Secrets of the Sax Zim Bog

The Sax Zim Bog is “actually about 300 square miles of not only bog, but aspen uplands, rivers, lakes, meadows, farms and even a couple towns! It is not just a giant bog, but rather a “magic mix” of habitats that boreal birds love” (

The bog is located about an 1 hour north of Duluth, MN on Highway 53.

Photo by Pam Starr

“We were driving and saw two animals in the road. We weren’t sure what they were, maybe wolves, but they looked too small. Perhaps pine martens, but these animals were larger than a marten. The two animals ran across the road and into the trees. Then all of a sudden, from the left side of the road, out popped this bobcat. It was still pretty far away, but stayed long enough for a few snapshots.”  Pam Starr

Great Gray Owl
Vivian Mueller

Great Grey Owls are residents of the Sax Zim bog (In fact, there is a nest that is visible from Admiral Rd). Bogs and swampy boreal forests are ideal habitat for Great Greys. They hunt mice at night and in the dusk and at dawn and will eat up to 7 mice a day.

Great Gray Owl
Vivian Mueller

Great Grays are very hard to spot if they’re sitting among the trees. As you can see, they are very well camouflaged.

Great Gray Owl
Vivian Mueller

The Great Grey is the largest owl in North America, with a wing span of 60 inches. However, they only weigh about 2 lbs. The facial disk of the great gray acts as a sound receptor.The feathers in the facial disk direct the sound to its ears. It can hear even the slightest movement of a mouse under the snow or in the leaves.

The red light behind the moose is an approaching train.
Photo by Floyd Luomanen

It was 7:20 in the morning and still dark. In the distance, I saw what appeared to be cars silhouetted from the headlight of an oncoming train. As I got closer, these 3 huge moose were blocking the entire road. I pulled over probably 200 feet short of them and tried to take some pictures. One knelt to the ground and my first thought was it might be injured. Then all 3 started licking the road, probably because of the salt. The craziest thing is they all bolted across the railroad tracks not 3 seconds in front of that train. I thought for sure I was going to see at least one of them get hit. Thankfully they all made it across.
Floyd Luomanen

Northern Hawk Owl
Vivian Mueller

The Northern Hawk Owl is a resident of Sax Zim. They are non migratory owls who hunts during the day and usually sits high on top of the trees. This smaller owl does not have typical owl traits.  They do not have silent flight like most owls. They do not have a keen sense of hearing that would allow them to locate prey at night.

Northern Hawk Owl
Vivian Mueller

Hawk Owls have excellent eye sight. Researchers could routinely attract hawk owls perched a mile away using a fake mouse attached to fishing line. Even if a hawk owl is not hungry, it will continue to hunt and then stash its prey for later when food is scarce.

Northern Hawk Owl
Vivian Mueller

Researchers have observed that the Northern Hawk Owl diet varies as prey populations fluctuate. Their primary food is voles (meadow mice). However, if the vole population was down, hawk owls would kill squirrels and young snowshoe hares. Researchers even observed them killing adult snowshoe hares (possibly 4 times heavier than a Hawk Owl).

Photograph by Celeste Rouse

“I drove around a corner and this beautiful Coyote was standing nearly in the middle of the road. I first shot through my window thinking he was going to flee but he did not. So I got out and shot in the crack of the door. He stayed for about 30 seconds, went to the right and then came back to the same spot in the road and stared in my direction. It was like he wanted something on the other side of the road and maybe I interrupted his plan. He finally dashed off the road but gave me a few more seconds of shooting while on the side. I was exhilarated to see him as I never expected to run across anything at the Bog except birds. I made sure to put my camera down for a moment to just admire him. I have seen coyotes from a distance but never up this close or for this long. That moment lasted me all day long. So exciting!”
Celeste Rouse

Pine Grosbeak (male)
photograph by Celeste Rouse

Many neighbors of the Sax Zim Bog have winter feeding stations set up for visiting birdwatchers. One of the favorite stops is at Loretta’s.

