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.