International Migratory Bird Day celebrated at Wild River

by Robert Walz, treasurer, Friends of Wild River State Park
North Branch is the gateway to Wild River State Park and the adjoining National Park Service “Scenic Riverway.”  On May 14, Wild River and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway were the sites for the International Migratory Bird Day observance.  This event was part of a larger bird celebration in the Saint Croix Valley sponsored by Tropical Wings, a non-profit community organization that supports the Sister Park agreement and educates the public on migratory birds the area shares with the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, birds such as the Baltimore oriole, the golden-winged warbler, and red-winged blackbird.
This year is also the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and International Migratory Bird Treaty, as well the 125th anniversary of Minnesota state parks. Those milestones were celebrated with an anniversary cake shared with those at Wild River State Park for International Migratory Bird Day. IM Bird Day is sponsored by Environment for the Americas. Environment for the Americas was organized in 1993 as a 501-c-3 bird conservation organization. Just like it often is the case with migratory birds, their lives or mission span country borders and sometimes even continents. Wild River was one of three parks or communities in Minnesota that were official sites for International Migratory Bird Day.
The sister park relationship is somewhat unique in that it is between 13 national parks in the Upper Midwest and seven national parks and protected areas on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. On the Osa Peninsula, they host an international bird festival in March of each year, just as many of the migratory birds are leaving the peninsula. This counterpart is sponsored on the official Migratory Bird day of the Environment for the America.  The sister park was signed by both governments approximately three years ago.
The Wild River birding celebration began with a bird hike at 7:30 a.m. that was led by Sue Leaf, president of the Wild River Audubon Society. The focus was on distinguishing various warblers.  The rest of the programs took place at the visitor center in the park. Dave Crawford, retired and former naturalist at Wild River State Park, gave the first talk “on the impact of the prairie and oak savanna restorations.”  Crawford noted that much of the non-forested land in the park had been farm land in the middle of the last century. Utilizing lots of volunteers, they collected native plant seeds and school children spread the seed on these open areas after they had been prepared by park staff. After three decades of collecting seeds and redistributing them to these open prairies, more traditional prairies began to appear and attract prairie birds such as the endangered  Henslowe sparrow, meadowlark, and clay-colored sparrow.
The second presentation was by Tom Will, migratory bird coordinator of the Midwest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. He began by giving the history of the International Migratory Bird Treaty, an original agreement between Canada and the U.S. He noted that other countries, Mexico, Columbia, Japan and Russia, joined the agreement over the last 20 years, and that the agreement itself had been modified that time.
Some birds migrate from one pole to the other, while some migrate only from their summer breeding regions to the wintering regions. The treaty is meant to protect birds that were being threatened and needed a coordinated plan of protection that often spanned the boundaries of individual countries. He congratulated Wild River State Park for being an International Migratory Bird Day site.
The final presentation was on bluebirds. It was given by Bob Walz, who recently became the Chisago County bluebird coordinator for Bluebird Recovery Program of Minnesota. Walz described why bluebirds almost disappeared in Minnesota. Bluebirds, he pointed out, were “secondary” cavity dwellers, that is, they made their nests in what previously might have been a woodpecker or nuthatch nest. The number of secondary cavities was declining because people would remove dead tree stems as unsightly and wooden poles were being replaced with metal ones, and trees, in general, were being clear cut and removed for urbanization. At the same time, non-native species like house sparrow and European starling had been introduced, along with other secondary cavity dwellers, which created intense competition for fewer and fewer nest cavities. In addition, the number of predators for bluebirds and their eggs was increasing. To offset these advantages, bluebirders needed to monitor their nest boxes. Walz also compared the different style bluebird nest boxes.
Cake was served following the last presentation as the group celebrated the various park and treaty anniversaries.

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