Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Southern Minnesota bird stories, past & present July 27, 2022

A tiny bird perches in a fountain at the Rice County Master Gardeners Garden, Faribault, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

I HAVE A MIXED OPINION of birds. I appreciate them at a distance, but not necessarily up close, although I’ve grown more comfortable with their nearness as I’ve aged. Just don’t plunk me in an enclosed garage or other space with a trapped bird. Outdoors is mostly fine.

Unfolding of wings to splash in the fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Recently I observed a cute little yellow bird, a finch, I think, dip into a tree stump water feature at the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens at the county fairgrounds in Faribault. With a zoom lens on my 35 mm camera, I photographed the finch briefly splash in the water before flitting away. There was something joyful in that sole moment of focusing on a tiny winged creature.

Water droplets fly as this bird bathes in the fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

We need such moments of simplicity. Of peace. Of birdsong, even if this bird isn’t singing. Moments to quiet our souls in the midst of too much busyness and too many distractions. And too much technology.

I remember how my mom loved the Baltimore orioles that one year, quite unexpectedly, showed up on my childhood farm in southwestern Minnesota flashing orange into the trees. She thrilled in their presence among all the blackbirds, sparrows and barn swallows. In her delight, Mom taught me that not all birds were like the swooping swallows I despised.

In my years of doing farm chores, I grew to dislike the swallows that dived as I pushed a wheelbarrow of ground feed down the barn aisle or shoved cow manure into gutters. That the barn ceiling was low only magnified their, to me, menacing presence. The swallows, I now acknowledge, were only protecting their territory, their young, in the mud nests they built inside the barn. And they ate mosquitoes, which I should have appreciated.

Yet I don’t miss the swallows or the rooster that terrorized my siblings and me, until the day Dad grabbed the axe and ended that.

More than 40 years removed from the farm, I seldom see barn swallows. Rather, in my Faribault backyard, I spot cardinals, wrens, robins and occasionally a blue jay. The front and side yards, however, bring massive crows lunching on remnants of fast food tossed by inconsiderate motorists who find my property a convenient place to toss their trash. I’ll never understand that disrespectful mindset of throwing greasy wrappers and bags, food bits, empty bottles and cans, cigarette butts, and more out a vehicle window.

And so these are my evolving bird stories—of shifting from a long ago annoyance of swallows to understanding their behavior, of delighting in the definitive whistle of a cardinal flashing red into the wooded hillside behind my Faribault home, of observing the feeding habits of crows in my front and side yards drawn to garbage tossed by negligent humans.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear your bird stories, positive or negative.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting with nature along the Cannon in Faribault July 7, 2022

A mallard drake in the Cannon River along the shoreline at North Alexander Park, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

NORTH ALEXANDER PARK in Faribault has become, for me, a place of refuge. A place to walk. A place to connect with land, sky and river. The park offers a paved riverside trail, part of the city’s inter-connected trails system, that bends into a tree-filled space.

A canopy of oak leaves. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

When life gets especially stressful, as it has thus far in 2022, enveloping myself in nature allows me to temporarily escape reality. Who doesn’t need a break? Focusing on the natural world rather than struggles and challenges brings a sense of peace, of calmness and sometimes clarity.

A mallard hen sits on the riverbank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

This sprawling park on Faribault’s north side is home to many waterfowl, drawn to the Cannon River. I never tire of watching them, whether in flight over the water, in the water or beside the water.

A view of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Their numbers seem down this year, perhaps due to avian influenza. Still enough ducks and geese meander the shoreline and trail to make me watch where I step.

A pair of mallards huddle under the bleachers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
Up close under the bleachers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I even spotted a pair far from shore, under the bleachers at a ball field.

A mallard drake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

While I’ve never been fond of winged anything up close, I certainly admire them (except bats) at a distance. Mallard drakes, with their iridescent green heads, practically shimmer with beauty. And the hens are lovely, too, in their mottled brown feathers.

A family of geese photographed about a month ago along the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

In the spring, ducklings and goslings draw my motherly eye. There’s something about a baby.

