MOU Paper Session

Yesterday was the annual Minnesota Ornithologists' Union Paper Session. An annual event where birders from around the state come to party. How do we celebrate? By sitting around and listening to people talk about bird research, I tell you, we birders know how to kick it off right.

Interestingly, Ruth Hopkins did not sneak out of the group home to visit the paper session this year. Most of my staff was at the paper session (the other two were cursing our names for having to work the bird store alone on a busy Saturday) so I was not able to introduce them face to face to Ruth. I did have a couple people ask if I was hiring but I am now putting further limits on new hires. Not only do you have to be able to lift 50 pounds and be familiar with computers, but you also have to have no interesting in going to birding festivals and mou functions.

The two big highlights for me were Carrol Henderson's Birding 100 Years ago and the Lost Study of Oology and Andy von Duyke, Joan Galli and Steve Kittleson's report on the mystery of why the great blue herons have abandon their nest colony for the last few years.

Carrol Henderson did a power point presentation on an egg collection that was discovered boarded up in the house from the early 1900s. Many of the eggs had been collected in the late 1800s and some interesting things were learned. There was a clutch of white-winged scoter eggs that had been collected in North Dakota. Apparently there had been a small population in the United States, but is no longer there. 100 years ago, there were no binoculars, field guides or bird clubs so the way to study and enjoy birds was to take their eggs. It's fascinating stuff and I can't wait to learn more--Plus Carrol is a great and engaging speaker.

The big event everyone was waiting for was the lake Peltier heron colony report. It had been published in the newspapers that the colony was disappearing and herons abandoning nests. Several fingers were pointed and quite a few at the obvious conclusion of human disturbance. However security cameras on the nest revealed that the culprit appears to be raccoons. This was some of the most gruesome footage I've watched and probably not going to show up on too many animal shows. Some raccoons (the number isn't known for sure but it's definitely more than one raccoon doing it) are swimming out to the island, climbing 85 feet into the trees and killing and eating the young herons--and these are not small downy chicks. These young birds are about 5 weeks old and almost as tall as the adults. Most are taller than the raccoons and so it takes awhile for the raccoon to take down the heron. When I first heard about this I imagined the raccoons were the large 40 pound males, not these are smaller females and even some young of the year doing it. What was also interesting was that the footage we were watching was during daylight hours, generally raccoons are nocturnal, but two to of the attacks that were shown occurred during daylight hours. One was 10:30am and the other was 8:30pm.

There is no possible way to remove the raccoons and anyone who has tried the trapping and removal method of raccoons from their yard knows what a futile practice it is as more raccoons quickly move into the yard. So, they are going to test out putting metal flashing around some of the trees--like the way people do to protect wood duck boxes and bird feeders. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.