Newsletter of the Columbia Audubon Society | February 2020 | Volume 62, Number 6

Sat. Feb. 1, 2020

News and Notes for February 2020

President’s notebook: Special General Membership Meeting, 6:00 pm Wednesday February 19

by John Besser

We will have a special general membership meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church on February 19 at 6 PM, one hour before the scheduled presentation by Bill Palmer. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss and vote on a proposal for CAS to support the development of the Boone County Nature School.

This proposal requests that CAS donate $30,000 to the Nature School, which would be earmarked for construction of a structure called the ‘Council House’. This structure will seat over 100 students (the planned capacity of the school) for events such as assemblies or performances.

Funds for this donation would come from a large donation received by CAS from the estate of Joseph Koster. These funds have appreciated in value by about $38,000 since they were received in 2011. The donation would give CAS the right to name the building, and the proposal suggests the name, ‘Koster-Columbia Audubon Council House’.

This donation would allow CAS to express our gratitude for the Koster bequest, as well as contributing to the development of a unique facility centered around nature-based education. For more details see the full proposal (as a .pdf) and comments from CAS board members (below).

This meeting will meet the requirement of the CAS by-laws that decisions about large donations be made in consultation with the general membership. According to Article VI, Second 5:  “Substantial gifts to the Society, substantial expenditures, or the undertaking of major projects by the Society must be discussed with the general membership of the Society, either at a regular meeting or at a special meeting called for the specific purpose to consider such gifts, expenditures or projects, prior to final acceptance or approval by the Board of Directors.”  After a brief presentation and Q&A by Mike Szydlowski of Columbia Public Schools, we will open the meeting for questions and for statements for and against the proposal. We will end the meeting with an informational vote of the membership, the results of which will be considered by the Board of Directors before they take the official vote to approve or reject the proposal.

Statement in support of the CAS donation to the Boone County Nature School

by Nancy Bedan

NOTE: CAS=Columbia Audubon Society; CPS=Columbia Public Schools; MDC=Missouri Department of Conservation

The project aligns with the CAS mission to “preserve the natural world and its ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife, and the earth’s biological diversity through education, environmental study and habitat restoration and protection.” The Nature School curriculum will reflect Audubon priorities.

The donation makes sense for CAS as a “Partner in Education” with CPS’ Science Department since 2012. We support CPS by sponsoring the Band with Nature field trip for second graders and by providing dollars for teachers and students to attend nature and science education programs. The Nature School offers the chance to extend CAS support to other Boone County students.

The project has firm backing. The principal partners, MDC and CPS, have executed a Memorandum of Understanding, committed $3 million for the project, and are well on the way to raising an additional $1.2 million from private donors to construct the school. It will happen.

The project is long-term. MDC owns the property and has leased the site to CPS for 40 years for $1 per year. More than 1,300 CPS fifth-graders, plus students from other districts, will study at the Nature School each year. Their teachers will become grounded in the Nature School curriculum. Thousands of students and teachers will study and learn at the Nature School in future years.

By collaborating, we achieve far more than we could alone. CAS knows the value of partnerships. CAS worked with the City of Columbia and numerous non-profit organizations to establish the prairie at the Columbia Audubon/Bonnie View Nature Sanctuaries.

The project requires only a one-time financial contribution—not an investment of CAS’ already stretched volunteer time and talent.

We have the opportunity to honor Joseph “Bo” Koster, who left a substantial estate gift to CAS in 2011. CAS can invest earnings from that gift without touching the principal of the gift or compromising CAS’ financial position.

The council house will be the only Nature School facility that can house all 100 students in attendance on a given day/week and serve as a place for discussion, learning, and decision-making as the namesake structures did for Native Americans.

Statement in opposition to funding the Council House structure

by Eric Reuter

The CAS membership is not being asked to approve the Nature School overall, but the spending of $30,000 on one very specific aspect (the Council House structure). While the proposal is well-meaning, it does not pass certain tests for a spending choice of this magnitude.