A pelican comes in for a landing atop the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

The Cannon River also attracts pelicans. And eagles. On a recent riverside walk, I saw an eagle trace the river, reverse course and settle low in a tree along the opposite shoreline. Too far away to photograph even with my zoom lens. It just sat there. I was hoping it would swoop down to grab a fish. But, when I left, the eagle still perched in that tree. Quiet. Still.

A snuggling mallard hen, defined by mottled feathers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

There’s something to be learned from observing waterfowl. How they sit. How they glide. How they navigate wind and water. How they adapt.

So I will continue these riverside walks, immersing myself in nature, discovering the peace and quiet that comes from connecting with ducks and geese, pelicans and eagles at North Alexander Park in Faribault.

TELL ME: Do you escape into nature? If yes, where’s your favorite place to go and how does being in the natural world benefit you?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The elusive egret May 16, 2022

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Through blurred trees in the foreground, an egret that has just taken flight. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

FROM ONE HOLDING POND to the next, then to the next, they flew. The elusive egrets.

Pond walking. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent evening, I tried to photograph egrets at the Faribault Energy Park, place of dirt trails, ponds, creek, assorted trees, wildflowers and wetlands along Interstate 35.

A wildlife photographer I am not. But that doesn’t keep me from trying.

Wings so broad and white. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Randy spotted the egrets first, in the waterway near the small shelter just off the entry road into the park. I hurried toward the shelter thinking I would quickly get the shots I wanted. But, as I soon discovered, egrets are observant and evasive. Before I even reached the site or had adjusted my camera for action shots, the two egrets were in the air.

Either landing or taking off, I can’t recall which. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

They flew toward the nearest holding pond. I followed, stood on the dirt trail, zoomed from afar and clicked the shutter button multiple times. When I moved, the egret of my focal attention took off. I was intentionally trying to respect the birds and remain unobtrusive. But I suspect, even if I had simply been walking the trails minus my camera, their behavior would have been the same.

Hanging near the shoreline in the third pond. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

By this time I determined that egrets are camera, or people, shy, preferring to just be left alone in their watery habitat.

This unfocused image shows motion as the egret takes flight, neck curved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

They are an interesting bird. Long of neck, curved when they fly. Wide white wing span, which leaves me wondering how they possibly keep those feathers so snowy white. Thin black legs resembling sticks. Long, jolt of orange beak. And not exactly graceful in flight. Rather clumsy-appearing, in my opinion.

My final photo as the egret flies during the golden hour or sunset. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I wonder what those egrets thought of me, earthling far below or nearby. Without wings. And although my legs are long given my height, they are no match for an egret’s long twiggy legs. I can’t compete with their vision either. That I observed in the short time I attempted to photograph…the elusive egret.

TELL ME: Do you know anything about egrets and/or their behavior?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the backroads of Rice County with Mr. Bluebird August 17, 2021

Mr. Bluebird, Keith Radel. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

DOWN THE GRAVEL ROAD, I saw him exit the ditch, cross the roadway and then climb into his red pick-up truck.

A man on a mission, to save bluebirds. Those are nesting boxes in the truck bed. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

“That’s Keith,” I told Randy. Even from a distance I recognized the tall, lean profile of Keith Radel. Known as Mr. Bluebird, he travels the backroads of Rice County checking bluebird nests.

Keith puts on countless miles in his red pick-up truck. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Randy and I had just finished a short hike at the nearby Cannon River Wilderness Park when I spotted Keith on a gravel road in rural Dundas. We paused, his pick-up and our van pulled side-by-side, windows rolled down, the three of us conversing like farmers meeting on a rural road to talk crops.

Keith’s simple mission statement. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Except we were talking bluebirds. Not that I know much about these songbirds. But Keith, who’s been tracking, counting and caring for bluebirds for nearly 40 years, does. He’s relentless in his passion to assure this bird thrives. And that devotion drives him to drive miles upon endless miles to check nest boxes and count eggs and do whatever it takes to assure bluebird survival. Rice County has the most successful bluebird recovery program in Minnesota.

A nesting box for bluebirds. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I didn’t take notes when we were talking, although I recall Keith saying major ice storms in Texas this year had a devastating effect on the current bluebird population. He keeps meticulous notes on each nesting box.