Pine Grosbeak (female) Vivian Mueller

Pine Grosbeaks migrate south from northern Canada to spend the winter at Sax Zim.

Evening Grosbeak
Vivian Mueller

They are named “grosbeak” for their thick beak which it used to break seeds. One of the oldest observation records of Evening Grosbeak is from 1825, when an Ojibwa boy shot one and called it “Paushkundamo”, an Ojibwa word meaning “berry-breaker.” One observer watching an Evening Grosbeak eating wild cherries could hear the “pop” of a breaking pit 100 feet away!

photo by Pam Starr

The porcupine was in a tree on McDavitt road. It’s little buddy was walking around at the base of the tree. I really wanted a picture of the porcupine on the ground but it was camera shy. Pam Starr

Gray Jay
Vivian Mueller

Gray jays are year round residents of the Sax Zim Bog. They are very curious and may take a peanut from your hand. Gray Jays are also called “whiskey jacks”. The name was taken from “Wiskedijak” an Algonquian word referring to a “mischievous spirit who likes to play tricks on people.

Vivian Mueller

Redpolls breed in Northern Alaska and Canada, migrate down for the winter months when food is scarce.


  • Thanks to Vivian Mueller for generously sharing her photos.  To see more of her work go to:
  • Floyd Luomanen – Moose photo and text
  • Celeste Rouse – Coyote and Pine Grosbeak photo/text and editing support
    Pam Starr – Bobcat and porcupine photo and text
  • References
    1. Sax Zim Bog Blog (
    2. Northern Hawk Owl
    3. Cornell Lab of Ornithology
    4. Gray Jay –
Posted in Birds, Connecting to Nature | 8 Comments

The Cloud People – Zapotec Culture Expressed Through Art

Last month, I had the honor to visit the taller (workshop) of Jacobo and María Ángeles, from San Martin Tilcajete a pueblo near the city of Oaxaca, Mexico.

They are artists who carve and paint alebrijes, magical wooden creatures. To the artists, who spend so much time creating the pieces, the creatures have a spirit inside them.

The taller of Jacobo and María Ángeles is dedicated to keeping their Zapotec culture alive. The designs reflect the artists’ spiritual connection to their Zapotec roots. Zapotec culture dates back 2500 years, where they were warriors, farmers, builders of pyramids and artists.

The Zapotec believed that bats or murcielago were the keepers of the Underworld.





According to Zapotec legends, some of their ancestors emerged from caves, and others came from trees or jaguars. Still others are believed to be descended from supernatural beings who lived in the clouds. That is why they are called “Be’ena’Za’a” – “The cloud people.”










The sacred dog of the Zapotecs, Xoloitzcuintli was hairless. “Xolo” symbolizes the importance of  family, positive leadership and spiritual power.

photo by Jacobo and Mária Ángeles

Jacobo and María employ over a hundred artists and administrators. In addition, they have a school where they train interns that live in the community.

The Zapotec symbol for the caracol or snail represents the value of contributing to the community.  This symbol is used in Alebrije designs and it is the emblem for Jacobo and Mária’s workshop. Other animals honored in Alebrije designs are:
Ants  (hardworking)   and   fish  (respect).

Zapotecs believed that iguanas represented creativity and sensitivity.

Many of the carved creatures are based upon the sacred Zapotec calendar. This is the artist’s way of keeping their culture alive and honoring nature. Jacobo says, “Our identity is deep from our origins.”

Photo by Jacobo Ángeles

Most of the Alebrijes are carved from the sacred Copal tree. Before starting to work, they burn the resin of the Copal to help cleanse their energy and connect to their ancestors. Mária Ángeles is the woman on the right. The woman on the left has caracol designs on her arm.

All of the work is done by hand using primitive tools: machetes, knives, and chisels. Photo by Jacobo and Mária Ángeles

“Carvers need to study the woodblocks to find the hidden “nahual” or spirit, using their imagination and skill at using a machete. The “nahuals” are waiting patiently inside the trees for the artist to discover them by using their senses.”
Jacobo Ángeles

An unfinished jaguar that our guide, Elias, was working on. The entire body will be covered with Zapotec symbols. The jaguar is the protector and signifies leadership.

