Big River Journey

Hey, if you are interested, The Winter Finch Forecast is out, if you want to try and figure your chance of seeing some irruptive species. Crossbills, goshawks, and boreal owls might be a possibility in northern states.

I have been part of the coolest thing through the National Park Service this week. It's called Big River Journey and it's basically a classroom on a river boat. Students go around to different stations on the boat as it goes between Harriet Island in St. Paul and Fort Snelling in Minneapolis and learn about macro invertebrates (leeches, dragonfly larvae, and other water beetles), geology, ecology, river stewardship, birds, and how to be a riverboat captain--it's awesome. I bet you can't guess which station I was assigned to? It was birds of course, but the best part for me what that for some of the kids who came on the boat--this was their first time one a boat, let alone on the Mississippi River. One boy looked over at me and said, "This is so cool, I knew I was going on a boat, but I didn't know I'd get to see a bald eagle today!"

By hardcore birder standards, we didn't see great birds, but for kids who don't watch birds, we kicked some major butt. Many thought ring-billed gulls on a river (and not on the ocean) was quite a treat. I think almost every group got a great look at bald eagles and herons. We also saw lots of turkey vultures--quite a few eating dead fish along the river, and some gratuitous peregrine falcon flights. We spent the first few minutes of the station going over adaptations some birds have for living along the river and then the rest of the time using binos to watch for birds and signs of birds--like cavities in trees or on cliffs, swallow nets, whatever.

For me, it was the first time in a long time where I really felt like I was making a difference when giving a bird program, it was the best. I believe Big River Journey is offered twice a year, in the fall and in the spring. Read more about it here and maybe talk to your school about signing up for this amazing event.