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For the birds: Checking out a tour in Minnesota

For the birds: Checking out a tour in Minnesota

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CRANE LAKE, Minn. — Dee Kuder was introducing herself when she stopped in mid-sentence.

“There’s a yellow warbler,” she said, pointing to a garden area in the parking lot opposite the Vermilion Gorge Trailhead.

Kuder walked to the edge of the garden and “pished” a few times. Within seconds, two yellow heads emerged from the vegetation to check out the pishing … check one bird off the list.

A self-taught birder, Kuder resumed the introduction as she crossed the street to the trailhead. Again, the pleasantries had to wait.

“There’s a common yellowthroat over there,” she said pointing to a small thicket.

The yellowthroat didn’t require any prodding, jumping to a branch in plain view. However, Kuder wasted little time looking at the yellowthroat; she was distracted by a song sparrow singing near the trailhead.

“I’ve been interested in birds all my life,” she said. “My family, we were always interested in birds and feeding birds. I moved to Crane Lake 20 years ago and got involved with the Voyageur’s National Park Rendezvous.

“I met up with the park biologist and he just knew all the bird calls. That just intrigued me and made me want to learn them. That’s when I really intensely started birding seriously.”

She is two birds shy of 300 on her Minnesota list and nearing 600 species on her life list.

And, so, the three-hour trek down the trail continued. Conversations tended to be brief. Whenever Kuder heard a new bird, things would stop.

“Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed, “There’s a black-throated green.”

In the deep woods of northern Minnesota, voice recognition is vital because visibility is limited.

“When you get out in the woods, the best way to find a warbler is to listen for the call,” Kuder said. “So, it’s important to recognize the calls. How I learned them, I bought a lot of tapes and listened to them in my car. I listened to them all the time.

“The best way really was when I got my iPod with the Bird Jam software and the Cornell recordings. Then I would go out in the woods and quiz myself, listen for a bird and try to guess what it was and then play it on the iPod. That’s really the best way to learn and the easiest way to learn.”

On occasion, Kuder used the iPod to call the birds, usually with immediate success. During the course of the morning we saw Canada, Nashville, blackburnian, magnolia, black-throated green winged and chestnut-sided warblers, just to name a few.

Northeast Minnesota is a warbler paradise, thanks to the mosquitoes, black flies and other pests.

“Well, probably the bugs, the bugs and the habitat,” she said. “Warblers, because a lot of them nest on the ground, or low in shrubs, they need a lot of unfragmented forest. When the forest does get fragmented, then predators can get in and find them in their ground nest. So, it’s important for them to have a lot of unbroken forest. That’s really their only defense.”

When the morning was over, the short hike netted about 45 birds, ranging from the tiny warblers to bald eagles and loons.

Kuder leads weekly bird walks through the spring and summer. She can be contacted at 218-750-0047 or at dee@visitcranelake.com.

les.winkeler@thesouthern.com / 618-351-5088

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