Thursday, December 10, 2009

Plant of the Week: Dec 10

Besseya bullii (Eat.) Rydb., also called Wulfenia bullii (Eat.) Barnh.
other common names: 
Bull’s synthyris
Besseya: named for Bessey, a well-known botanist
Bullii: named for its discoverer, George Bull
Snapdragon family: Scrophulariaceae

Photograph by Thomas Rosburg, Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, Second Edition

Monday, December 7, 2009

An Interview with Nancy Overcott

How long have you been studying and enjoying birds? What other insects or plants or animals are you especially interested in?
In 1978, I moved with my husband to an area in southeast Minnesota known as the Big Woods. Our sixty-two acres of deciduous forest stood in the midst of limestone bluffs and springfed steams. The birds in the area soon drew our attention and we began to identify some of them when we placed two feeders in our yard. By 1985 birds had become a necessary part of my life. Along with them, I began to pay attention to wildflowers and butterflies, which have also become special interests of mine.

What has changed in the outdoor world since your first days of watching birds? What’s better, what’s worse?
Spring and fall migration continue to be exciting times, but the number and species of birds have declined mostly due to loss of habitat. I once looked forward to waves of warblers, small, active neotropical migrants, and over the years identified thirty-three species in or near our woods. I still see warblers but usually just one or a few at a time. Populations of some species, however, have stabilized due to intense efforts by conservationists to protect habitats and educate the public.   

What advice would you give to younger birders? What are the particular challenges of watching birds in the Midwest?
Start with a field guide and the best pair of binoculars you can afford. Place feeders near your house and learn to identify the birds that come to them. Birds are everywhere. Look for them in your neighborhood, along streams, and in parks, forests, and fields. Join a bird club if possible. There you will find helpful, experienced birders and opportunities for field trips.

In the Midwest we see many species of birds but we don’t have the great numbers that are found in tropical areas, for example. We have some species like black-capped chickadees that are here year round. The challenges come with learning to identify birds that are here only in winter, only in summer, or only during migration. Other challenges include putting up with bugs, rain, heat, and cold and traipsing through difficult terrain.

What are your favorite natural areas in Iowa and the Midwest? What areas do you return to constantly, and what’s your favorite newly visited area?
Cardinal Marsh, a 566-acre Iowa State Wildlife Area in northeast Iowa near Cresco, is one of my favorite places. There I saw my first white-faced ibis, common moorhen, and least bittern. Pool Slough in the northeast tip of Iowa outside of New Albin is another favorite, as is Red Oak Road, along the Mississippi near Lansing, Iowa. In southeast Minnesota where I live, my favorite places are the Hvoslef Wildlife Management Area, a variety of backcountry roads, and my newest discoveries, which are sections of the Root River Trail system.

Nancy Overcott, co-author with Dana Gardner of Fifty Common Birds of the Upper Midwest, Fifty Uncommon Birds of the Upper Midwest, and Birds at Your Feeder: A Guide to Winter Birds of the Great Plains