Faces of Wetlands: Northern Waterthrush

northern waterthrushPhoto: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The Northern Waterthrush is a small songbird with a brown back and a whitish, creamy underside with dark stripes. They winter from Florida to South America, and spend their summer at their breeding grounds from Alaska to New Jersey. They’re also a bird with of paradox. Despite being widespread, they’re tricky to find. Despite being called a thrush, they’re actually a warbler. Unlike most warblers, waterthrush feed on the ground. Instead of the canopy they prefer low, dense, shrubby vegetation. They specialize in wet spaces such as wooded swamps, bogs, and lakeshores. They prefer still water, but that doesn’t mean they like to stay still. Perhaps the most defining trait of the Northern Waterthrush is its constant tail bob as it strolls through the underbrush. One theory for this behavior suggests that the movement flushes out insects for meals on-the-go. Another says the bounce warns predators that this little bird is agile and attentive to its surroundings. Clearly, the motionless perching mourning dove is a better bargain for lunch.

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Faces of Wetlands: Common Yellowthroat

There’s a bandit on the loose!
Weight: .4 oz
Color: Buffy olive-brown with black mask and bright yellow accents
Wingspan: 6”
Last seen: Cattail marsh

Have no fear, this bandit means no harm. It’s actually quite cute. The Common Yellowthroat, often referred to as a “masked bandit”, is a warbler of dense, wet pockets of cattails and shrubs. While VLAWMO doesn’t work directly with birds, this little warbler connects closely to our work with water resources.
Adult males boast a signature bright yellow throat, while females are an olive-brown with a dash of subtle gold under the throat and tail. When out on a Spring walk, they’re more likely to be heard than seen. While the Spring chorus can be a frenzy of different songs, once you pick out the Yellowthroat, it’s hard to miss. Listen for a high-pitched “whi-chi-dee, whi-chi-dee” or “whi-chi-dee-dee” that descends from high to low notes. Hear a sample of this song here.

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Capoeira: Social, Environmental & Global

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SALVADOR, BA– I recently had the amazing opportunity to travel to the state of Bahia, Brazil. To the pulsing, lively, vibrant city of Salvador. My goals were to take a course in Portuguese, stay with a host family, and learn more about the art of Capoeira right from the source. While these goals were certainly a lifetime opportunity, the deeper realizations from them offer other life changing opportunities not yet manifested.

As I mentioned, Salvador is the birthplace of the art of Capoeira. The Portuguese colonists took with them a tragic slave trade, which lasted longer than any other slave industry in the world. Almost 4 million displaced Africans took with them similar fight dances to Capoeira, which laid the art’s foundation to what it is today. In Brazil, interactions with diverse people groups, the social and political structures, as well as the local sense of place and environment, shaped the art. During the time of Slavery, it was a way to train, stay empowered, maintain a cultural identity, and more. Today, it is an active and growing symbol of freedom, birthed from a resistance to oppression and domination. For a more detailed history of the art itself, click here.

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Ecology and Culture: 2014 WAEE Presentation


STEVENS POINT– This week I’m excited to be a part this year’s annual Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education conference. The conference spans from August 13-15th, and I’ll be presenting on Wednesday at 10 am!

The title of the presentation is “Continuing the Conversation of Cross-cultural EE”. I’ll be speaking about experiences working at Minneapolis Public Schools, covering some thoughts from my past blog entry on Malcom X, and highlighting a video entitled “Ecology and Culture”, posted below. The video is an EE experiment, mixing break dancing and ecological learning. It was a great learning opportunity, and a lot of fun to facilitate.

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Wading in Water History: San Francisco, Drought, and Hetch Hetchy


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SAN FRANCISCO– The reality of the California drought is a stark contrast from the lush upper Midwest. While one chooses between ground or surface sources for municipal water and need not stop to think about lush green grass underfoot, the other dons signs along the road reading “pray for rain”. While Minnesota and Wisconsin thrive in a culture of river and lake recreation, California has a website for the drought, featuring Lady Gaga chiming in to get the attention of the masses. Not only are the communities of the Bay area strained by the drought, but a key fertile agricultural land in our national economy is strained, too. Wine, fruit, and especially almonds from Northern California make their way around the country and the world. While the region had built an infrastructure to cope with such water scarcities, the current drought has the reservoirs at record lows. The drought reaches beyond the capabilities infrastructure and now calls on personal water use. Reflecting on our history in water resources, are we really ready for such a responsibility?

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A Water-friendly… Mall?

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MAPLEWOOD, MN– In a project that’s the first of its kind, Maplewood Mall has retrofitted its parking lot with top-knotch stomwater infrastructure. Although construction projects and improvements on infrastructure are common every construction season, this one holds special significance. Here in Maplewood, the local watershed district, Ramsey-Washington Watershed, and Simon Property Group (Simon Malls) formed a unique partnership. Through what may seem like vastly different spheres of society, the watershed district and Simon Malls, one of the largest land owners in the US, planned and implemented a groundbreaking parking lot innovation. Concerning far more than parking spaces, the new parking lot is designed for stormwater runoff, to keep water where it lands instead of it running off the concrete jungle’s paved surfaces to pick up all sorts of trash and pollution (everything that drips and falls out of cars, accidentally or intentionally). The end result is that the Mississippi River receives water from this area not from the surges of stormwater pipes, but from gradual, stable, and clean groundwater flow. So how did they do it?

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Beauty and History in the Sylvania Wilderness

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MICHIGAN U.P.– On a recent canoe trip with Conserve School students and staff, we trekked into the UP’s Sylvania Wilderness Area. Being a beautiful vacation destination for hundreds of campers, canoers, and fishing enthusiasts alike, Conserve School is lucky to have such a place practically out its back door. For 5 nights and 6 days we paddled, camped, swatted mosquitoes, and escaped them with refreshing dips in the stunning clear lakes.

Beyond the beauty though, a fascinating history is nestled under the canopy of old-growth hemlocks and maples. Over a hundred years ago, the Ojibwe came to the area from out East, migrating from a prophecy to travel to where food grew on the water. They came and found wild rice, which currently grows in Sylvania, forming magical wildlife hotpots bustling with activity. Sylvania as it exists today became possible through the Michigan Wilderness Act in 1987, which put the area into the 9.1 million acre wilderness system that was previously created by the 1964 Wilderness Act . Before this at the turn of the 1900’s, Sylvania’s early development consisted of individual property-buyers purchasing land around Clark Lake, eventually forming a private fishing and hunting club.

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