Elias had been painting alebrijes for 25 years. He and other artists only use natural pigments: copal bark (black), cochineal bugs (red), the skin of the pomegranate (yellow), flowers and other materials.


Elias and other artists paint the designs without following a pattern, using their innate creativity.  Elias said that painting the Zapotec symbols all day long can be a meditative experience.

A large piece may take 1.5 years to complete from start to finish and 10 weeks to paint. Elias and a team of other artists worked together on this lion project.

Copal Tree
photo by Jacobo y Mária Ángeles.

Unfortunately, the Copal tree has been over harvested. To honor this sacred tree, and ensure its survival, Jacobo and María’s community began a reforestation project over 10 years ago. They grow the plants in a nursery for two years and then plant 2,500 Copal seedlings in the mountains annually.

The row on the right are one year old cutting grafts. The row on the left are seedlings planted from Copal seed.

8 year old Copal Tree

The trees will be harvested after 40 years. At that time the trunk will be a meter in diameter.

Yearly planting project that involves the entire community. photo by Jacobo y Mária Ángeles.

photo by Jacobo y Mária Ángeles.

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Photography/Art, Spanish | 2 Comments

Raw Beauty Unleashed

All photos and text by Alex Munoz
Editor’s note: I am proud to say that Alex Munoz was raised in my home town of Fillmore California. He grew up at the base of Mt San Cayetano and spent a lot of time around that mountain as a boy. I went to school with his younger brother, Raul. Alex currently lives in Prescott Valley, Arizona.

The Granite Dells, is a geological feature north of Prescott, AZ. The Dells, consist of exposed bedrock and large boulders of granite. I am not from Arizona and these granite boulders still blow me away. I’ll spend hours taking close-ups of the veins in the rocks.

The next four photos were taken in each season of the year. I’ll revisit places several times to try to photograph something different.

The peaks in the background of the photo below are the San Francisco Peaks, the tallest mountains in Arizona. At the base of the peaks is the city of Flagstaff, Arizona.

I’ve spent a lot of hours out there in the early in the morning and evening because the light is better  for photography.

Ten years ago, I joined the local photography club and developed a passion for what has become a gift at my age and a wonderful hobby as well.

In Sedona, this fall, it was a steep hike up to Devils Bridge. However, it was well worth the hike, as you can see from the next two photos .


I feel a very strong connection to the land. That is why I am always getting outside.

In the next two photos, you can see the light changing in the afternoon, as we made our way back to the trail head from the Devil’s Bridge.

Whatever light I had at any given moment was the light I needed to work with.

The next three photos show our approach to Cathedral Rock in Sedona, 2016.

The cloud patterns in Northern Arizona are very unusual.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona, AZ

Cathedral Rock Spires

Sedona Sunset

I’m not a professional photographer, but I am a person practicing a profession that I enjoy very much.

Alex Munoz

Posted in Photography/Art | 1 Comment

Close encounters with White-tailed Deer

photograph by Dale Antonson

If you live in a suburban area, white tail deer can be pests eating the hostas and the vegetables in your garden; destroying a young tree by making it a rubbing post during the rutting (mating) season.

But white tails are the largest wild mammal in our neighborhoods, and are incredibly beautiful and sleek. There is something special about taking a morning hike and watching doe and yearling bound away with their tails “flagging” in the air.