  1. The structure’s educational value is not clear enough to justify such a massive and unusual investment on CAS’s part. Its circular design is not ideal for educational programming (half the students would be behind a speaker at any given moment) and the project already includes an outdoor pavilion with more specific educational goals and infrastructure. The Council House could be funded by many other sources in Columbia, allowing CAS to focus on projects with more direct value to our combined mission of education and conservation.
  2. This is the only proposal being considered; CAS has not had a robust strategic discussion about the best way to spend the money newly identified as available for one-time use. For example, other unconsidered options could include:
    1. An elevated viewing platform at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, available to the entire public through most of the year (not restricted to a subset of mostly CPS students).
    2. Helping MDC expand its Motus network to enhance scientific understanding of bird movements.
    3. Working with the city to develop educational infrastructure at the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary, an idea raised previously.
    4. Rebuilding Wild Haven’s degraded infrastructure (e.g., fallen bridge, trails, shelter, etc.) and doing more ecological restoration/management.
  3. The originally stated benefits included the assumption that CAS would be able to actively engage in programming/curriculum at the Nature School. This has now been dropped in favor of undefined “collaboration” and that CAS’s contribution is limited to funding. In the latter case, this is not sufficient value for the money, and in the former case, it is unclear that CAS has the time or volunteers to engage in meaningful collaboration (or whether doing so would detract from existing efforts and properties).

In summary, this proposal is not the best use of one-time funds, has not been considered in the context of other possible options, and does not contribute to our mission at a level matching the requested investment.

Field trip updates

by Eric Reuter, Field Trip Chair

The CAS First Day (January 1) hike at Rock Bridge Memorial SP (in cooperation with DNR) drew ~35 people on a sunny but rather windy winter afternoon. Highlights included many different woodpeckers and a large murmuration of European Starlings (eBird list).

The Great Backyard Bird Count happens Friday February 14 through Monday February 17. CAS will be holding its annual feeder crawl on Saturday February 15; see the field trip listing for details. Also, Eric Wood is planning to attend the St. Louis Audubon Society’s all-day trip to the Audubon Center at Riverlands and welcomes other interested attendees from the Columbia area; see here for details.

Other CAS field trips will be scheduled as weather permits and if leaders volunteer (as the Field Trip Chair is not available much of this month due to other commitments). Trips can occur on any day and at any time that a leader thinks is best. Leading a trip does NOT require any level of birding skill, just a willingness to be responsible for leading the walk and keeping track of the group. If you’d like to help make a trip happen, contact Field Trip Chair Eric Reuter.

Possible local destinations this time of year include Finger Lakes SP, Rocky Fork Lakes CA, Eagle Bluffs CA, Grindstone Nature Area, 3M Wetlands, and (of course) CANS. Large numbers of geese tend to migrate through the region in late winter, with numbers peaking in late February and early March. Eagle Bluffs re-opens fully on February 7 and can be a good place to observe geese. Though farther away, Thomas Hill Reservoir in Randolph County hosted over a million geese in early March last year (for example, check out this eBird list).

The field trip committee held a meeting in January to address field-trip insurance options. After contacting other Audubon groups, two companies are being considered, and research continues to determine pros and cons of the known options. We hope to move forward with a recommendation to the board soon.

CoMoGives donations will help CAS programs grow

by Nancy Bedan, CAS CoMoGives Committee

The Columbia Audubon Society received $10,028 in donations during the 2019 CoMoGives online fundraiser for community nonprofit organizations. In addition, CAS earned a second-place “Challenge Grant”—an extra $500—for finishing with the second highest amount raised by an organization with a budget of $25,000 or less.

Columbia Audubon will use the funds to maintain and expand its education and conservation programs in 2020. The CAS board plans to continue converting pasture land on the west side of the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary to prairie and to expand its scholarship program, which helps send students and teachers to science and nature-education camps and workshops. Other options for improving the CAS nature sanctuaries are under consideration.

This is the fifth year CAS has participated in CoMoGives. The amount received by Columbia Audubon in 2019 represents a 6 percent increase over donations received in 2018, which totaled $9,405. The number of people who contributed to CAS also increased to 97 in 2019, up from 81 in 2018. (Note: Three CAS 2019 donors contributed by check rather than online.) Twenty of the gifts Columbia Audubon received in 2019 were made in honor or memory of someone.

