Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Midwest bed and breakfast travel guide includes Songbird Prairie B and B

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Experience Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast in Valparaiso

Indiana’s bed and breakfasts include farmhouse homestay b&bs, charming country inns, inviting 20 reviews romantic, luxury b&b -mini spa, award winning, jacuzzis, fireplaces

Experience Songbird Prairie bed and breakfast in Valparaiso, Indiana. We are an award-winning romantic bed and breakfast in northwest indiana offering romantic weekends away.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Read what our guests say about their romantic weekend getaway at songbird prairie bed and breakfast in valparaiso, indiana – an award-winning luxury bed and breakfast in indiana


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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Songbird Heaven in Northwest Indiana at Songbird Prairie B and B

Songbird Heaven! By: Loree B. – The Songbird Prarie B&B is one of the finest (if not THE finest) B&B’s I’ve ever stayed at. Attention to the smallest details was amazing and the entire house and grounds were spotless. My kind of place! iLoveInns Guest from Mokena, IL Make your reservation today!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Epicurean Classic-Stay at Songbird

     THE EPICUREAN CLASSIC Migrates to Southwest Michigan

After five successful years in northwest Michigan's Traverse City, the annual Epicurean Classic, a Celebration of Food & Wine Artisanship, is migrating south-- to St. Joseph--where, from August 28 to 30 some of the country's finest chefs, cheese, wine and beer experts, culinary authors and practitioners will join together on St. Joe's Bluff along the Lake Michigan shoreline for a three-day Epicurean bonanza of cooking, demonstrations, wine tastings, receptions, guest/chef restaurant dinners and more.


Aussie Curtis Stone, host of TLC's Take Home Chef, is author of the new Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone.

Chicago chef Jean Joho(Everest, Brasserie JO and Eiffel Tower Restaurant) was named Best American Chef: Midwest and nominated for Outstanding Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation.  Joho has also been name Bon Appetit's Chef of the Year.

Giuliano Hazan, son of Marcella Hazan, runs a cooking school in Verona.  Hazan won the IACP award for Cooking Teacher of the Year in 2007, and is a contributor to Cooking Light magazine and author of many cookbooks including Giuliano Hazan's Thirty Minute Pasta.

Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, long known as masters of technique, take it up a few notches in their latest effort, Cooking Know-How, one of NPR's 10 Best Summer Cookbooks of 2009.

David Leite is the author of The New Portuguese Table, in which he explores and explains, with recipes and historical anecdotes, the cuisine of Portugal.

Mary Karlin teaches wood-fired cooking at the Ramekins school in Sonoma, California.  In her new book, Wood-Fired cooking, she explores the diverse flavor characteristics of hardwoods and live-fire cooking methods.

Anna Thomas's Love Soup provides delicious recipes for vegetarian soups from the author of The Vegetarian Epicure.  Anna Thomas describes her love affair with the ultimate comfort food.  "From my kitchen to yours,"  Thomas says, "here are the best soups I've ever made."

Jennifer McLagan is the author of Fat, the 2009 James Beard Cookbook of the Year, and also author of the multi-award winning cookbook Bones.  Jennifer will try and win us back to a healthy relaionship with animal fats--fundamental to the flavor of our food.

Takashi Yagihashi gained his following at Chicago's Ambria and at Tribute (in Michigan), and was a James Beard and Food & Wine Best New Chef recipient.  Yagihashi is currently wowing Windy City diners at Takashi and Noodles.

Gale Gand is the executive pastry chef and partner of the renowned Chicago restaurant Tru.  Gand was named Outstanding Pastry Chef by the James Beard Foundation and Pastry Chef of the Year by Bon Appetit magazine.  In 1994 she was featured as one of Food & Wine magazine's Top Ten Best Chefs.

Friday, August 28 at 10 a.m. kicks off a full day of sixteen 60-minute cooking demonstrations augmented by the Tasting Pavilion (open noon to 4 p.m.) with a few hundred wines from around the world as well as plenty of regional wines.  Also in he planning stages for Friday evening are guest chef/local chef dinner at well-known area restaurants.

Saturday, August 29at 10 a.m. brings another day of sixteen cooking demonstrations and noon to 4 p.m. hours in the Tasting Pavilion.  The full day will be capped in the evening by the Grand Reception featuring twenty guest authors.  Over twenty wine tables will be hosted by prestigious wineries, augmented by an array of small plates, and joined by a selection of premium brews and spirits.

Sunday, August 30  at 10 a.m. brings almost a full day of cooking demonstrations (ten total); the Tasting Pavilion will be open from noon to 3 p.m.

Information for this event that is sure to please, can be found at

Article courtesy of Lake Michigan Shore Magazine.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Favorite Songbirds Singing

En route, I listened to some of my favorite songbirds singing passionately to attract mates.  Scarlet tanagers belting out their rough, two-syllable "chip-burr" notes, and rose-breasted grosbeaks singing sweetly like robins that had taken voice lessons.  Black-throated green warblers sang a melodious five-syllable phrase that Beethoven would have copied, had he ever had the fortune to walk in an American forest.  The chorus of yellow warblers, redstarts, towhees, veeries and the incomparably beautiful and flute-like wood thrushes produced the music fitting an entry to a magical setting.  And so I entered chest-deep into my favorite pool as a yellow throat flittered out of the bushes to grab a mayfly.