White-tail “flagging”
Photograph by Larry Wade

Below are some stories about white-tail encounters:

  •  On an October morning, I walked out to get my mail, it was during the rutting season, and a buck was trying to mount a doe in the street, not 50 feet from me (Hormones can be overwhelming for all mammals sometimes).   Larry Wade
  •  My wife and I were hiking and our dog, Hug, was barking wildly ahead of us. She had recently weaned her pups. We rushed up to see a wobbly newborn fawn nursing from Hug’s teats. The dog was standing with a bewildered look on her face, not sure if she  should try to take bite out of the fawn or lick it. Time slowed down to one frame per second. My wife, picked the fawn up and cradled it. Then we both realized what she has done and she laid the fawn down in the weeds. We continued down the trail, wondering if the whole event had even happened.
    Larry Wade

Photograph by Dale Antonson

  • I had the good fortune to have a free hour to spend before our worship service last Sunday, so I ventured over to Lake Ann in Chanhassen for a hike in the beautiful forest there. I was alone, so I prefer to move through the woods carefully and quietly. I was pleased to come upon a pair of deer. I paused and took some of the photos for this posting. Look carefully in the photo above and you can see the doe who blends so well into the background. As I began to walk away from them, the buck began to follow after me, which made me a little nervous. Thankfully, I was able to move up a hillside and lose his sight line.
    story by Dale Antonson
  • Many years ago, I was working with a group of 6 graders at a nature center. We were doing a deer study near a deer feeding station. I was showing the students how you could tell the age of the deer by looking at the scat (poop). I was getting less than 10 % interest from the group. So, having a few milk duds in my pocket, I reached down pretending to pick up some deer scat. I said to the group, “You don’t need to be so freaked out, because deer scat tastes pretty good”. Then I popped the milk dud into my mouth. I’ll never forget the look on those kid’s faces. Their jaws dropped and eyes bugged out, as they tried to fathom what had just happened.
    Larry Wade

 If you have a favorite white tail story post in the comments section.

Deer Population Study

Do you have a deer herd in your neighborhood? What is the population make-up the herd? By recording some simple field observations, you can get a good idea what age groups of deer live there. Below are three tools for studying deer populations including: scat analysis; measuring the size of deer beds; and analyzing hoof size.

Deer bed

What to do: Go out into woods looking for deer signs: including scat, tracks, and beds. You will need a tape measure to determine the deer bed size. When it comes to analyzing scat, count individual clumps. Make a tally for each of the signs that you find. The number of tallies that you make for each age class, will give a good idea what the population structure is in your neighborhood.

Photograph by Dale Antonson

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Mammals, Winter | Leave a comment

Nature School

Gatewood Elementary is becoming known as an environmental school in the west suburbs of Minneapolis. 4th grade teachers, Jeremy Hahn and Amanda Van Wye have incorporated environmental studies into their regular science curriculum. For many years, they have brought their students to Lone Lake Park for a fall environmental camp. This is an all day outdoor learning event.

photo by Amy Weber

On the nature hike, Mr. Hahn gave the students some “solo” time in the woods. They took notes, and or wrote poetry.

In the cold, Fall space I share
Beautiful long trees surround me with air
Fear not, I hear the bear stands here
Singing songs of joy that he hears.
Up in the trees with the beautiful colors
such as rose red stand right there.
Look down from every branch,
Getting darker by the time is near
After that, “Bye” I say to the calm and cold Fall air.
Queen Okunola

Jenny and Mia
photo by Amy Weber

Mrs Van Wye taught the macro and micro invertebrate class, using pond water from the lake. For the micro invertebrates, students used 30x microscopes. Students had to identify, draw and describe the behavior of the aquatic creatures.

Tree identification was the 3rd class that was taught. Students had to make leaf rubbings from leaves collected from trees in the park, identify them and write a note about them.

Tree lab
Photo by Amy Weber

The art work below was created by using plant pigments, dirt and Buckthorn berries.


Every Friday, Mr. Hahn and Mrs Van Wye take their students out for environmental studies. Below is some of their work that was completed during the peak of fall color.

Art work by Kayla

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Fall, Nature Poetry | 3 Comments

Spirit Walk

The untouched areas of the Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan provided inspiration and learning for our group of nature seekers.