CoMoGives is conducted during the month of December by the Community Foundation of Central Missouri. Donations for the 138 local nonprofit organizations that participated in the 2019 CoMoGives drive totaled more $947,000. Columbia Audubon ranked 31st in terms of funds raised.

Columbia Audubon’s CoMoGives drive was coordinated by a committee of Doug Miller, Bill Mees, Lori Hagglund, Eric Seaman, and Nancy Bedan. The group developed e-mail messages, Facebook posts, and a postcard mailer to inform members and friends of the organization and to encourage donations. Columbia Audubon acknowledged gifts by e-mail messages and by cards.

Columbia Audubon is very grateful for donations received during the 2019 CoMoGives drive.

The Legislative Action Center of the Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM) and your conservation voice

[Editor’s note: CAS is an affiliate member of CFM.]

by Michelle Gabelsberger, CFM Membership Development Coordinator

In 1935, sportsmen from throughout Missouri came together to form the Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM). They organized with the purpose of taking conservation out of politics. Their initiative petition campaign resulted in the creation of the Missouri Department of Conservation, a non-political conservation agency that has been a model for other states.

Since then, the Federation has undertaken many successful battles to ensure Missouri continues to be the leading state in conservation policies and funding. In 1976, CFM spearheaded successful passage of the conservation sales tax to create stable broad-based funding for Missouri’s forests, fauna, and fish.

Today CFM is the largest and most representative conservation group in Missouri. It is a citizen’s organization with over 100 affiliate organizations and thousands of members.

To bolster our collective voice regarding advocacy and legislative issues in the Capitol for the 2020 session, The Conservation Federation of Missouri has a new online legislative action center. It’s a tool to keep us informed and communicate more effectively directly with your elected officials on issues that are important to us all. We all want our powerful voices to be heard so that we may have a lasting impact for generations to come.

In order to upload your information to the system, all they need is your name, address and email address. You can submit your information by going to and click on the “Sign Up”.  Your information will not be shared with any outside parties, and it’s only used to communicate with you on legislative issues. Thanks for your consideration and making our collective voices be heard loud and clear.

Board meetings

The November, December, and January board meetings focused primarily on the Boone County Nature School. Because these minutes are relevant to the upcoming vote of the membership on the Nature School topic (see above), the board conducted a vote by email to approve the minutes from recent meetings. Here are links to all of the newly approved minutes:

Brief Notes

Here are a few notes about events sponsored by other entities that may be of interest to CAS members:

  • Root docking is a non-chemical method for removing Bush Honeysuckle, and it is the subject of an upcoming workshop sponsored by the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance in the St. Louis area. This particular workshop is now full, but at least one person from the local chapter of the Native Plant Society has signed up, and other opportunities to learn the method are available, so hopefully knowledge of this method will spread soon.
  • Missouri Master Naturalist training will occur in central Missouri this spring. This program requires a substantial time and volunteer commitment, but it provides an opportunity to learn about our local ecosystem.
  • The Wild and Scenic Film Festival, presented by Missouri River Relief, will be held on February 9 at The Blue Note.

Supporting CAS

Carrying out our mission through education, conservation, and outreach takes a wide variety of resources, from the valued time of dedicated volunteers to the financial support of members and donors. We welcome and appreciate all participants and supporters of our work through their generous donations of time, money, or other resources.

Submitting material to The Chat

The Chat is published online on the first of every month from September through May. Submissions are welcome, including photographs, stories, and brief notes about bird or nature observations. Please contact News Editor Joanna Reuter with submissions, feedback, or suggestions for content. The submission deadline is the 25th of each month.