     I took the shortcut, an overgrown trail now used only by deer.  Along the way, like a royal carpet welcoming me, were star flowers, bluet, gay wings, bird's-foot violets, jack-in-the-pulpits, azaleas, geraniums and lilies of the valley.  I realized, as I paused to enjoy fully the spectacle of these wild and temporal beauties, that I was no longer in a rush to pass them by as I used to be many years back.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Where do hummingbirds winter?

Where do hummingbirds winter?

Jim Williams, Special to the Star Tribune

Ruby-throated hummingbird, juvenile male, at geranium flower

As ruby-throated hummingbirds are returning to the state, researchers are learning more about where they spend the other half of the year.

Last update: April 21, 2009 - 12:53 PM

Wonder where they've been all winter?

So do the scientists.

At the end of each summer, some 7 million ruby-throats from across the eastern United States and Canada essentially disappear.

There are indications that they travel to the tropics, going as far south as Panama. But hummingbirds are so common in Central America that few people even notice them, much less track them. These little mountain birds also disperse widely, making it even less likely they'd draw attention. So, much of what we know about ruby-throats outside the United States is based on assumptions.

A South Carolina naturalist and educator is working to change that.

Bill Hilton Jr. has been banding U.S. ruby-throats for decades. Over the years, Hilton and others have slipped tiny aluminum rings on more than 200,000 hummingbirds. Still, none of the banded birds have been reported in Central America.

And the value of banding birds lies in them being reported after being caught by another bander or found dead. It's only when a banded bird is rediscovered that researchers can learn where its band was attached. That, in turn, tells a great deal about a bird's itinerary.

But Hilton isn't giving up. For the past several years, he's been leading groups of volunteers to the other end of the migratory trail. In winter, they head to Costa Rica to study and band hummingbirds there.

The banders found an aloe vera plantation popular with ruby-throats. By banding a few dozen of these birds over several years, Hilton could tell that the same ruby-throats were returning from year to year, a practice called "site fidelity" in ornithological circles.

To date, an estimated 400 ruby-throats have been banded on their tropical wintering grounds. That's a small percentage of the estimated population. But the banding work has already proved its worth: The birds that return each year to the aloe plantation send a strong message about conserving such sites.

"Site fidelity like this gives us pretty powerful evidence when we talk about the need to protect the birds' habitat," said Hilton.

And, in the summer of 2008, Hilton got some exciting news. A bird he'd banded in Costa Rica had turned up in the United States.

This hummingbird, encountered in Georgia, was the first-ever ruby-throat banded in Central America to be captured in the United States. That makes it the first hard evidence that ruby-throats migrate back and forth.

You can help

If you're a hummingbird fan, you can help learn more about these birds. Here's how: If you come across a ruby-throat with a band on its leg, contact the federal Bird Banding Laboratory. Either fill out a form on its web page ( or call 1-800-327-BAND. They'll ask for the band number and where the bird was found, and report this information to the original bander.

If you'd like to join one of those winter bird-banding trips to the tropics, go to and click on hummingbirds.

Val Cunningham, a St. Paul resident, writes about nature for local and regional newspapers. She's also the author of "The Gardener's Hummingbird Book." She can be reached at

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Review Lady visits Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast

The Review Lady

Opinions on food and travel from the life of a perfectionist

The Review Lady's Rating Scale:


1 - Abysmal
2 - Needs Improvement
3 - Average
4 - Exceeds Expectations
5 - Perfection!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 


Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast: Valparaiso, Indiana


Last month I decided to break up a Wisconsin-to-Kentucky drive by staying at Songbird Prairie in Valparaiso, Indiana for one night. It is only 10-12 minutes off I-65 and provided a welcome retreat from bad weather and a boring drive.


Tucked in a rural area with large residential lots, the inn’s landscaping looked well-kept even in the dead of winter. I assume the terrain and trees in the backyard are beautiful in the spring and summer.


Entering the inn feels more like entering a friend’s home than a commercial lodging property. There is a living room past the foyer where guests can relax. A snack and beverage center is off the living room just past the stairs.


A snack and beverage center is off the living room just past the stairs.

The entry to the breakfast room/sunroom is just before the snack area. Too full from dinner, I passed on snacks or drinks and headed up the stairs to my room. There are a total of 5 rooms/suites. With the solo midweek traveler rate, I was booked in the well-appointed Purplefinch Suite. Be sure to check photos online before booking a stay if decor is important to you, since each room has a different style. (Based on what I have seen on their website; I didn’t see any of the other rooms in person.) The Purplefinch Suite is very feminine and if my husband is my traveling companion on a future trip, I'll ask about some of their more masculine rooms. The innkeepers did their homework when designing the property as the lighting is some of the best I have ever experienced. Whenever I needed something like a hook, light, or towel, it was right there in the perfect place. There were even spot reading lights in the ceiling and most (if not all) switches had a dimmer.
The bathroom was very spacious, with a huge two-person air jet tub - my favorite kind. (Air jet tubs are known for being more hygienic than their whirlpool counterparts and I wish more lodging accommodations with whirlpools featured them.)


One of the best features of the bathroom was the heated tile floors - talk about being spoiled! I have only seen them on HGTV and they were a pampering touch on a cold night.


