Strib blog: Eagle eye

This is the latest post on my Star Tribune blog. Enjoy!

Eagle chick in a nest on the Mississippi RiverA bald eagle chick was briefly kidnapped from a nest on the Mississippi River recently.

A group of folks from the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center (better known as Freedom Park) in Prescott, the Misssissippi National River and Recreation Area, and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway are thinking about putting a webcam on an eagle nest at the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers, and went to take a close-up look at the nest and its occupant one day last month.

Professional tree-climber Jim Spickler evaluated the nest for a potential camera but also brought the 10 lb., seven-week chick down to the ground for a visit with a researcher, who took blood samples and banded it before returning the eaglet to the nest.

Climber Jim Spickler ascends to the eagle nest
Climber Jim Spickler ascends to the eagle nest

Spickler, who travels all over the globe climbing our planet’s tallest trees and who has helped install several such eagle cameras, rated the Prescott nest as at least a nine out of 10. It’s solidly built, within sight (and transmission range) of Freedom Park, and there are good branches to mount a camera on where there won’t be a risk of the lens being covered in, well, eagle excrement.

Like the very popular camera in Decorah, Iowa this spring, the Prescott camera would let anyone on the Internet watch life in the nest next spring, 24 hours a day. In the video below, Spickler first evaluates potential camera locations, but it’s the the close-up footage of the eaglet at the end that is both fascinating and endearing.

Route, of the National Park Service, has been conducting research into contaminants in our environment, and using blood samples from young eagles on the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers and the Apostles Islands to measure levels of chemicals.

Eagle populations have recovered to the point the birds were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007. What almost wiped them out once is still a problem, though: the birds accumulate pollutants because of their diet and the fact that they are at the top of their food chain, which makes them excellent indicators of pollution levels.

If the webcam project goes forward, information about Route’s research will also be available on the website. That seems like an excellent way to mix entertainment and education, and it might inspire viewers to do more to protect eagles, and ourselves.

Taking measurements
Taking measurements

The nest camera idea came up about two-and-a-half months ago and is far from a sure thing. Many details still need to be worked out, including permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and funding. Bird expert Jim Fitzpatrick, who runs Carpenter Nature Center just upriver on the St. Croix, another project partner, is working on that process.

Watching the video and viewing the photos, I wondered how the chick and its parents responded to the intrusion and abduction. In an e-mail, Jim Shiely of Friends of Freedom Park told me, “When the eaglet was being captured in the nest the eagles flew overhead. You can hear them on the video. They did not and do not attack climbers except in rare cases.”

Eaglet on a nest near Prescott, WI on the Mississippi River

Thanks to Jim Shiely (disclosure: my wife’s uncle) for sending the photos and video and providing a lot of information. Photos and video by Jim Spickler, Margaret Smith, and Roger Santelman.

Boundary Waters caught on film

Our friends Jason and Kate took this amusing video of two Pine Martens tussling on their deck outside Ely, MN. Like they asked on their blog, can you watch closely enough to see which one starts in the planter and which one ends up there?

Two videos shot in the Boundary Waters in late September captured the eye of many last week. Filmmaker Alex Horner spent a weekend filming in the BWCAW with his dad and uncle and then worked with his dad when they got back on the music.

It’s like falling asleep and dreaming of canoe country heaven. I love the first rays of morning sunlight hitting the bright yellow birches. And I like pretty much everything else in both videos, too.

I’m pretty sure that when I tweeted the link to part two via my work Twitter account, it ended up making MPR’s News Cut blog:

When I first moved to Minnesota many years ago, an executive (who no longer works in Minnesota) pulled me aside and said, “these people… all they care about is getting through the workweek and getting to their cabin.” He wasn’t from here; he was from New York, where people go to work for entirely different reasons.

At the time I thought — but didn’t say — “so? What’s wrong with that?”

How to start your summer

The St. Croix and its valley.Memorial Day weekend is just a few days away; it’s when summer gets real in Minnesota. The holiday really sneaked up on me this year, but that’s how summer is.

Soon, the blur and bustle of the season will be the only existence imaginable. A blast of hot and humid weather starting last weekend was a wake-up call that the season is underway, and I started thinking about how Minnesotans will celebrate the weekend.