Sat. Feb. 1, 2020

Updates in Missouri Ornithology (January Meeting Summary)

by Joanna Reuter

At the January meeting, ~40 attendees were treated to an informative and enjoyable presentation from MDC State Ornithologist Sarah Kendrick, who discussed three major topics:

Missouri Bird Conservation Plan

You’ve probably heard news about bird populations declining. It’s really important to have a solid understanding about which birds are declining and why, as well as which birds are most vulnerable to threats, and what to do about the issue. Enter the Missouri Bird Conservation Plan, an interagency, statewide document that identifies our state’s most threatened birds, provides “Missouri concern scores” based on data and expert opinion, summarizes the state of knowledge that led to inclusion on the list, and provides broad management guidelines for both public and private land managers. The Technical Section of the Missouri Bird Conservation Plan is available online and it is well worth perusing.

Motus Wildlife Tracking System: Missouri update

Motus receivers are going up in Missouri! These receivers, which are part of a global network, allow for the detection of birds, bats, and insects (outfitted with radio-transmitting nanotags) that approach within ~15 kilometers of the receiver. If you’re not familiar with Motus, learn more from Sarah’s “Flight Tracker” article in the Missouri Conservationist.

The current plan calls for two lines of receivers across Missouri, one southern and one northern. Coordination with surrounding states is intended to extend these lines, creating a series of latitudinal “digital fences” that should be able to detect birds (or other Motus-tagged animals) as they pass through a multi-state region, providing really exciting data about movements through our region’s major migratory Mississippi Flyway. Sarah’s role in this plan is significant, as she leads the Telemetry Working Group for the Midwest Migration Network.

A receiver in Jefferson City (separate from the two main lines) has been active since October 2018, detecting a Semipalmated Sandpiper and several Swainson’s Thrushes during May 2019; a full listing of detections for this station is available on the Motus site. Eight more receivers, mostly in southern Missouri, are now active. Equipment has been ordered for seven more that will hopefully be up and running in northern Missouri in time for spring migration.

Brown-headed Nuthatch reintroduction planned for Missouri

Brown-headed Nuthatches were historically present in Missouri and extirpated (possibly in the early 1900s) as a result of habitat destruction related to the removal of over two million acres of shortleaf pine before intense logging denuded the Missouri Ozarks overall. Although swaths of the pine woodland they need have since been rehabilitated in Missouri due to landscape-scale efforts by the U.S. Forest Service over the last decade, these habitats are isolated from the nearest populations in Arkansas. Because Brown-headed Nuthatches are non-migratory and weak fliers, and because there are no corridors of suitable habitat that would lead Arkansas Brown-headed Nuthatches to Missouri, the probability of natural, sustainable recolonization is extremely low. Therefore, after extensive cooperation and work among various agencies over the last two years, a plan exists to re-introduce Brown-headed Nuthatches to Missouri starting in 2020! Much work by partners at the University of Missouri and the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station went into assessing source population health, potential impact on the source population, suitability of pine woodland habitat in Missouri, and more. The plan includes moving 50 birds per year in 2020 and 2021 from the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas to appropriate fire-managed pine woodlands in the Mark Twain National Forest of southeast Missouri as part of continued efforts to restore the state’s shortleaf pine woodland ecosystems. Birders are excitedly anticipating the return of the Brown-headed Nuthatch’s distinct rubber-ducky-like squeak to Missouri:

Sat. Feb. 1, 2020

Sightings: January 2020

by Joanna Reuter

Audrain County swans & more

A large pond/small lake on private land in western Audrain County, just east of Highway 151, has been a magnet for Trumpeter Swans the last few years. Even in years with deep cold, the water has remained free of ice, and nearby corn fields offer sustenance. County Road 116, on the south side of the lake (map), provides a good viewing angle with safe places to stop.

Trumpeter Swans make distinctive vocalizations. I made the following recording from the field to the east of the lake, with approximately 140 swans in view. Unfortunately, the wind messed with recording quality, so this is just a short clip that has a minimum of wind interference.

This is also a good location for other waterfowl, including geese and ducks; a scope is very helpful for viewing here. Some keen observers (for example, see this eBird list and this one) have picked out occasional Tundra Swans from amongst the Trumpeters.