Other notable aspects of the room included your own thermostat controls, satellite television, a reading chair, fireplace, sound machine for sleeping (loved this - first time I have seen one at an inn), and a bedside candy truffle (almost too pretty to eat). Since the inn seems best suited for couples, there was not a work desk in the room. Not a problem since I was passing through, but worth noting if you are a business traveler. You may want to ask about one of the other suites or take your work downstairs to the sunroom since it has plenty of tables and chairs. If you snack while working, you may also want to go downstairs since the in-room information advised not to eat in the room. The only other thing to mention, in case it is important to you, is that there were two scent diffusers in the room - one in the bedroom and one in the bathroom. If you are sensitive to smells you might want to ask the innkeeper to remove them during your stay. They were fine for me, I just moved the bedroom one to the bathroom overnight.

The comfortable atmosphere continued the next morning when I went downstairs for breakfast served in their sunroom. The room overlooks the landscape on the back of the property and includes windows on three sides. Thanks to their sound system (piping in sounds from just outside the windows) and a plethora of bird feeders, there is quite a show while you enjoy breakfast. I saw bird species that I had never seen or heard of before that morning. It was a relaxing way to start the day. 

Breakfast was amazing. Barbara, the co-owner/innkeeper, creates fare that is not only delicious but also artistically presented. Ice water is waiting when guests arrive with juice, coffee and hot tea available once you take a seat. The room features individual tables so guests have plenty of privacy while dining if there are other people present. The highlight of the morning was the cranberry-glazed poached pear with fresh fruit on the side. I do not normally like pears, but I would eat this every morning if I could. There was also a sweet bread pastry coated with orange icing on the plate. An omelet stuffed with fresh produce and cheese followed; it was filling and flavorful with a biscuit and bacon on the side. There is normally a third course, which likely would have been equally as delicious as the preceding two, but my stomach was much too full to keep up. I apologized to the expert chef in the kitchen, but let her know so that she did not plate it and waste any food since I was already one satisfied guest.

Unfortunately, after breakfast I had to get back on the road and leave such a lovely sanctuary. Barbara was very kind and I enjoyed chatting with her for a few minutes while I checked out.

I definitely recommend this inn to other travelers. Not only is it clean and comfortable, but breakfast is worth the trip alone if you are in the area. I am actually surprised that it is not included in Select Registry Distinguished Inns of North America. It is on par with other member properties that we have visited and certainly goes above and beyond standard bed and breakfasts. I hope to be back if we are in the area again.
Rating: 4
Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast
174 North 600 West

Valparaiso, Indiana 46385
(219) 759-4274


The Review Lady




Monday, March 30, 2009

Birdlife: Spring hummingbird happenings at Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast in Valparaiso, IN

Birdlife: Spring hummingbird happenings

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Buy Cheap Aspects Hummingbird Hummzinger Ultra Feeder (4 feeding ports - 12-oz feeder - 10” diameter)


[caption id="attachment_76" align="alignright" width="150" caption="male ruby-throated hummingbird"]male ruby-throated hummingbird[/caption]

 Aspects Hummingbird Hummzinger Ultra Feeder (4 feeding ports - 12-oz feeder - 10'' diameter)

 We use these feeders as well as glass tubular feeders made from the coppersmiths at Holland Hill. 

 Bed and Breakfasts, Indiana is what to google to find the award winning Songbird Prairie, or 877-766-4273



  • Combines patented nectar-guard tips with a built-in ant moat.

  • Which prohibit entry from flying and crawling insects while allowing unrestricted feeding by

  • The ultimate in insect protection while you enjoy the hummingbirds.

  • The bright red cover attracts hummers from a distance and removes easily so the bowl can be cleaned

  • All hummzinger feeders include a built-in nectar scale. 4 feeding ports.


Editorial ReviewProduct Description: Our newest hummingbird feeder the HummZinger Ultra combines patented Nectar-guard tips with a built-in ant moat. Nectar-Guard tips are flexible membranes attached to the HummZinger Ultra's feed ports. These unique tips prohibit entry from flying insects while allowing unrestricted feeding by hummingbirds. Also, the built-in ant moat stops crawling insects in their tracks before they can reach the nectar. These two patented features combine to give our HummZinger Ultra the ultimate in protection from both flying and crawling insects while you can enjoy the hummingbirds. Lifetime Guarantee

Friday, March 20, 2009

Report: U.S. bird species declining See songbirds at Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast

Report: U.S. bird species declining

Last update: 9:30 p.m. EDT March 19, 2009

WASHINGTON, Mar 19, 2009 (UPI via COMTEX) -- From Atlantic beaches to Midwestern prairies and Hawaiian forests, one-third of the 800 U.S. bird species are in danger, a report released Thursday said.

"The U.S. State of the Birds" is based on data from three bird censuses, including the annual Christmas bird count organized by the Audubon Society, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

"Just as they were when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems," Salazar said. "From shorebirds in New England to warblers in Michigan to songbirds in Hawaii, we are seeing disturbing downward population trends that should set off environmental alarm bells."

Hawaii, where species found nowhere else evolved on the island chain, has more endangered species than anywhere else in the country, the report said. But it also found 40 percent declines in grassland species in the past 40 years, a 30 percent drop in desert birds and a 39 percent decline in ocean species.

