If you appreciate nature, savor slow walks in the woods or along the river, and would enjoy gentle outings with a spouse, child or a friend, consider joining the newly formed St. Croix Valley Bird Club.
"We're brand new, it's kind of informal, and we'll just start out seeing what other people are interested in doing and then see where it takes us," said Mary Roen, town of Troy, who loves all birds, but especially bluebirds. "Our focus in this group will be the kinds of backyard birds that you would normally see in the area."
And what a wide range it is -- from chickadees, robins, hummingbirds, warblers, wood ducks, nut hatchers, woodpeckers, flickers, wrens, swallows, goldfinches, Baltimore orioles, cedar waxwings, indigo buntings, blue jays, cardinals, wood ducks and many more.
The St. Croix Valley Bird Club will hold its first meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 2, at the public library.
Guest speaker Charlie Kemper from Chippewa Falls, a former officer with the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology, will explain about banding songbirds. He'll even bring in warblers that he's netted that morning for people to have a close look.
Membership forms will be available at the meeting for those wishing to join the bird club.
Roen says the best time to walk and spot various species of birds is early morning when birds are most active.
"Looking for birds to identify by sight or sound is another way to share each other's company and find common interests that we have in nature," Roen said. "Bird walks are a great way to get kids reconnected with the outdoors, to have them doing something away from the computer that's safe and fun. It can be something for a whole family to do together."
Jim Beix, who worked in River Falls from 1970 to 2002 as a medical doctor, is also a founding member of St. Croix Valley Bird Club. He's been an avid bird watcher for decades.
Beix has held annual spring meetings the past few years for bluebird watchers. He's taken part in the annual sandhill crane counts that go on in St. Croix and Pierce counties and across the state. He said crane counters have asked about forming a birding club.
"We're trying to generate interest and form an organization for learning and enjoyment," Beix said. "As for what we'll do, we'll just feed off of what people in the group want."
Beix admires birds for their grace, beauty and ecological balance. Some keep the insect population under control while others eat and spread seeds for plants and tree growth.
Beix said bird club members function as observers and guardians, since some bird species are dwindling or disappearing.
In the River Falls area, he mentioned whippoorwills, bobolinks and red-headed woodpeckers that either are rarely or no longer seen.
"What happened to them?" Beix asked.
Roen says the progression to flight is what she finds inspiring about bird watching.
"The idea that you start with a little egg that hatches and out comes a helpless thing that has to be fed and kept warm, then, in two weeks, it can fly out on its own is what I think is phenomenal," she said. "It feels good to know you can help them on their way."
Over time Roen has installed 30 pairs of blue bird nesting boxes on her land and that of her neighbors.
Beix said there are people who get so excited about spotting a certain bird that they exhibit a beating-their-chest bravado.
"It's like their team winning a big football game," he laughed.
Roen said the new club will get into conservation issues, such as types of plants, flowers, shrubs and trees to nurture to attract certain birds. Topics may also include the variety of bird houses to build, where to place them and for what species.
When group members take field trips, they will be looking not only to identify birds but simply to enjoy their presence and learn more about bird habitats.
Most trips will be close to home, places like the Kinni by Glen Park, Willow River State Park in Hudson or Kinnickinnic State Park, south of River Falls.
"On those walks it does help to bring a pair of binoculars," Roen said. "You can spot the birds much better. They don't have to be expensive binoculars, just a pair lying around the house will do."
Beix said there may also be special trips that crop up. He said in October by Alma, huge flocks of tundra swans settle on the Mississippi River before migrating southeast.
"The waters are just white with these swans," Beix said. "You could take two or three carloads of people and caravan there to watch."
In the future, Roen said St. Croix Valley Bird Club will likely have nominal membership fees to pay for an occasional speaker and perhaps put out a quarterly newsletter.
Roen emphasized the group is in its formative stage. Activities will be determined by the desires of those who take part.
"No experience with birding is required for this club," Roen said. "Beginner and advanced birders are welcome. Anyone who may have an interest in birding and nature is welcome."
Roen said surveys show that birding has become the No. 1 pastime in America.
"Our goal with the group is to promote an awareness and an education for the beauty and wonder of the birds that we have right here in our environment," she said.
Other St. Croix Valley Bird Club contacts are: Ed Heit, 425-8017, and Keith Solimar, 749-3603.
See more photos in this week's River Falls Journal.