Eric and I visited this location on January 4; part of our motivation was to check out whether the massive blackbird observation reported here last January might not have been an isolated occurrence. Sure enough, as afternoon progressed, we started to see blackbirds streaming across the sky in narrow, smoke-like “ribbons” that stretched from horizon to horizon (as illustrated in this admittedly terrible photo):

These blackbird streams were continuous enough that we were able to follow them by vehicle to their roost location about 10 miles away (see next item). Those are some long streams of blackbirds!

Millions of blackbirds in northern Boone County roost

In January, Eric and I twice observed a mind-bogglingly huge group of blackbirds coming in to roost in miscanthus fields in northern Boone County. The observations came about because we were inspired by what I learned when writing about flocks of blackbirds/starlings for the January Chat. (By the way, the “quiz” photo in that article generated no response, so there are no results to report.) I wrote up two MOBIRDS posts containing lengthy descriptions of the observations: post #1 describes the January 4 observation and post #2 describes the January 16 observation (eBird lists are linked therein). The best documentation we managed are the two videos below. The first is ~9 minutes (with the first 1 minute 40 seconds being perhaps the slowest bit, though the things in the trees that look like dark leaves are all blackbirds); the second video is ~3.5 minutes of non-stop blackbird action:

From the videos, it should be possible to get some better estimate of how many birds we saw to replace the abhorrent “x” on our eBird list (but we simply have not had time to deal with this task to date). Our rough estimates suggest that the miscanthus fields collectively are hosting millions of blackbirds.

For a variety of reasons, the destination is sub-optimal for an organized CAS field trip at present, but it is easy enough to get to; North Barnes Road is a gravel road with safe places to stop near the miscanthus field (see map). I would be really thrilled if others would visit and report from this site. Questions I’m curious about include: How long will they keep using these miscanthus fields though the season? Does day-to-day weather affect roosting patterns or numbers? Will activity persist until flocks break up for breeding season, or will birds eventually head to other roost sites? What numbers estimates do others come up with? What is the ratio of Red-winged Blackbirds to Common Grackles, and are other species included in the mix?

On my list of lifetime most-incredible bird experiences, this observation ranks up there with Sandhill Crane migration in Nebraska (though admittedly behind walking amongst Magellanic Penguins in Patagonia). We found it to be an amazing experience, quite worthy of an outing.

 American Robin with partial leucism

No, that’s not snow on the bird! This unusually pigmented American Robin is partially leucistic, a term explained on the All About Birds website.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

January reports for Eurasian Tree Sparrows came from Bradford Farm, where they’ve been reported multiple times recently as well as in past years, and also from Thomas Hill Reservoir (photo below), where they had not been previously reported on eBird. As its name implies, this species is not a North American native, but was introduced into the St. Louis area in 1870. Range expansion has been occurring, primarily in a northward direction. Sporadic eBird reports have occurred in central Missouri and as far west as the Kansas City area. The notes on the eBird list by Pete Monacell and Paul McKenzie indicate that enough birds were present at Thomas Hill Reservoir to potentially indicate a local breeding population.

Favorite photo of the month

I love this photo of an American Kestrel feeding on a rodent at Eagle Bluffs CA:

About Sightings: The “Sightings” column has evolved into a summary of the past month’s bird activity as told by photos and audio submitted via eBird lists to the Macaulay Library. Emphasis is on the six-county region (Audrain, Boone, Cooper, Howard, Monroe, Randolph) served by the Columbia Audubon Society. If desired, feel free to make direct submissions to Joanna Reuter by email.

Columbia Audubon Society is supported in part by a generous contribution from

2010 Chapel Plaza Court, Suite C • Columbia, MO 65203 • 573-446-5941

Upcoming Events

Join St. Louis Audubon at Clarence Cannon NWR

Saturday, February 22 | 7:30 a.m.

Carpool will leave at 6:00 a.m. from Moser's (900 N Keene St., Columbia)

Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area 25th Anniversary Open House

Saturday, March 14 | Time TBD

March meeting: Robin Hirsch-Jacobson

Wednesday, March 18, 2020 | 7:00 p.m.

April meeting: Greenbelt Land Trust of Mid-Missouri

Wednesday, April 15, 2020 | 7:00 p.m.

May meeting: Picnic

mid-May, exact date to be determined