There was one note of hope. Many wetlands species like herons and ducks have rebounded because of restoration programs.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

New tenants at your birdbath? Global warming may be to blame. See the cardinal at Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast

RunnerJenny/Flickr Creative Commons



The cardinal was not found in Illinois until about 100 years ago, when population density forced it farther north, according to local bird surveys. Its story is an example of non-climate-related  bird range shift. 



New tenants at your birdbath? Global warming may be to blame

by Amanda Hughes
March 18, 2009 


Birds and Climate Study/Audubon Society



Bird ranges have shifted progressively northward over the last 40 years.  The Audubon Society has controversially linked this shift to climate change. "Center of abundance" refers to density.

 Birds and Climate Study/Audubon Society


Gradual increase in temperature in the continental United States is responsible for bird range shift, says the Audubon Society.   


Amanda Hughes/MEDILL



Chicago residents discover their feathered neighbors.

Related Links

Audubon's Birds and Climate report

Bird range versus bird migration

Recent media coverage of Audubon's finding has missed the point, said Libby Hill, a vice president of the Evanston North Shore Bird Club. 

The Birds and Climate Change report has been described as an analysis of a shift in bird migration patterns. 

To accurately convey the report's findings, Medill Reports asked Judy Pollock, director of bird conservation for Audubon Chicago Region, to straighten out these misconceptions.

This study has been widely misinterpreted by the media as reflecting trends in bird migration patterns. Why is this inaccurate?

The study is about bird range, not migration.

Every bird has a range. You could look in a field guide and find a range for every bird in it. And it’s got a southern end and a northern end.

In fact, each bird has a winter range, a summer range and a kind of a migratory pathway.

What Audubon was looking at was the winter range, which includes some birds like the cardinal that are just here all year round. It also includes some birds that are only here in the wintertime.

With migratory birds, there are a lot of ways that global warming might be affecting the timing of their migration, but that has nothing to do with the study that Audubon just did.

It’s just another issue that’s out there relating to global warming and birds.

How is climate change affecting bird migration differently than bird ranges?

When migratory birds arrive, they’re used to the fact that certain trees are budding out and certain insects are eating those tender leaves, because they eat those insects.

So what happens when people start screwing with those relationships?

Well, the trees start budding out earlier, so then the birds have to migrate out earlier. Or maybe they have to learn to rely on a whole different set of resources.

That puts extra stresses on them.

There’s a whole complicated set of relationships related to migratory birds and the resources they’re used to using.

We’re seeing that some birds are starting to migrate out earlier and some aren’t. That has nothing to do with this current Audubon study. But it’s another issue out there that it’s important to understand. 


It happened so gradually you might have missed it.

For the past 40 years, birds have been making a nationwide run for the northern border, and a controversial recent study blames the warming climate.

In February, the Audubon Society released an analysis of data compiled over almost half a century that they say suggests that a slow, northbound shift of wintering grounds for almost every type of North American bird was directly linked to global warming.

More than 60 different bird species exchanged their current winter ranges -- the areas they settle in during colder months -- for new ones more than 100 miles north.

“It’s clear that if you look at the change in birds’ winter ranges,” said Judy Pollock, bird conservation director at Audubon Society Chicago region, “that climate change is having an affect. It just raises a million questions about everything that’s going on in the biological world.”

The study combined two sets of data to arrive at its conclusion that “while causation is nearly impossible to prove, global climate change is the most likely explanation” for the birds’ range shift.

The first data set was 40 years’ worth of figures from Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count, a methodical head-count of local bird numbers conducted by hundreds volunteers all over the country.

The results of each volunteer’s findings were aggregated over 40 years to reveal the range shift trend. The numbers revealed the presence of large numbers of bird species in areas they have not been found historically.

“If it was just one group, that might not be accurate,” said Joel Greenberg, author of A Natural History of the Chicago Region. “But if you look at Evanston, Madison and Toronto, you can at least say the findings are worth looking at more closely.”

Not everyone agrees.

Ron Zick, owner of birdfeed store Wild Birds Unlimited in Glenview, said the findings seemed skewed.

“I know I’m politically incorrect on this, but it had an agenda,” Zick said of the study. “It wanted to show climate change affecting birds, so it did.”

Zick said many explanations exist for range shift other than climate change.

Some bird species, he said, might have begun including Chicago in their winter range to avoid the competition they find in warmer locales.

According to Zick, other birds, such the house sparrow, were forced to expand their range westward because their East Coast habitats could no longer support their growing population.

What about the unusual bird sightings? According to Zick, they’re a reflection of the birdwatchers’ ambitions, not range shift.

“Some bird watchers are really competitive,” Zick said. “They finally find these life-list birds and post the sighting online, when the bird is just passing through.”

Dale Humburg, chief biologist for Ducks Unlimited, a waterfowl conservation group, said analyzing this kind of data is never a simple issue.

“The key to understanding the meaning of this study,” Humburg said, “is that natural bird movement from year to year is so variable that it’s going to be pretty difficult to tease that apart from what may be a larger trend.”

Humburg said that in the short term, it’s difficult to discern the impact of climate change on birdlife. However, over decades, the results become clearer.

“I think if this continues,” Humburg said of global warming, “we could very well see a dramatic impact on birds. I see great potential threats under a changing climate.

[caption id="attachment_68" align="alignnone" width="199" caption="cardinal at Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast"]cardinal at Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast[/caption]

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hummingbird family photos They are coming to Songbird Prairie approx May 1st Make your reservation today!

