Winter 2019

Friends of the Refuge Bird & Plant Classes

led by Dr. Melinda Knutson
Regional Biologist (Retired), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Bird Series:   Bird Biology and Bird Watching
Wednesdays, January 9, & 16 from 10 - noon and 1-3 pm AND January 23 from 10 - noon

Plant Series:   Plant Biology and Identification
Wednesdays, February 13, 20, 27 from 10 - noon and 1-3 pm

All classes are free and open to the public.
Registration is required. Scroll Down to Read Class Descriptions and to Register


Discussion Series:  Bird Biology and Bird Watching:

led by Dr. Melinda Knutson, Regional Biologist (Retired), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  • Jan. 9, 16, 23 2019

  • Wednesdays

  • Jan 9&16: 10 - noon and 1-3 pm

  • Jan. 23: 10 - noon

  • Refuge Visitor Center

  • Limit: 35

  • Please register. You do not have to attend all classes

If you are looking for a new hobby or you want motivation to get outdoors, stretch your legs, and visit some refuges, parks, and state natural areas, bird watching is for you! Bird watching can be learned at any age. In the discussion series we will continue with The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America video course that we started in 2018. The videos are provided by The Great Courses and taught by internationally respected birding expert James Currie. The course focuses on bird biology and tools and techniques for improving your bird watching skills. The format will include viewing a 30-min. video, followed by 15-20 min. discussions. Dr. Knutson will lead the discussion, expanding the content and adding examples from her research and experiences. There will be ample time for questions and exploring ideas. If you missed the 2018 sessions, no worries! You will still learn a lot about birds and bird watching.

Expectations and Goals

You will learn about bird biology, migration, birding by ear, bird photography, and take a peek into the lives of the many bird families we have in the Midwest. We hope that you will become excited about birds and their habitats and expand your enjoyment of the great outdoors! You will also learn more about how you can promote bird conservation at home and in your community.

Location: Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge - La Crosse District Visitor Center, N5727 County Road Z, Onalaska, WI.

Instructor: Dr. Melinda Knutson trilliumlax@gmail.com Course Coordinator: Ruth Davis radavis@for78.org

Course Schedule

Week 1 - Jan 9: Morning (10:00-12:00): Birding by ear AND Essentials of bird migration Afternoon (1-3): Waterbirds, shorebirds, & game birds AND Diurnal raptors

Week 2 - Jan 16: Morning (10:00-12:00): Doves to kingfishers AND Passerines: Flycatchers to thrushes. Afternoon (1-3): Passerines: Thrashers to warblers AND Passerines: Tanagers to finches

Week 3 - Jan 23: Morning (10:00-12:00): Photography for birders AND Birding ethics and conservation

Additional Information and Resources

Coulee Region Audubon Club (http://www.couleeaudubon.org/) Local group promoting bird watching and bird conservation. Occasional field trips.

Dunn, J.L., and J. Alderfer (Eds.). 2017. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 7th Edition. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C. Field guide. Recommended by lecturer, popular with bird watchers.

Elphick, C.S., J.B. Dunning, Jr., and D.A. Sibley (Eds.). 2009. The Sibley guide to bird life and behavior. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. Bird biology (not field guide); several books available, but I like this one.

Peterson, R.T., and V.M. Peterson. 2010. Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America, sixth edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Classic field guide, with arrows to field characteristics

Sibley, D.A. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, 2nd edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. Field guide. Large format, more illustrations, companion to 2016 book below. Too large to carry in the field.

Sibley, D.A. 2016. The Sibley field guide to birds of eastern North America: second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. Compact field guide

eBird; Sibley Birds; Merlin Bird ID; Audubon; NestWatch; Warbler Guide; Song Sleuth Birding apps for ‘smart phones’


Discussion Series:  Plant Biology and Identification

led by Dr. Melinda Knutson, Regional Biologist (Retired), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  • February 13,20,27, 2019

  • Wednesdays 10 am - noon and 1-3 pm

  • Refuge Visitor Center

  • Limit 35

Plants are all around us, from house plants, to trees, to the grasses in your lawn. Have you ever wondered what’s growing in your back yard, your neighborhood park, or in the hills around La Crosse? Plant identification is a practical skill that can be learned at any age. If you are looking for a new hobby in the outdoors, botany is for you! In the discussion series we will continue with The National Geographic Plant Biology video course that we started in 2018. The videos are provided by The Great Courses and taught by the award-winning professor, Dr. Catherine Kleier. The course focuses on plant biology and how plants evolved into the many families we have today. We will explore the astonishing adaptations that allow plants to live in an enormous variety of ecosystems. The format will include viewing a 30-min. video, followed by 15-20 min. discussions. Dr. Knutson will lead the discussion, expanding the content, including exercises to help you learn plant identification. There will be ample time for questions and exploring ideas. If you missed the 2018 sessions, no worries! You will still learn a lot about plants and plant identification.

Expectations and Goals: Learning about plant biology will help ‘grow’ your appreciation of local natural areas as well as help you to avoid planting or spreading invasive species. We hope that you will become excited about botany and expand your enjoyment of the great outdoors! You will also learn more about how you can promote plant conservation at home and in your community.