Sun on Escarpment Overlook
photo by Ken Brown

The songs of the forest felt alive in my cells. Never have I felt the natural life and death within a forest with such intensity. In this wilderness, death feeds life and life feeds death in a constant celebration.
Ken Brown

Photo by Jane Ball

When I walked or swam in the natural world, I used to try to have no impact. I wanted the life I experienced to go on living as it would if I were not there. I wanted to blend in, to be invisible. I realize now that I am not a visitor to Nature. I am part of it. Now, I hike down the trail and fin over the coral with no particular ego. I am myself, part of everything, no better or worse than anything else, just another life form incorporated into the big picture of Nature.
Jane Ball

Overlook Trail – fern forest
Photo by Ken Brown

Everywhere we walked the life of the forest filled the air with its own breath. My challenge was to experience something so alive without expectation. How do I learn to breathe with the forest as a leaf, individual yet all?
Ken Brown

Photo by Jane Ball

It was easy to give yourself up to this untouched wilderness.  At times, I felt like there was no separation between what was around me and how I felt inside of myself. In this trance-like state, the land shimmered like a constantly moving mirage.
Larry Wade

Sky Tree
Photo by Ken Brown

Going into the Porcupines, the first thing I noticed were the Hemlocks. The last time I saw a Hemlock forest was in New York where the large trees were about thirty feet high. Here there are seventy feet plus trees that have been around for up to 550 years( yes those were babies in 1470). Hemlocks are very selective about where they grow and I could feel that this was home for them.
Eric Wickiser

Sunbeam forest
Photo by Ken Brown

Walking under these old growth giants was a spiritual experience of wonder and awe at their size and beauty and sensing there was a lot of communication going on between them. Being there felt like enjoying old friends who I had not seen in a very long time and I wanted to lie down on the forest floor and look up at the canopy.
The trees each had a different configuration of limbs and trunks. Interspersed here and there were the seedling hemlocks with their feathery needles. I knew that it would be many, many years before these seedlings reached the forest canopy as hemlocks are very slow growing. My hope is that we take care of our home so that in another 550 years, all can enjoy seeing this magnificent forest.
Eric Wickiser

photo by Larry Wade

Rain Walk
photo by Larry Wade


Posted in Connecting to Nature, Fall, Seasons | 1 Comment

Hidden Beauty in Murky Water

Minnehaha Creek  flows out of Lake Minnetonka and lot of fish go over the dam during the spring runoff. I love to snorkel here until the creek gets too polluted by all the human activity on the lake. Winter is blessing for Lake Minnetonka because it is able to heal from the summer boating season.


Brown bullheads are bottom dwellers and they usually skitter away when danger approaches. True, most people do not like bullheads.  But when you are swimming in their element, it is easy to appreciate their uniqueness.

largemouth bass

Eye to eye with a largemouth bass.
One of the little surprises that continually occur while snorkeling in the creek.


Crappies are like angels with fins instead of wings.
They are so gentle and have a quiet beauty.

Northern Pike

This young northern pike allowed me to get within a few feet of it. The beautiful camouflage pattern made it difficult to see.


Walleye are so mysterious. They lurk in the shadows.


Male bluegill in breeding colors. I have not seen bluegill nests in the creek. Probably because the river’s current would wash them out.

Bowfin or dogfish

Primitive, creepy and beautiful. Bottom feeder.
I only saw one bowfin this year. This photo is from 2016 when there were dozens of them.

Smallmouth Bass

The creativity of nature continually amazes me.
The subtle pattern of a smallmouth bass is food for the soul.


In this photo you get a hint of how the light dances off the fish and the plants.

Northern Pike

Nothing like seeing a large pike to make your heart stop.


Posted in Animals, Photography/Art, Summer | 1 Comment

Addicted to Whale Watching

Would you pay $50 to go out on a ship, possibly get seasick, stand in the cold and get soaked for 3 hours, just to get a glimpse of a whale? It turns out there are millions of people a year who did precisely that (13 million in 119 countries around the world – (data from 2008)). Not only that, whale watching brought over 2 billion dollars into local economies (world wide).