Mama with fledgling by orchid dude.

This is the larger of the two chicks at 25 days old and is now officially a fledgling. Although still fed by the mother, he is now feeding on his own!! He flies around (like a seasoned pro) the tree visiting the flowers with the greatest ease!

Hummer eggs by orchid dude.

To view the set of photos documenting this Hummingbird family (including my notes) click here

Make your reservation today. 877-766-4273

Saturday, March 14, 2009

One of my favorite arrivals in that of the Ruby throated Hummingbird

One of my favorite arrivals is that of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Even non-birders talk excitedly about the first hummingbird sighting. In case you didn't know, there is a really great hummingbird migration map. You can use the map to report a sighting or to follow the migration. Once they approach your area, get out those feeders and make your nectar.

Here is the link for the map:

[caption id="attachment_64" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="coming soon to Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast"]coming soon to Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast[/caption]

Make your reservations today!


Master Gardener: Attract hummingbirds to the garden at Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast

Although snowflakes still could fall, it's time to get ready for the hummingbirds.

An old wives tale states: "When the first red flowers bloom the hummingbird will be returning soon" -- usually around the middle of April when red and pink azaleas are first blooming.

In central Ohio and Northwest Indiana two species of hummingbirds visit feeders.

The commonest is the ruby-throated hummingbird. Although both sexes are iridescent green, the male has a black throat patch that reflects bright ruby red in sunlight. The juvenile looks like the plain female. They are about three inches long and weigh only two to three grams.

A rarer sighting in Ohio is the rufous hummingbird. This species is native to the Northwest United States, from California to Alaska. It likely is to show up at a feeder in September or October. The male has an iridescent red throat and non-shiny reddish brown back. His tail is orange with black tips. The female has a white throat with a few red feathers. Her tail is orange, green and black with white tips. The rufous is aggressive at feeders although it is slightly larger than the ruby-throated.

Hummingbirds will return to areas where feeders had been placed the year before. Many of the available feeders are red and will have several ports for feeding. If trees or shrubs are near a feeder, the birds will rest there between feeding. A simple solution of sugar and water can be used to fill the feeder. The formula is one part sugar dissolved in four parts boiling water, boil for 2 minutes and cool. Don't add red food coloring because it can harm the birds' organs.

Hummingbirds are enjoyable to watch at the feeder. There is usually the most activity early in the morning and late evening. Increased activity also has been observed before thunderstorms. Hang several feeders near your windows and enjoy the summer treat.

Hummingbird gardens planted to attract the birds also will attract butterflies. A diverse mix of annuals, perennials, vines, shrubs and trees works best. The annuals provide quick color and nectar. The perennials shrubs and trees will bring the birds back year after year. The annuals can include fuchsia, lantana, four-o'clocks and nicotiana. Bee balm, columbine, hollyhocks and cardinal flower are a few of the perennials that will attract the birds. Trumpet vine, butterfly bush, Rose of Sharon and weigela would make attractive additions. Choose plants with bright colors that grow at various heights. A hummingbird needs about 1,000 blooms each day to survive. So the addition of a feeder near the garden will assure a plentiful food source.

Margaret Graft is a Master Gardener volunteer. Barbara from Songbird Prairie is also a Master Gardener! 877-766-4273

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How to become a birdwatcher? Stay at Songbird Prairie and have breakfast with the birds

How to become a birdwatcher Monday, 09 March 2009 by Joni Astrup Associate editor Like watching birds out your window or at a nearby birding hotspot? You’re not alone. Nearly 48 million Americans enjoy watching birds, according to a 2006 federal study. One of them is Nancy Haugen, who began birdwatching in college when she took an ornithology class. “It’s enjoyable,” said Haugen, who now works as the visitor services manager at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge near Zimmerman. Wondering how to begin birdwatching? Here are some suggestions from Haugen. Put up a feeder “The No. 1 thing to do is to install a bird feeder at your home within view of a window,” advises Haugen. The feeder should be in an open area where squirrels can’t jump to it from a branch. However, it also should be 15–20 feet from shrubs or trees so birds have cover to protect them from predators. Haugen recommends filling the feeder with black-oil sunflower seeds. “They are just an all-time favorite for birds and they’re healthy,” she said. In addition, during the winter you also may want to put out suet, which attracts woodpeckers. In the summer, a nectar feeder is a draw for hummingbirds. Buy binoculars The next thing to consider is buying a pair of binoculars. Haugen recommends a basic pair, 8×50 power. She suggests looking for a pair priced in the $50 to $100 range. Start using the binoculars to watch birds coming to the backyard feeder. Also look for birds in the trees and bushes around the feeder. After buying binoculars, it’s a good idea to get a field guide to birds. These books are designed to help people figure out what types of birds they are seeing. Haugen said there are many different field guides available. Join a birding group Once you are used to the binoculars and are ready to observe birds away from home, Haugen suggests joining a birdwatching group. “When you get together with other birders, many eyes see more birds, many ears hear more birds,” she said. 

