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Carpenter Nature Center notes: August means crisp apples and migrating birds

August in the river valley means crisp apples, migrating birds, less extreme heat and one of the best seasons to get out and enjoy nature. A 'river of birds' is now working its way down the Mississippi flyway and it is not unusual to watch hundreds of hawks flow over in a day. A record hawk count was at Duluth's Hawk Ridge in 2003 when over 100,000 Broad-winged Hawks migrated over in one single day. Where can you go around Hastings to watch raptor migration? Any park with an open view of the sky is good. Usually days with a northwest or west wind, preferably the day before or a couple of days after a strong front are best for watching raptor migration. Locally one of my favorite places is the river overlook at Carpenter Nature Center, but I'm a little biased.

The end of August brings us another fantastic natural occurrence. Chimney Swifts are getting ready to migrate to the Amazon for the winter. These tiny insectivorous birds nest in brick chimneys and while some swift families are still spending August evenings in a 'single family chimney', other swifts chose communal roosts where up to 800 birds spend the evening together. Nationwide swift populations have been dropping and some scientists estimate a decline of 48 percent. Audubon Minnesota is coordinating a local version of 'A Swift Night Out' called the 'Swift Sit.' In Hastings we are fortunate to have a communal roost in a brick chimney near the old Riviera Theatre. In early August, 163 swifts roosted in that chimney. The second half of this season's Swift Sit is August 27-29 and we are all eager to see how many swifts roost in the Hastings chimney this time. The bird activity starts about one hour before sunset and concludes right around sunset. Watching these cigar-shaped, aeronautic daredevils turn and drop full speed into chimneys reminds me of X-wing fighters from the first Star Wars movie I watched as a kid. If you are interested in participating in the swift count, please visit for more information.

Another nature-related activity this season is the Spring Lake Clean Up hosted by the Hastings Environmental Protectors. The Mississippi River isn't only a migration highway for birds, but it can also serve as a freeway for trash riding downstream. Where does all the trash come from? Some garbage is dropped directly into the river while trash on our city streets can be washed into storm drains and ultimately into our rivers and wetlands. The one-day clean up takes place on the last weekend in August and you must register in advance. If you cannot attend, please considering taking a moment to collect trash off your own street. Every piece you collect is one less piece that may end up in our lakes, rivers and wetlands. To register for the clean up call Phil Vieth at 651-437-8536 or Sherry Akins at 651-437-8593.

The season of harvesting is upon us! Apples are ripening and raspberries are ready for picking. If you haven't sampled the variety of apples grown in our area, stop by a local orchard in the next few weeks to compare crisp, sweet apples like SweeTango to tart varieties like Haralson. This month is still a good time for taking a wildflower hike as the cardinal flowers are in bloom near the river. September and October bring all sorts of fun nature-related events including the changing of the leaves, the blooming of the asters, the fall Raptor Release and Apple Fest in the St. Croix Valley orchards. Until next time, I hope to see you on the trails.