.
June 12, 2022 - Counting Kestrel Chicks
Every spring Kirk Payne gets his portable banding station ready for June when the Kestrel chicks will be old enough to be banded. Nesting season can vary a bit though and this year a pair of Kestrels on Kirk's property enjoyed an early success. He banded five chicks there at the end of May - quite early!
On June 12 the chicks in two more boxes - one near Eyota and one near the Kalmar south reservoir - were ready to be banded. Kirk and Greg Munson, along with few other volunteers met to document the process. Greg climbed up to each box and placed the chicks in a yellow bucket with a soft towel in the bottom. Once on the ground each chick was swiftly weighed, sexed and examined for parasites. All appeared healthy, fat and relatively parasite free. (Our cool weather this spring may have kept the parasites down - unlike last springs very hot weather). The Eyota nest had three females and one male, all estimated to be about 21 days old. The Kalmar nest had the opposite - three males and one female, and they were younger - only about 17 days old. In general, Kestrel chicks leave the nest (fledge) at between 28 - 31 days old.
One at a time, each chick was banded with its own unique code. Volunteers held the banded chicks until all were done, then the birds were returned to the yellow bucket for a ride back up to the nest. It was interesting to see how some of the chicks were very calm throughout the process, while others didn't seem too happy and wanted us to know! The adult kestrels hovered and flew nearby during the banding process but otherwise didn't come too near. Kirk said he's never had the parents attack him - unlike Peregrine Falcons which will attack anything coming near their nests with enough force to do serious bodily damage.
Our thanks to Kirk, Greg and the other volunteers who take the time to monitor all the many nest boxes in our area each year for active nests. ZVAS is very proud to support efforts to increase the Kestrel population.
Learn more about Kestrels here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Kestrel/overview
June 11, 2022 - Field trip to Weaver Dunes
Our field trip through Weaver Dunes and the surrounding area yielded a treasure trove of plants, birds, frogs, turtles and insects. The day was overcast and we got sprinkled on for the first couple hours - but we also had a few bursts of sunshine. Joel Dunnette led our small group of 6 across the dunes in a looping trail where we found dozens of plant species including silky prairie clover, hairy hawkweed, beach heather, alum root, prairie smoke, cream indigo and more. Birds sighted included Lark Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Towhees, Cedar Waxwings and more. We even had a trio of Great Egrets do a flyover.
We saw several leopard frogs in the wet grass, one garter snake and noticed the burrows of several mammals. Deer scat and coyote scat were found and damselflies were plentiful. It was fun to find patches of British Soldiers lichen and earth star mushrooms - new species to everyone in our our group except Joel.
Besides exploring the dunes, we also visited some small ponds and wetter areas nearby and found Wood Ducks, Black Terns, Kingfishers, Green Herons, several turtles - snapping, painted and Blandings which we helped cross the road. The snapper was quite large and in the process of digging a nest to lay her eggs very near the edge of the road. After taking her photo we left her alone.
The amount of plants and animals we saw is too long to list - at least 45 species of birds plus all the plants and insects - but this area - which seems so empty when you're just driving by - is literally teeming with life if you just stop and take a few moments to look closer. It was well worth the visit and we want to return on a sunnier day. Thanks to Joel for sharing his extensive knowledge of this area!
Photos by Sandy Hokanson
June 4, 2022 - Birdsongs at Chester Woods and Quarry Hill
This morning we hosted two birding events.
The first took place at Chester Woods where Michael Degerstrom helped our group of 12 identify bird songs. Birds are difficult to spot now with the tree canopy fully leafed out, so knowing their songs and calls is a great help and makes a walk that much more enjoyable. Our group found 60 species at Chester Woods (many were heard only - full list below).
There are many tools available to help learn bird songs. One of the most popular is the MERLIN app (https://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/ ) developed by the Cornell Lab. With this free app you can record birds singing on your smart phone and it shows you in real time what is singing. Michael also recommends bird song training CDs by John Fieth (available on Amazon). Plus, there are many other websites that can help you as well, including: There are many other websites that can help you as well, including:
Nathan Pieplow: https://earbirding.com/blog/author
Bird Song Hero: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/features/bird-song-hero/bird-song-hero-challenge
Chester Woods species:
Canada Goose, Blue-winged Teal, Mallard, Ring-necked Pheasant, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Spotted Sandpiper, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Willow Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Yellow-throated Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, House Wren, Sedge Wren, European Starling, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, American Goldfinch, Grasshopper Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Meadowlark, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Grackle, Ovenbird, Blue-winged Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Dickcissel
On our walk at Quarry Hill we found 28 species before the rain, which had been a light sprinkle, started getting more persistent, causing us to end our walk earlier than normal. Once more we heard more birds than we saw - but were delighted to watch a pair of Barn Swallows close up as they gathered mud near the pond and worked at building their nest under the eaves of the pavilion. Thanks to Joyce and Terry Grier for leading the Quarry Hill walk.
Species seen at Quarry Hill included:
Canada Goose (with many goslings of assorted sizes), Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Yellow-throated Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Barn Swallow, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, American Robin, House Sparrow, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Baltimore Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting
May 24, 2022 - Why birds don't see glass.
Last night's zoom presentation about bird and window collisions was very revealing and disturbing. Did you know that 1.6 MILLION birds hit windows every day - yes EVERY day. And it's not the super tall buildings to blame. Homes and small buildings record 44% of the bird strikes, buildings 4 - 11 stories tall record 56% of strikes.
Dr. Bryan Lenz from the American Bird Conservancy talked to us about keeping bird safety in mind during new construction. he described what products have been tested and work best to alter current windows to help prevent bird deaths. Stickers, tapes, and blinds can all help. The goal is to break up reflections and create a visible barrier that prevent birds from thinking they can fly straight through your window.
He also talked about how migrating birds are attracted to light and can be distracted off their normal paths. One photo showed thousands of birds circling inside the beams of light created by the 911 memorial, confused and unable to escape. New York has since recognized this issue and turns off the lights during peak migration times. Please turn off your outdoor lights between midnight and 8 am. And all outdoor lights should face the ground (not illuminate the sky.
Watch the entire presentation here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1gYhrYw6Y9HMuBj3sPI79F872j3ZTGLYw/view
Find more tips about preventing window strikes on our links page.
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