 Birding at the refuge A total of 232 species of birds have been recorded on the refuge, Haugen said. Some nest there and others pass through. One good place to view birds is on the refuge’s wildlife drive, a 7.3-mile loop that begins off County Road 5, one mile north of Orrock. The drive is closed for the season now, but will reopen this spring. No date has been set but Haugen said it typically opens in late April. The exact date depends on a pair of bald eagles that nests along the drive. If eggs are laid, the refuge waits at least a week after the eaglets hatch to open the drive. Haugen said the wildlife drive is excellent for birdwatching because it has a variety of habitats — woods, wetlands and prairie. “Different birds use different habitats so you expand the number of birds that you’re going to have a chance to see,” she explained. Haugen said the best times to look for birds is just after dawn until 10 or 11 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to dark. Birds are active in the morning because they are hungry. They are active in the evening because they feed before roosting for the night. In midday, they find shelter from the heat, she said. Spring, meanwhile, is one of the best times to be birdwatching. Then not only are many birds returning to this area after spending the winter elsewhere, but other birds are passing through on their way north to nest. That gives people a wider variety of birds to observe, Haugen said. Many warblers, for instance, usually migrate through this area around the second and third weeks of May, she said. Birds that are returning to Minnesota in the spring are ready to mate and lay eggs. “The males are setting up territories and trying to attract females, so you hear a lot of birds singing in the springtime,” she said. Learning to identify birds by their songs is another level of bird watching, she said. CDs of bird calls are available in the nature section of book stores. ——————————————————————————– Paul Gunderson, a science teacher at Elk River High School, offers these tips for birders: Binoculars: “Birders need a good pair of binoculars with eight or 10 power magnification (I prefer 10),” he said. “Select a pair with a wide field of view.” In addition to the binoculars, Gunderson highly recommends a spotting scope and a sturdy tripod. “Birds such as waterfowl and shorebirds are often viewed from long distances and the extra power of the scope allows you to see more detail. A scope will add a whole new dimension to your birding,” he said. Field guides: There are many good field guides available, Gunderson said. “The one I use most is ‘The Sibley Guide to Birds,’” he said. “It covers all of North America but is fairly large for a field guide. The smaller-sized ‘Sibley Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America’ is also pretty good. I also use the National Geographic and Peterson guides.” CD set: Gunderson said new birders may want to pick up “Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs: Eastern Region.” It is a three CD set with recordings of songs and calls of most of the birds found in the eastern United States. There is a western United States set as well. National Geographic makes a set, too. Bird lists: Many birders keep bird lists. These lists can be by state, county, year or even a yard list. “My yard list for a one-year period may contain up to 125 species. Most birders also keep a life list,” he said. Good places to go birdwatching: •Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, located near Zimmerman: He said it’s one of the best places in the Elk River area for birding. It has woodland, grassland and wetland habitats. “The Blue Hill Trail on the refuge has a variety of warblers including resident mourning and blue-winged warblers.On the Mahnomen Trail you may spot black-and-white warblers, and both yellow-billed and black-billed cuckoos. Both trails are good for spring migrant songbirds.” On the refuge’s wildlife drive Gunderson said people may observe waterfowl (especially during spring migration), eagles, hawks, many species of sparrows, orchard and Baltimore orioles, sedge and marsh wrens and trumpeter swans. “You may also see and hear sandhill cranes — one of the loudest North American birds,” he said. On the Woodland Loop hiking trail on the wildlife drive he said to look for the scarlet tanager, blue-gray gnatcatcher and, if you’re lucky; a red-headed woodpecker. •Lake Maria State Park, located west of Monticello: It’s the only place he’s aware of close to the Elk River area where people may find cerulean warblers. •Crow-Hassan Park Reserve, located west of Rogers: “Crow-Hassan Park Reserve is loaded with bobolinks and a variety of sparrows as well as hawks.  877-766-4273————————————————————————— ——————————————————————————–

Monday, March 2, 2009

February's Bird of the Month The Cedar Waxwing Soon to be on their treetop stage here at Songbird Prairie B & B

February's Bird of the Month The Cedar Waxwing

The Cedar Waxwing is one of the most frugivorous birds in North America. Many aspects of its life, from its nomadic habits to its late breeding season, may be traced to its dependence upon fruit.

Medium-sized songbird.
Gray-brown overall.
Crest on top of head.
Black mask edged in white.
Yellow tip to tail; may be orange.
Size: 14-17 cm (6-7 in)
Wingspan: 22-30 cm (9-12 in)
Weight: 32 g (1.13 ounces)
Sex Differences
Sexes nearly alike.
Calls are very high pitched "bzeee" notes.

Conservation Status
Populations increasing throughout range. Other Names
Cool Facts:
The name "waxwing" comes from the waxy red appendages found in variable numbers on the tips of the secondaries of some birds. The exact function of these tips is not known, but they may serve a signaling function in mate selection.
Cedar Waxwings with orange instead of yellow tail tips began appearing in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada beginning in the 1960s. The orange color is the result of a red pigment picked up from the berries of an introduced species of honeysuckle. If a waxwing eats the berries while it is growing a tail feather, the tip of the feather will be orange.
The Cedar Waxwing is one of the few temperate dwelling birds that specializes in eating fruit. It can survive on fruit alone for several months. Unlike many birds that regurgitate seeds from fruit they eat, the Cedar Waxwing defecates fruit seeds.
The Cedar Waxwing is vulnerable to alcohol intoxication and death after eating fermented fruit.

Planting For That Touch Of Beauty. Find plants shrubs and trees with songbirds entertaining you in them at Songbird Prairie B & B.


