Monthly Archives: September 2013

Unity in Bird Migration

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BELIZE– September 30th marks the end of Belize’s annual celebration of independence. Belize gained independence from the British in 1981. As a relatively new, vibrant and exquisite country, it makes sense that their celebration spans the entire month of September!

But what does this have to do with the Wisconsin Northwoods? Parallel to Belize’s independence, this is also a key time for warbler and other southbound songbird migration. Seeing birds in the North that will potentially reach Belize brings back my own vivid memories of the lush, humid landscape as if they were just over my shoulder. As if I could breathe it in. The Green Heron, Black-throated Blue, Yellow, Black-and-white and many more warbler species all contribute to this miraculous phenomenon of migration from the north to the tropics. Some of these warblers, such as the Blackpoll, make the stretch over the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight, averaging an astonishing 20 wing flaps/second.

Once they’re there, they experience their second home… well wait, or is it their first home? During my time in Belize, I was able to see that Belizeans (including the super-human birder Belizeans) also referred to these birds as “home”. Seeing this then made me realize, that birds like the Black-billed Cuckoo actually spend more time at their wintering grounds. I must say, as I saw the cuckoos, Scarlet Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Green Herons and Ospreys in Belize with a backdrop of palms, saltwater and mangroves, I was able to see these birds as if it was my first sighting (In birder lingo, this is known as a “lifer”). In the wintering grounds, these birds are all a part of the Belizean collective sense of place, encompassing culture, environment, values, and folklore. They could teach us much about being cross-cultural. For 4-5 months these neo-tropical songbirds find nourishment and sustenance in the tropics that’s so hyper-productive that it can sustain both migrants and the year-round dwellers. This idea of migrating to find a land of plenty is nothing new, as it’s something nations strive to balance to this day.

So what happens when we realize that two nationalities share the same species? What happens when these nationalities are also geographical neighbors? What happens when these same neighbors also have hundreds or thousands of people migrating opposite to the birds in the fall? Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and even countries as far as Brazil are all homes for neo-tropical songbirds. They are also countries with high immigration rates into the US. If we can learn something from the birds, let us learn that a distant landscape with different cultures, values, and folklore is indeed, also a home. Perhaps with this idea as a foundation, the birds can help guide us towards unity. Looking beyond the issues and politics at hand (which of course are still important), it is the understanding of the wintering ground’s cultures, landscapes, and a golden sunset accompanied with birdsong after a long, hot day that will unite a continually migrating people.

As I say farewell to the Black-throated Blue warbler at the end of September, I know it’ll be in good hands.

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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in News/ Field Notes, Reconciliation


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Glorious Landscape & Rich History in Copper Country


Standing atop the pile of mine refuse tailings at Old Victoria.

MICHIGAN U.P.– Over the past week I had the amazing opportunity to trek across the North Country Trail for 6 days, covering about 50 miles from Trout Creek to the Trap Hills near Berglund.

The immensity of the Ottawa National Forest and the beauty of these forests are still leaving their impression on me days after my return to a bed. My legs miss the hills, my eyes miss the grand views, and my ears miss the haunting, wild calls of the coyotes and wolves. Compared to the Porcupine Mountains and Minnesota’s Superior North Shore, this is unfortunately a less-traveled segment of the North Country Trail. This segment, which is the Peter Wolfe Chapter, holds so much for both adventure seekers and history buffs alike.

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Posted by on September 28, 2013 in Reconciliation


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A New Sense of Place: The Inner Struggle

Balsam Firs: The stubborn view-blocker

Balsam Firs along the walking path… view blockers or perfect scenery?

September 25th, 2013

CONSERVE SCHOOL– A few weeks after moving up to the Northwoods, the adjustment process was well underway. It was exciting, beautiful and wild. Despite a bit of nostalgia for the common smells, sights, and sounds back home in the Twin Cities… it was freeing to be living up close to the forest. But, to my surprise there was a discomfort after the initial excitement faded. I noticed a dissonance to the copious pine trees that surrounded me daily… especially the Balsam Fir.

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Posted by on September 25, 2013 in News/ Field Notes, Reconciliation


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Common Nighthawk Migration

Photo credit: Philip Simmons,

Photo credit: Philip Simmons,

August 25th, 2013

CONSERVE SCHOOL– It’s late August on a warm clear evening. The cicada siren sounds well beyond the sunset. Patches of red and yellow appear on the outer fringes of every 9th tree just slightly hinting of Fall.

I was having a rather lethargic evening, trying to force myself to get out for a jog. Even once warmed up, it was one of those days where it was tough to stay in motion.

But then I saw a Common Nighthawk. “Neat”, I thought to myself. I always thought they had a magical way about them in flight, swooping and diving unpredictably yet agile. If you haven’t seen one before, they migrate over rural and urban places alike, usually visible over fields or golf courses. In June, they’re quite adapted to urban areas, and can be heard on summer nights with their nasally “meiigh” hunting call. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on September 2, 2013 in News/ Field Notes


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