Bluebird eggs. We didn’t see any bluebirds. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Mostly, I focused on being in the moment. When Keith offered to show us two bluebird nesting boxes just down the road, we didn’t hesitate, reversed course, our van following his truck in a trail of dust. Once parked, Keith led us down the side of a ditch, lifting the nest cylinder from its post to reveal three beautiful blue eggs inside. The next nest held only a single egg.

Keith checks a bluebird nest. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Soon we were on our way, Randy and I looking for a place to eat a picnic lunch and Keith continuing with his bluebird checks.

The personalized license plate on Keith’s pick-up truck. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

But there’s more to this story than that of a man sporting a MINNESOTA BLUEBIRD RECOVERY PROGRAM cap with a specialty BLUEBRD license plate and a window sticker on his pick-up that proclaims his mission, Helping Bluebirds. There’s a personal connection. Keith is from my hometown of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. He grew up north of town. I grew up south of town. Both of us on family farms.

I photographed this cornfield and farm site from the gravel road where we stopped with Keith to check a bluebird nesting box. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Place connects us. Most people in Rice County are clueless as to the location of Vesta, or even our home county of Redwood some 120 miles to the west. So whenever I see Keith, I feel this sense of connection to my home area, to the land. When we met on that gravel road on a July afternoon, Keith understood my need to exit Faribault, to follow gravel roads, to reconnect with the land. And, yes, even to look at the crops.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fallen & broken April 14, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

LAST WEEK, WHILE RAKING leaves off flowerbeds, I came across a bird nest in the grass. Nestled near a retaining wall, by a row of evergreens.

Inside, a pale blue egg lay in the center, next to the broken shell of another egg.

I didn’t touch anything, didn’t move or investigate, simply photographed. And pondered.

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

How did this nest, woven with such care and perfection by a bird’s beak, claws and body, end up upon the ground? I speculated that strong winds earlier in the day loosened the nest from the shelter of the neighbor’s evergreens. Or perhaps the nest dropped from the maple in our backyard.

Whatever the story, I felt a sense of sadness at the loss. I recognize the realities of the natural world. Of challenges and predators and unhappy endings.

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

And that is life. We can choose the materials to build our lives and weave in hopes and dreams, plans and goals. But then along comes a strong wind and, whoosh, just like that our carefully-crafted nests plummet to the earth and we find ourselves struggling, broken. Struggling to rebuild. Wondering why and how this happened. It is then that we need to reach deep inside, to connect with those who listen and care, to remember that we are not alone.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The B’s have it with bargain books, bluebirds, Big Bang Boom & beer April 21, 2017

I LOVE BOOKS. And I love a bargain.

Combine the two and you have a used book sale. This week and next, book lovers in my area have opportunities to shop two used book sales.

The first, the annual Faribault American Association of University Women’s Book Sale opened Thursday at the Faribo West Mall and continues through April 25. Hours are from 10 a.m. to mall closing on April 21 – 23 and then from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. April 24 – 25. There’s an added activity—a Kids’ Karnival from 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

 

Books I selected from the “Minnesota table,” albeit Prairie Perpendicular (one of my all-time favorite fiction books) is set in small North Dakota farming community and written by a North Dakotan. I bought these at a past AAUW Book Sale. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I try to shop this sale every year, looking primarily for vintage and Minnesota-themed/authored books. But now that I have a one-year-old granddaughter I likely will also spend more time in the children’s books section.

 

Books my son purchased at a past AAUW sale. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

When my son was still home—he’s 23 now and living in Boston—he would haul home bags of fantasy and science fiction titles. He’s a voracious reader.

Just up the road about 15 miles, the Northfield Hospital Auxiliary is hosting its 56th annual book sale from April 25 – 29 at the Northfield Ice Arena. This is a mega sale where you can easily spend hours perusing books, puzzles, DVDs, CDs and vinyl. Hours are from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. April 25, from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. April 26 – 28 and from 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. April 29. Books are free from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. on the final day.

 

I found this vintage (perhaps 1960s) booklet at last year’s AAUW Book Sale. I love the graphics. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I appreciate the efforts of the many volunteers who collect, haul, organize and sell these used books and more as a service to the community and as a way to raise monies for scholarships, community projects and more.