America is pet with a avid variety of plants that crapper be used to find our surround more pleasing.

America is pet with a avid variety of plants that crapper be used to find our surround more pleasing. Outdoor warning crapper be heavy or created by planting trees, shrubs, and added plants that impact grandiloquent flowers, colourful leaves or berries, or symptomatic forms. When used in combinations, they ofttimes pass revelation holding as, for instance, in placing anthesis shrubs against taller scene trees, or multifarious the essay of a activity to remuneration flow flowers and move colors. Freshly hierarchal or cold slopes along anchorage and trails are secure and their attending improved when grasses, wildflowers, or vines are sown. Not inner do plantings add a occurrence of warning to a post but they entertainer songbirds and added wildlife. TREES FOR BEAUTY AND COVER The dogwoods. It grows meliorate on reddened soils than on heavy soils and seldom occurs on poorly evacuated soils. Litter from cornel is dowse in minerals, good to trees and added plants. Dogwood grows up to 40 feet tall and 12 inches in diameter. It grows apace for 20 to 30 eld but noise tardily thereafter. Dogwood is easily injured by wind and is hypersensitised to drought.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Eyes across the Big Sky Migratory Birds at Songbird Prairie Bed & Breakfast

Eyes across the Big Sky

By MARTIN J. KIDSTON Independent Record - 02/03/2009

Catherine Wightman, whose avian studies have taken her from Australia to Greenland, will work this year as the state’s first nongame bird coordinator, developing a new strategy that finds ways to protect and preserve Montana’s nongame birds and their habitat.(Eliza Wiley Independent Record)

Her office is small and sparsely decorated, but Catherine Wightman doesn’t plan on spending much time between these white walls when the birds come home to roost.

Wightman, whose avian studies have taken her from Australia to Greenland, will work this year as the new nongame bird coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

As such, Wightman will aim to develop new strategies to protect and preserve Montana’s nongame birds and their habitat. It’s a big job in a big state with a surprising number of bird species.

“She’ll work to expand Montana’s bird monitoring,” said Ken McDonald, a wildlife chief for FWP. “She’ll work to increase opportunities for the public to participate in bird surveys, and lead some habitat enhancement projects for nongame birds.”

Raptors, woodpeckers, shorebirds and some waterbirds fall within the nongame bird category. But perching birds and songbirds, Wightman noted, are considered the largest group.

For Wightman, a bird lover who earned her master’s degree in raptor biology at Boise State University, the opportunity to focus on Montana’s bird populations has her looking forward to the coming season and getting into the field.

“The diversity found among birds is unparalleled,” Wightman said last week. “They’re found in every kind of habitat, and their ability to adapt, or take advantage of that habitat, is just fascinating.”

Of all the species of birds in Montana — and there were more than 420 of them at last count — Wightman is particularly interested in the mountain plover, the burrowing owl and the long-bill curlew.

She described the curlew as a “showy” bird that typifies the grasslands with its antics and songs. Both the curlew and the mountain plover, however, have shown population declines in recent years, and that has Wightman concerned.

Scientists believe the loss of native grasslands, along with prairie dog eradication, may be contributing to the decline. Helping such species will require a continued understanding of their population patterns, densities, and the land-use changes that affect them over time.

“There will be some land-use changes included in that document to see how birds respond to those changes,” Wightman said. “When we start seeing patterns develop, we can go in and develop a research project to identify why we’re seeing those trends.”

In the 2003 edition of P.D. Skaar’s Montana Bird Distribution Book, volunteers documented 409 species of birds across the state. Of those, 29 species appeared to be growing their distribution while 27 appeared to be dwindling.

The new addition of the Bird Distribution Book is due out next year. And while the project is far from over, volunteers thus far have observed 422 species of birds in Montana, or 13 more than in 2003.

Saying why is difficult, Wightman said. It could be that various species are returning to their native range after years of absence. Climate change may be a factor. It could also be that the 13 species aren’t really new, but were simply overlooked in previous counts.

“There’s a lot of information we just don’t know,” Wightman said. “We don’t have a good tracking program right now.”

To better track the birds and gain that information, Wightman is out to build new alliances with backyard volunteers and others in the state, from the Department of Defense to the local farmer.

The state’s bird distribution program may be a good place to start, she noted, with volunteers documenting their findings into a state-run database. The project is a cooperative effort with the Audubon Society, along with the Montana Bird Records Committee and the Montana Natural Heritage Program.

“It’s sort of like a citizen’s science project,” she said. “It has really increased the knowledge of where birds are in the state. We’re just as interested in the common birds as we are in the rare birds.”