Location: Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge - La Crosse District Visitor Center, N5727 County Road Z, Onalaska, WI.

Instructor: Dr. Melinda Knutson trilliumlax@gmail.com Course Coordinator: Ruth Davis radavis@for78.org

Course Schedule

Week 1 - Feb. 13: Morning (10-12): Moss sex and peat’s engineered habitat AND Fern spores and the vascular conquest of land. Afternoon (1-3): Roots and symbiosis with non-plants AND Stems are more than just the in-between

Week 2 - Feb. 20: Morning (10-12): The leaf as a biochemical factory AND Photosynthesis everyone should understand. Afternoon (1-3): Days and years in the lives of plants AND Advent of seeds: cycads and ginkgoes

Week 3- Feb. 27: Morning (10-12): Why conifers are holiday plants AND Water plants came from land. Afternoon (1-3): Why the tropics have so many plant species AND Modifying the genes of plants

Additional Information and Resources

Botanical Club of Wisconsin https://sites.google.com/site/botanicalclubofwisconsin/ State group, with local chapters. Field trips with experienced botanists, amateurs welcome

Black, M.R., and E.J. Judziewicz. 2009. Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes region: A comprehensive field guide. Univ of Wisconsin Press. Comprehensive field guide, regional resource; key can be confusing for a novice, photos very small

Chadde, Steve W. 2013. Wisconsin Flora: An Illustrated Guide to the Vascular Plants of Wisconsin. Steve W. Chadde. Comprehensive field guide for Wisconsin, with drawings and range maps by county.

Darke, R., and D.W. Tallamy. 2016. The living landscape: designing for beauty and biodiversity in the home garden. Timber Press. Rave reviews online, translation of ideas from 2009 book into practical landscaping ideas, beautiful photos

Holm, H.N. 2014. Pollinators of native plants: attract, observe and identify pollinators and beneficial insects with native plants. Pollination Press, LLC. Best book available on plants and pollinators

Newcomb, L., and G. Morrison. 1977, 1989 reprint. Newcomb's wildflower guide. Little, Brown and Company, Boston. Classic, simple field guide and key, excellent drawings, but names a bit outdated.

Steiner, L.M. 2007. Landscaping with native plants of Wisconsin. Voyageur Press, St. Paul, MN. Excellent, regional resource on native plants for landscaping

Tallamy, D.W. 2009. Bringing nature home: How native plants sustain wildlife in our gardens, updated and expanded. Timber Press, Inc. Classic book - transformed our ideas about the value of native plants

Weaner, L., and T. Christopher. 2016. Garden revolution: how our landscapes can be a source of environmental change. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon. Advocates use of native plants in landscaping.

iNaturalist; PictureThis; PlantNet; Minnesota Wildflowers; Trees USA; vTree; Illinois Wildlflowers; Wisconsin Wildflowers; Montana Grasses Apps for smart phones


Native Plant Workshop:  Landscaping with Native Plants to Attract Birds and Butterflies

led by Dr. Melinda Knutson, Regional Biologist (Retired), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  • No date set at this time.

This workshop will focus on how to use native plants to enhance the wildlife value of your urban or suburban yard.  Dr. Melinda Knutson, retired regional biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will lead the workshop.  Dr. Knutson has more than 20 years of experience practicing ecology and gardening.  She has studied birds, frogs, and their habitats, and worked with National Wildlife Refuges to design monitoring and conservation plans.  In her younger years, she was a beekeeper and a farmer in southeastern Minnesota.  She also enjoys incorporating native plants into her own yard. 

 According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, home is where the habitat is

  • About one-third of our food comes from plants that require pollinators in order to set seed or fruit, yet pollinators are at risk.

  • Honeybee colonies around the world have suffered unprecedented losses in recent years, and many once-common native bumblebees and butterfly species are disappearing. Examples include the monarch butterfly and rusty-patched bumble bee; both species were once common in the Midwest. Populations of the monarch butterfly have plummeted by approximately 90 percent in just the last two decades and the rusty-patched bumble bee was listed as federally endangered in 2017.

  • Native plants offer pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies, and other insects and fruit and seeds for birds and mammals. The pollinators they attract also visit neighboring vegetable and fruit crops, which can increase food production.

  • Heavily developed agricultural and urban landscapes generally lack the habitat to support pollinators. Many nonnative trees, shrubs, and plants are pretty, but they have little or no wildlife value. Even those nonnative plants that do have nectar, pollen, or berries are often blooming or fruiting at the wrong time for native bees, birds, and butterflies.

  • Research has shown that even small flower gardens can provide important food and shelter for wildlife. Larger suburban lawns, rights of way, and commercial settings, properly planned, can provide even more wildlife value in urban or developed areas.

In this workshop, we’ll provide an overview of landscaping with beautiful native plants, how to get started, how to plan your planting areas, avoid invasive species, and how to maintain your sites.  We’ll discuss how geography, soil type, amount of sun and shade, and your personal desires affect your choices of native plants.  We’ll also discuss wildlife habitat for birds, bees, and butterflies and why planting native plants adapted to a specific geographic location will best meet their needs.  Participants will receive information on resources, plant nurseries, and how to find additional help with ‘going native’.