TELL ME: Do you shop an annual used book sale? Where? What draws you there?

 

Promo courtesy of the Bluebird Recovery Program.

 

NOW ABOUT THOSE BIRDS…the Bluebird Recovery Program of Minnesota holds its annual expo from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday at the Northfield Middle School. If bluebirds interest you as much as books interest me, then consider attending this event. Click here to learn more about “bringing back bluebirds for future generations.” Expo registration cost is $15 or $25 for registration and lunch.

 

Big Bang Boom. Photo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

IT WON’T COST YOU anything to attend a concert at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault. The free concert by the pop/rock music trio Big Bang Boom is geared toward families.

 

Faribault artist Rhody Yule (now deceased) created this oil painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery in 1976. The building, and the brewery, no longer exist. The 20-foot Fleck’s beer bottle on the right side of the painting sat near the brewery entrance. Children often had their pictures taken here when their parents took a brewery tour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ADULTS WITH AN INTEREST in Minnesota brewing history will want to attend the Fleckenstein Brewery Walking Tour in Faribault on Saturday. Sponsored by the Rice County Historical Society and led by local Fleckenstein historian Brian Schmidt, the popular tours will be offered at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Good walking/hiking shoes are a must. Click here for more info and/or call 507-332-2121 to reserve a tour spot. The tours are filling quickly; don’t expect to get in if you just show up.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A May evening at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault May 6, 2016

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River Bend Nature Center, 27 trail through woods

 

SUNLIGHT FILTERED THROUGH THE WOODS, cutting sharp angles across trails, spotlighting wildflower blossoms, gloaming with an ethereal quality.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 42 violet

 

The end of the day was nearing as my husband and I walked the trails of River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, first at a fast pace to raise our heart rates. That didn’t last long.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 29 white wildflowers close-up

 

Soon I unslung my camera from my shoulder, stopped to photograph wildflowers carpeting the woods lush with green growth. Green always seems incredibly vivid in the spring. I often wonder if that’s because it is or because we Minnesotans haven’t seen a green landscape in way too long.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 34 white wildflowers in woods

 

It doesn’t matter. I am thankful for spring’s early arrival, with winter but a memory now, although Randy mentioned the white wildflowers looked a lot like snow blanketing the ground.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 36 family on trail

 

Walkers and bikers, solo and with family or pets, traversed the nature center. We paused occasionally, wondering about the history of this place, about the pockets of limestone clearly quarried, about the Faribault Regional Center residents who once worked this land and tended livestock here, about the land before then.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 35 names carved in tree

 

I wondered, too, about Aron and Kristi who carved their names into the soft wood of a trail-side tree.

As we emerged from the woods, I scanned the vista of sky and prairie. I am most comfortable in a place where my eyes can wander, where I am not visually hemmed in by trees. The imprint of my rural southwestern Minnesota upbringing remains strong even forty years removed from the prairie.

Crossing the prairie, I watched my steps on the uneven grass trail and thought about ticks. I felt a bump on the left side of my head, my fingers drawing blood as I scratched. There was no tick, Randy assured me.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 50 Randy sitting by pond

 

We soon settled onto a bench next to the prairie pond and listened to the trill of red-winged blackbirds.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 55 cattails at twilight

 

Dried cattails plumed in the lovely light. I felt comfortably at peace.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 62 crab apple blossoms

 

After awhile we aimed back toward the parking lot, where I paused to photograph pink blossoms against deep blue sky.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 67 red-headed woodpecker

 

River Bend Nature Center, 77 bird at feeder

 

River Bend Nature Center, 80 red-winged blackbird

 

I diverted to bird feeders behind the nature center interpretative center. The birds scattered, wary of my presence. But soon they returned and I photographed them, admiring splashes of red on heads, wings and breasts. I’m not particularly fond of winged creatures up close. But from afar, I can appreciate them.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 18 geese

 

According to Randy, I should have kept my distance upon photographing a pair of geese and seven goslings earlier. It’s interesting how a camera can create confidence that perhaps we shouldn’t always have when encountering nature.