New bird exhibit in Chicago Stay at Songbird Prairie in Northwest Indiana

New bird exhibit in Chicago

Posted by Amy on February 4th, 2009 at 9:42 am CST
Categories: Illinois, Museum

A new permanent exhibit called “Birds of Chicago” opened at The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum last Friday. The Nature Museum is located in Chicago at 2430 North Cannon Drive.
Learn about birds native to Illinois, with nearly 100 specimens on display that date back to the early 1900s. The birds range in age, size, color and rarity, showcasing everything from the large Midwest turkey and the common blue jay to the endangered prairie chicken. Touch screen kiosks provide visitors with additional information on the birds

The Book of Nature at Songbird Prairie Bed & Breakfast

Wildlife Management Sarah Palin Style

23 days old / February 3rd, 2009 @ 9:32 pm /
I just finished a wonderful book on how settlement in the United States has changed the wildlife landscape.  It’s an older book published in 1999.  But with the wonders of book displays at the library I discovered it for the first time.  The book is The Condor’s Shadow: the Loss and Recovery of Wildlife in America by David S. Wilcove with a foreword by Edward O. Wilson.  The book provides an interesting portrait of the complexities of wildlife management and the deep, often misunderstood, ecological relationships between all lifeforms.  One of these important relationships is between the predator and the prey.  So what does killing off grizzly bears and wolves have to do with the endangerment of songbirds or native grasses?  A lot.  In the end Wilcove illustrates how little we understand about these relationships.  Our ecological footprint is so large that we are often forced to intervene to save a species.  For example, stepping in to save the black-footed ferret as its prey, the prairie dog, succombs to the plague. The prairie dog, itself, a victim of ever expanding urban and rural development. But any interference only seems to set off another imbalance, another unexpected chain of events.

It is interesting to recall that once in Johnson County, Kansas there were bison, pronghorn, elk, wolves, and grizzly bears.  Bounties were placed on the predators and in a short period of time they became extinct.  Is Johnson County a richer place without them? You would think that we would have learned from such short-sighted policies.  But have we?

Listen to actress Ashley Judd as she speaks for Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund about the wildlife management policies of Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin’s Ongoing Wolf Slaughter

Posted by scott vieira


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Guests give B&B high marks for comfort,setting and breakfast

Guests give B&B high marks for

comfort, setting and breakfast




February 4, 2009

The owners of Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast in Porter County, west of downtown Valparaiso, have some very satisfied guests to thank for being named one of the 10 best B&Bs in the Midwest for 2008 and 2009.

Barbara Rivera, who owns and operates the inn with her husband, Efrain, is grateful for the award because of the way it's chosen.

"What's so cool about this one," she said, "is that comments from the people who have stayed here are how the award is decided."

Nearly 50,000 independent reviews, submitted to, were used in the judging. The Web site is the leading online B&B directory and reservation network worldwide.

The coveted award joins numerous other recognitions Songbird Prairie has received since its opening eight years ago. Most recently, it was named Porter County's 2008 Hotel of the Year, and it was picked as one of the Top 10 Romantic Inns in 2008 by American Historic Inns Inc.

One guest wrote, "It was an all-around perfect stay at the Songbird Prairie B&B. Our room was most comfortable, breakfast was superb and the unexpected snow added to this picture perfect setting with the beautiful array of birds, especially the cardinals."

If you stay at Songbird Prairie, expect to be surrounded by birds. Overnight guests can choose to stay in the Warbler or Purple Finch suites, with queen-sized beds, or the Cardinal, Bluebird or Robin Suites, with king-sized beds. Work has been started on another room, the Goldfinch Suite, which will be ready next year.

Each room features Ethan Allen furniture, European linens, whirlpools with Dead Sea bath salts, robes and slippers, and a working fireplace. When guests are out for dinner, Rivera places double chocolate truffles at each bedside.

The sun room seats 16 and is the perfect place to watch the birds that flock to eat at one of the many bird feeders just outside the windows. Rivera serves a variety of suet and black oil sunflower seeds to attract as many species as possible. A hidden microphone allows those sitting inside to hear the bird noises as well.

Over six acres of walking trails lure guests outside. A few weeks ago, a couple discovered pileated woodpeckers, as well as several other bird species. In warmer weather, guests can also enjoy a fire in the outdoor firepit.

The Riveras, who live on the lower level of the inn, bought the land in 1998 after searching two years for the perfect location.

"We fell in love with the property," Rivera said, because it was near a university town, had woods and hills, was off the beaten path but still close to U.S. 30.

"And the birds, of course," she added.

The property was home to a dairy farm from the early 1900s through the mid-1960s. It also has an apple orchard and 450 acres of land behind it.

Customers have come from as far away as California, New York, Florida, Australia, England and Germany to stay at Songbird Prairie.

"We see many local people too," Rivera said, "because it feels like they're away, even if they're still close to home."

Rivera is up most days at 6 a.m., making scones and getting the entree ready for the three-course hot breakfast.

After setting the table and serving the food, she starts cleaning up the kitchen. After guests check out, she spends at least an hour cleaning each room. By 4 p.m., she has to be ready to greet any new guests registered for that night.

For dinner, Songbird Prairie partners with six Valparaiso restaurants: Bistro 57, Bon Femme, Mezza, Don Quixote, Dish and Strongbow Inn.

Guests can dine out or choose to have a catered dinner in their room or in the dining room, which seats eight.

As part of providing a "total relaxation experience," Rivera frequently schedules in-room massages through Gail Grieger of Touch for Life in Valparaiso.

The Riveras each bring unique skills to their inn. Efrain has been in the restaurant business for 38 years and currently is general manager of Panera Bread in Schererville. Barbara's talents include gardening, design and catering.

"We have wedded our talents," she said, "to make the people who stay with us feel as if they are invited guests rather than paying customers."


If you go

--Check for specials throughout the year.

-- Rooms range from $169 to $249 per night, depending on amenities.

-- The inn is open to the public for breakfast or Thursday Afternoon tea, with a minimum of four or more guests. Advance reservations are needed. Call 219-759-4274 for availability.