Fin Whale
Justin Thomson

“Whales watches are exciting because you never know what you are going to see. Seeing a blue or a fin whale you realize the immense size of these creatures. With humpbacks they have so many different types of behavior like bubble feeding and breaching, so every time you go it’s a chance to see something different. Living in New York we are never immersed in nature but when you are out in the ocean it is so vast and the whales are so big, it really helps you let go of all your stress and just experience something totally different.
 Sarah Sable, Brooklyn, New York.

Humpback surfacing   –      Robert Sable

Whale watchers live to see a whale surface right off the bow. You hear the sound of the “blow” as the whale surfaces. You hear screams of joy and the permanent smiles on people’s faces. The “people watching” is almost as much fun as watching the whales.
L Wade

Humpback Fluke-up

What unique creatures whales are:
They are up to 3 school buses in length.
They have baleen which helps them filter small creatures (zooplankton)
Their flukes (tail)  propel them in the water.
Whales are like something you read about, but never get to see.
L. Wade

Blue Whale
John Calambokidis
Cascadia Research

I have been hooked on whales for over 40 years. The first blue whale I ever saw was in 1973. I was working with a group of whale researcher in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The whale surfaced right in front of us. It was dead quiet until someone whispered, “It’s a blue”. Then we started jumping up and down, like little kids, and screaming with pure joy.
L. Wade

Fin Whale Surfacing
Justin Thomson

“It’s exciting, it’s fun. You get to go out to the open seas like people of yore and you get to see these amazing large creatures that you couldn’t see otherwise.” Justin Thomson, Brooklyn, New York


The shearwaters and terns feed on the same prey as the whales. Many of these birds circumnavigate the Atlantic Ocean each year. The Great Shearwater nests on Tristan da Cunha Islands deep in the South Atlantic. While the Sooty Shearwater nests at the southern tip of South America (Tierra Del Fuego).

Humpback Whale just starting to “blow”
Robert Sable

“I like to see the whales spouting in our face”  Emeline Thomson-Sable ( 3 ½ years old)

This whale is named “Echo”. The pattern on the lower edge of the left fluke was made by a killer whale. To learn more about how individual humpback whales are identified go to:
photo by Robert Sable

There has been a world wide ban on whaling for over 40 years. Sadly, Norway, Iceland and Japan still murder whales. Once you have seen a whale in the ocean, it is unimaginable to think of killing one.

Fin whale struck by ship
Cascadia Research

For the most part, whale populations world-wide are increasing. However, ship strikes are the leading cause of whale deaths. Other threats include, water pollution, and entanglement in fishing gear. This summer (2017)there have been 13 endangered North Atlantic Right Whales killed by ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear.

Posted in Nature Notes, Whales & Oceanography | Leave a comment

Smart Phone Naturalist

Steven Barnier is a senior at Hopkins High School in the Minneapolis Area. He has already completed AP Biology and Chemistry and is possibly interested in a career in forestry. Steven shared his photos with me during the Hopkins Field Biology class at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in July 2017. All of Steven’s photos were taken with a Samsung S8.

All text and photos by Steven Barnier

These mushrooms were so perfect that they almost looked fake growing out of a dead tree branch.

This was our camp-out at Eagle Bluff. I put the lens exposure as low as it could go. I really liked the glow of the coals below and the way the fire jumped.

That was very early in the morning at Eagle Bluff. The background was blurred out and created a mysterious image.

I found this green tree frog resting on a propane tank at Eagle Bluff. I bet it was eating the bugs on the tank. I thought it would jump away when I used the flash, but it stayed right there.
Nighttime sunset at the Grand Tetons, Jackson, Wyoming.

I love the way the pine trees form a frame around the bear which was less than 40 yards away (Jackson Hole, Wyoming).

Photography allows me to get a close-up view of the workings of nature. It helps me see how creatures live in the natural world.


This shows the artistic design of a spider web. The photo was taken at night. When you put the flash on them it reflects the web back. It was hard to shoot because the strands of the web would shake, making the other photos I took blurry.

This was a very unusual type of fungus. It was super puffy and looked like a plastic bag growing out of a down tree.