On this stunning May evening in Minnesota, all felt right in my world. And all it took was a walk in the woods and across the prairie of River Bend Nature Center.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 59 interpretative center

 

TELL ME, WHAT’S YOUR go-to place to escape into nature?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If you love owls, visit Houston November 13, 2015

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The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota, is open from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Friday - Monday.

The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota, is open from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Friday – Monday.

I DID NOT HAVE nearly enough time to explore the International Owl Center in Houston. That would be Houston, Minnesota, not Texas. My husband and I were on a tight schedule to reach La Crosse after lunching with friends Doreen and Tom atop the ridge near this southeastern Minnesota community.

A banner on the side of the International Owl Center helps visitors find the building in downtown Houston.

A banner guides visitors to the International Owl Center in downtown Houston.

Still, we squeezed in a quick visit to this small town center featuring all things owl. I’d forgotten the center existed, although I’d written about it years ago for a magazine.

Owl Center visitors compete in a quiz show that teaches them all about owls.

Owl Center visitors compete in a quiz show that teaches them all about owls.

We popped in during a quiz show about owls and I was promptly recruited to a team. I contributed zero. I was more interested in shooting photos than in competing.

Owls

Two of the center’s live owls include Uhu, a Eurasian Eagle-Owl, left, and Alice, a Great Horned Owl, right.

This display shows Alice's wingspan.

This display shows Alice’s wingspan.

The International Owl Center serves as a great resource for area schools.

The International Owl Center serves as a great resource for area schools.

I multi-tasked—shooting photos, reading educational information, viewing displays, listening to the game show host and eyeing three tethered and perched owls. If only we could have stayed long enough to learn more about that trio of owls.

Owl art, from all over the worlds, decorates the center's walls.

Owl art, from all over the world, decorates the center’s walls.

Owls are popular these days. In décor, clothing, art…

It's all about the eyes in owls, including these in a Great Horned Owl on display.

It’s all about the eyes in owls, including these in a taxidermied Great Horned Owl on display.

My personal interest in owls stretches back to my childhood and visits to my great grandma’s house in rural Wabasso. There, in a bachelor great uncle’s bedroom at the top of a staircase as steep as a ladder, an owl perched atop a chest of drawers, wings spread wide, eyes piercing fear into my soul. Fear, though, didn’t stop me from viewing that owl shrine every single time I visited. I don’t know the story behind the owl’s demise. Perhaps that is best. Truth sometimes destroys memories.

One of the center's live owls. I don't know its identity.

One of the center’s live owls. I don’t know its identity.

I also hold vague recollections of dressing as an owl for Halloween, heavy paper seed corn bag turned inside out, feathers and face colored upon paper, and holes scissored for eyes.

Taxidermied owls line a wall.

Taxidermied owls line a wall.

Today my nearest connection to owls comes with the repetitive hoot of a barred owl working the night shift. I have not heard the haunting hoot for some time now. Either the owl is no more or I have slept right through the nocturnal call.

A Snow Owl, the dreamiest of owls, in my opinion.

A taxidermied Snowy Owl, the dreamiest of owls, in my opinion.

Sometimes it is better to allow memories to linger, like pleasant dreams.

BONUS PHOTOS:

You can't miss this eye-catching window front. The International Owl Center is hoping to construct a new building to further its mission of advancing the survival of wild owls through education and research.

You can’t miss this eye-catching window front. The International Owl Center plans to construct a new building to further its mission of advancing the survival of wild owls through education and research.

Lovable mascot, Hooston, presides over the gift shop.

Lovable mascot, Hooston, presides over the gift shop.

A beautiful taxidermied Short-eared Owl.

A beautiful taxidermied Short-eared Owl.

Time your visit for the live owl programs.

Time your visit for the live owl programs.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

All about eagles in Wabasha March 20, 2014

A section of a map on the floor of the National Eagle Center shows the location of Wabasha along the Mississippi River.

A section of a map on the floor of the National Eagle Center shows the location of Wabasha along the Mississippi River.

DRIVING INTO WABASHA, Minnesota, late on a Sunday morning in mid-March, we spot a bald eagle soaring high above this historic river town.

The stunning National Eagle Center, along the river and a block off the main downtown business district.

The stunning National Eagle Center, along the river in the heart of downtown Wabasha.

