May 18 field day, concert will benefit grassland bird research

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A May 18 field event and concert will raise awareness and funds for the area’s grassland birds, particularly the bobolink. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

A slate of events on Saturday, May 18 will raise awareness and funds for the area’s grassland birds.

Activities will begin at 2 p.m., with a field day hosted by Phil Specht and Dr. Mary Damm at 12082 Iris Ave., in rural McGregor. There, Specht will lead a program on managing pasture to help grassland birds, particularly the bobolink.

“I’ve been grazing cattle since 1974,” said Specht, a retired dairy farmer. “All the declining species are in my pasture. The bobolink is one that requires grassland.”

Bird populations have suffered due to a loss of habitat, Specht shared. Grassland on dairy farms has historically been an important place for them, but he suspects low milk prices will reduce the amount of pasture in the area further.

“We’re trying to promote the beauty [of grassland],” he said, while also showing farmers it can be cost-effective.

Following Specht, Damm, who owns the farm where the event will take place, will speak about the Conservation Stewardship Program available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Iowa Organic Association, which is sponsoring the event along with the Northeast Iowa Bird Conservancy, will then lead a presentation on what it takes to be a certified organic producer. 

The field day will wrap up with a grassland bird walk led by Dr. Paul Skrade, an assistant professor of biology at Upper Iowa University.

In the evening, activities will move to the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre, in Marquette. A potluck and silent auction fundraiser will begin at 5:30 p.m. Then, at 7 p.m., Big Blue Sky will perform its spring concert.

Specht said local ornithologist and Big Blue Sky leader Jon Stravers will use the funds raised for grassland bird conservation and research in Specht’s pasture.

He hopes people will find the events both fun and educational.

“You can make a whole day of it or just come to the concert,” he added.

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