There was a hailstorm two years ago in Northern Minnesota and trees were damaged, like this aspen leaf that was torn from the tree.

Coneflowers at midnight, Eagle Bluff.
The flash created the unusual light on the flowers.

It was after a rain storm and I liked the water droplets that were suspended above the Jewelweed flower. It was so beautiful in the morning with the light on it.

Blue Dasher, Northern Minnesota, mid summer

I was attracted to the contrast of colors between the red mushroom and the patch of green moss. It really made the mushroom stand out.

This is the underside of some type of shelf mushroom. I slid my phone underneath the mushroom and it was backlit with the light shining through the gills.

A shelf mushroom growing upside down out of a tree. I thought it was phenomenal.

Skiing at sunrise in Salt Lake City Utah. I thought the beauty of the sun rising over the mountain was very special. The wind blowing the snow at the summit, was illuminated by sun.

Steven Barnier is in the foreground with Alex Patridge and Ben Johnson.

Posted in Photography/Art | 2 Comments

Changing the World – One birdwatcher at a Time

Posting and photos by Amy Simso Dean

I want to change the world. But how can one introverted, bird nerd from Minnesota inspire world environmentalism? I am no John Muir or Rachel Carson. My answer (or at least I hope it is): Kids.

My story starts in Minneapolis… ventures toward Azerbaijan… and ends who knows where.
Minneapolis, Minnesota
In 2015, I had the crazy idea of starting a youth birding club for 4th and 5th graders at my daughters’ school in South Minneapolis.

Luckily the school principal (“You want to start a what?”) gave me the go ahead. Julie Brophy and Amber Burnette, local birders, heard about my idea and stepped up to help.

We make poster and build our own birds.

Now each fall, winter, spring we spend 4–6 weeks introducing kids to birds. This fall, we’ll have grown to 5 sessions at 4 locations. MYBirdClub (MN Youth BirdClub) is a club, not a class, so learning happens organically as we wander or play indoor games and activities.

The kids play a game called “field guide race”, where they learn how to use a field guide to ID birds.

If you ever run across us in the field, be ready for high-energy, explosive enthusiasm. They point. They shout. They run. They battle with dandelions gone to seed. (And yes, they amble, quietly oblivious, engrossed in conversation.)
But when one birder spots a downy woodpecker, all the binoculars snap up. These birders run to see a Blue Jay teed up on a treetop, shouting, “Where is it? Where is it?” and “I see it! I see it!”

And the interest is contagious. They soon start pointing out birds to their parents and siblings. Suddenly an entire family is scanning the skies, lakes and trees; I have the email and texts to prove it.

I believe that once you notice something, you start to care about it. And once you care about something, you want to protect it. So, while I might not be able to change the world, maybe, just maybe, one of these kids will.

Youth in Azerbaijan
This summer’s rather harebrained scheme is gathering used binoculars to send to Nature Friends, a program in Azerbaijan that also hopes to inspire the next generation of birders and conservationists.

Bird Camp Besh Barmag,Azerbaijan. April 2017    © Emin Mammedov/Nature Friends


Minnesota birders, a truly generous flock, have rallied to the cause and donated more than 24 new and used binoculars. My next challenge is getting them there—a task that is proving to be much harder.

Transportation costs, customs, distance… I now have to figure out how to bridge these gaps. But if a Ruby-throated hummingbird that weighs as little as a penny can cross the Gulf of Mexico, I know I can get these binoculars into the hands of the next generation of Azerbaijani conservationists.

Who knows, maybe some day, one of them will team up with one of my Minnesota birders and set the birding world… or the entire environmental community… on fire.


Amy Simso Dean is a freelance writer in Minneapolis. She volunteers at The Raptor Center, runs MYBirdClub afterschool youth birding clubs and does a little stained glass on the side.
If you’d like to learn more about MYBirdClub, you can contact her at
Youtube video about bird camp in Azerbaijan: Bird Camp Besh Barmag documentary, Azerbaijan 




Posted in Birds, Nature Guardians | 2 Comments