The bird’s welcoming appearance seems fitting given my husband and I have come here to tour the National Eagle Center, a modern two-story educational facility with banks of two-story windows and a second floor outdoor observation deck overlooking the Mississippi River.

A second story observation deck outfitted with numerous binoculars, allows visitors to view the eagles along the Mississippi River.

The observation deck, outfitted with binoculars, gives visitors like my husband a view of eagles along the Mississippi River.

This ideal riverside setting allows visitors like us to observe eagles riding river bluff air currents, scooping fish from the water and perching in trees. Wabasha, with its year-round open water, proves an inviting locale for eagles.

The activity area includes a replica eagle's nest, upper left.

The activity area includes a replica eagle’s nest, upper left.

Inside the center, hands-on interactive activities—from stepping inside a mock eagle’s nest to testing the weight of an eagle to experiencing the majestic bird’s vision to creating eagle art to scoping eagles through binoculars and more—occupy all ages.

You can get up close to the resident eagles.

You can get up close to the resident eagles.

But, unequivocally, the major draws are the resident eagles, birds that were injured, treated and could not be released back into the wild. Bald eagles Angel, Columbia, Harriet and Was’aka call this place home while Donald is the sole golden eagle here. The 32-year-old Harriet is perhaps the best known, appearing numerous times on television and serving as the model for Minnesota’s Support Our Troops vehicle license plate.

Donald, the single resident golden eagle.

Donald, the single resident golden eagle.

Handlers tend the tethered eagles in a viewing room while answering questions among a curious crowd snapping photos with cell phones and cameras.

Eagles suspended from the ceiling and a view of the river from the second floor of the eagle center.

Eagles suspended from the ceiling and a view of the river from the second floor of the eagle center.

Thrice daily, the center presents an educational program on eagles. On this Sunday, staffer Bucky, with humor, skill, knowledge and audience engagement, entertains and educates young and old (that would be Randy and me).

A mural provides information about Wabasha and its open water draw for eagles.

A mural provides information about Wabasha’s history and eagles.

We learn, for example, that Wabasha provides the perfect environment for bald eagles with the river, protected habitat and bluffs. Eagles nest across the river and at nearby Read’s Landing.

Dressed as an eagle, a staffer wanders through the eagle center.

Dressed as an eagle, a staffer wanders through the eagle center.

When Bucky shares that eagles are territorial, he mimics the bird’s high-pitched call then asks us to practice our eagle calls. Kids giggle. Adults laugh at the attempts.

During the presentation, Bucky occasionally checks on an elementary-aged boy who is keeping a replica eagle egg warm in the pouch of his sweatshirt. Eagle nests can measure up to nine feet wide and 20 feet deep and weigh as much as three tons.

The current eagle count tallied.

The current eagle count tallied.

Today, Minnesota is home to 1,200 active eagle nests. When the eagle expert asks how many of us can see eagles in our home areas, nearly all 17 of us raise our hands.

But it wasn’t always that way. Randy and I are among the audience few who remember a time when these birds were endangered. Shortly after World War II, the pesticide DDT was introduced, washing into waterways where fish and aquatic life absorbed the toxin. When eagles ate the fish, they, too, were impacted. The DDT weakened their eggshells, resulting in eggs that broke during incubation or failed to hatch. The pesticide was banned in 1972.

My husband, second from right, plays a bald eagle.

My husband, second from right, plays a bald eagle.

To visually explain the chain reaction, Bucky chooses three kids to role play a mosquito, a small fish and a large fish. I know precisely whom he will pick to play the bald eagle. The bald guy in the third role, my husband, makes his acting debut.

Bucky proves his point as, one by one, the performers “ingest” DDT.

Bucky and Angel.

Bucky and Angel.

A few minutes later, after this educator pulls out a board the length of an eagle’s wing span (6 ½ to 7 feet), he exits the room and returns with resident bald eagle Angel. The 11-pound female came to the center in 2000 after suffering a broken wing.

Perched on Bucky’s gloved arm, Angel is the model of perfect human imprinted behavior. She is a guest at many Native American ceremonies and also makes educational appearances.

Shortly after Randy shot this photo of Angel eating a rat, I left the room.

Shortly after Randy shot this photo of Angel eating a rat, I left the room.