I just posted an article over at Minnesota Trails magazine about great opportunities this weekend in our state’s many great parks:

Everyone knows that Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer in Minnesota. The current blast of hot and humid weather has gotten a lot of folks pulling out the shorts and sandals, and looking for ways to enjoy our state’s great outdoors.

We’ve picked some of the most promising events and opportunities for fun scheduled in Minnesota’s state parks and trails this holiday weekend.

Whether you’re looking to learn about nature or history, or walk through the woods looking for birds, or even just get some pancakes, we’ve got something for you.

Memorial Day is not just an extra day off work, of course. It’s also a solemn holiday for all the brave Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Take a moment while you’re enjoying the parks and trails this weekend to remember those that never got the chance to, so you could.

I still don’t quite know what I’m going to do with myself this weekend, but I’ve certainly got a few ideas. Head on over to the magazine’s website for seven interesting events at parks around the state, as well as a special bonus featuring some paddling opportunities!

Roam rhymes with home

This path was made for walking.
Near the 1850s Point Douglas-Superior Military Road, Wild River State Park

There is a concept that I’ve struggled to state clearly in the past about home, but I have come to this: It is home because I love it; I love it because it is home.

The author and theologian Tony Jones lives in Edina, Minnesota, two blocks from his childhood home. He has always lived within five miles of it. In a recent blog post titled “Why I’m Staying Put,” he offers a defense of the well-rooted. (And yes, we have a tendency to be defensive.)

Why have I stayed put?  There are several reasons:

First, I like it here.  Minnesota is a beautiful, fantastic, seasoned place, filled with genuinely good people.  I like the culture, and I know it.  And the Twin Cities makes just about every list for best places to live, bicycle, run, etc.

Second, the land.  My family owns some woodland about 120 miles north of my house.  I want to spend the rest of my life within a couple hours of that, my spiritual home.

Third, influence.  Because I know this place and I know these people, I’ve been invited to serve on some youth advocacy committees, I was a volunteer police chaplain for ten years, and I hope to run for public office (probably school board) some day.  Of course, none of this is only available to someone who stays put, but it seems a lot more natural to me since I’ve been rooted here.

It should be said that the fourth reason is his divorce and the subsequent shared custody, but it’s a long story and, fortunately for me, I don’t have that aspect to relate to. Those first three are compelling, though. I would add that, in addition to the influence aspect of knowing the place and its people, there is also simply the joy of the relationships one can build with family and oldest friends.

This is not to say that I don’t admire people who move away. I love to travel, and almost anywhere I go I enjoy thinking about what it would be like to live there, maybe just for a while. Sometimes I’m envious of the nomadic for choosing the place where they want to live the most, and living there. To me, it feels like the place chose me.

The Hjelmar Road

Over at Minnesota Trails magazine, editor Dave Simpkins writes about walking an old farm road that runs through the property in western Minnesota where he grew up and where he still has a cabin today.*

I put on an old pair of waterproof hiking boots, a war-torn rain jacket, and a big ugly hat and I headed out on the Hjelmar Road.The Hjelmar Road leads to the Hjelmar land, that old Hjelmar Huff, a Norwegian, homesteaded in 1884. My grandfather, a Norwegian married farmer, bought the little six-acre patch of land from his son August in 1922.

I’ve hiked, skied, Jeeped, cut wood and hauled hay on that old road most of my life. I shocked wheat and oats in the Hjelmar Land, camped in the summer and dug a snow cave in the winter. I shot my first deer here and picked blackberries by the quart.

The whole thing is worth a read: Roaming through our legacy | Minnesota Trails.

Dave goes on to say that every child, every person, deserves to have such a place, and to experience all their lives the mystery of what that attachment means. I agree, but I also agree with the second part of what he gets at: that not every kid can have a 300 acre family farm to grow up on and grow old on, but we can all have attachments to nature through public lands and waters.

A great-great-…-great-grandfather of mine rode a boat over from near Trier, Germany in 1851. I visited the village when I was traveling in Europe in 2003. The thing I remember the most was the bus ride to it; how the rolling farmland looked so much like the Wisconsin where he would ultimately settle. Even he, who was willing to leave everything he knew behind, must have found comfort in the landscape.

* Disclosure: I am currently doing some writing, Web and social media work for Minnesota Trails magazine.