I enjoy Angel, until feeding time. Bucky pulls a white rat from a plastic container. For awhile, I watch as the eagle uses her beak and talons to rip apart the rodent. I stop photographing the scene and hand my camera to Randy. By then I’m looking down. He snaps a few photos, hands the camera back to me and shortly thereafter I exit the room to view the resident eagles who are not dining.

Rather they are simply perched, an activity which occupies 94 percent of their lives.

You'll find binoculars throughout the eagle center.

You’ll find binoculars throughout the center for viewing eagles.

Later, Randy will search me out, inform me that I left at just the right time—before rat pieces started flying toward the audience.

#

BONUS PHOTOS:

A bald eagle was part of the show in the gym. No, it did not fly.

A bald eagle was part of “Wings to Soar” in the nearby St. Felix gym. No, the eagle did not fly.

WHILE IN WABASHA, we also took in the National Eagle Center sponsored program, “Wings to Soar.”

Dale wandered through the audience with the birds, like this owl.

Dale wanders through the audience with an owl.

In St. Felix auditorium several blocks from the eagle center, Southerners John Stokes and Dale Kernahan presented an educational flying raptor program that, yes, involved birds of prey flying over our heads.

Here an owl flaps its wings. The birds skimmed over our heads during the show.

Here an owl flaps its wings. Some of the birds skimmed over our heads during the show.

Stokes advised anyone who was afraid of birds to leave. That would be me. But I stayed and did just fine with the owls and hawks. But when Kernahan walked out with a vulture and then allowed it to fly at low altitude, I slunk into my folding chair.

On the right, you'll see the second story riverside observation deck.

On the right is the second story riverside observation deck.

FYI: March marks special “Soar with the Eagles” weekends in Wabasha. March 22 – 23 you can attend Sky Hunters, a flying bird show.

This girl is looking up at these...

Inside the National Eagle Center, this girl is looking up at these…

...birds suspended from the glass ceiling.

…birds suspended from the glass ceiling.

In the first floor gift shop, shown here...

In the first floor gift shop, shown here…

...Joseph found a plush toy eagle.

…Joseph finds a plush toy eagle.

The National Eagle Center truly appeals to all ages, to anyone who appreciates the beauty of this majestic bird.

Check back for another post from the National Eagle Center and for additional photos from Wabasha.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Three bald eagles on a Sunday February 19, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:12 PM
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AS OBSERVANT AS I AM, and I’m quite detail-oriented, I don’t profess to have an eagle eye. That would be my husband. Randy possesses an uncanny ability to notice birds of prey in the wild.

A few weeks ago he pointed out an owl perched on a fence post as we traveled along a state highway around dusk. He’s always spotting hawks circling overhead, riding the wind.

See the two eagles in the distant trees here on the west side of State Highway 13 near Waseca?

But this time, this past Sunday afternoon, he saw two bald eagles in a stand of trees several miles north of Waseca along Minnesota State Highway 13. Now typically nothing much raises Randy’s demeanor to a level of excitement. However, he was excited enough to swing our van into a U-turn, backtrack to the grove of trees and pause so he could gawk.

Although we’d seen eagles in the wild before, we’d never seen them this close—about 60 feet away horizontally and another 30 feet away vertically.

Parked along the wide shoulder of the highway, I shot this image of the eagles.

Stopping within feet of a deer carcass, the road kill that we figure drew the eagles to this grove of trees, Randy watched the birds while I photographed, wishing all the time for a telephoto lens.

After our brief eagle-watching, we continued on to Morristown, missed our turn and spotted another bald eagle. This time I requested we backtrack because I was, by then, already formulating this blog post in my mind.

We had just passed Veterans Memorial Park, a new memorial to veterans in this Rice County town of 1,000 residents. It features a bald eagle as the focal point.

This time, without highway traffic passing dangerously close, I exited the van and captured close up our nation’s majestic symbol of freedom.

The bald eagle, flanked by flags, at the vets park in Morristown.

A broad view of the new memorial, which includes pavers honoring veterans.

Shooting into the sun, I took this shot of the memorial eagle.

HAVE YOU EVER seen a bald eagle in the wild? Tell me about your experience.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling