Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Being green, at the 2011 International Festival of Owls

This past weekend was simply wonderful. I drove down to southern Minnesota to attend the 2011 International Festival of Owls! The festival is held in the small town of Houston, MN, located within the beautiful rolling tree-covered hillsides and farm fields (plus tall-grass praires) of far southern Minnesota. The views that I've been lucky to encounter on the drive to and from this wonderful event have been superb and breathtaking... and just like in past years, the festival started on the renowned owl-pancake breakfast. Yes, OWL PANCAKES. They are delicious as they are cute! All of the events and dining opportunities at the festival help raise money and awareness for the Houston Nature Center.

Most of the festivities for International Festival of Owls main are held in the Houston Elementary School. Before the festival takes place, the students elaborately-decorate the school in beautiful owl artwork! Many people know that the feeling about seeing owls, whether it be photos of beautifully-cute owls, seeing an owl fluffed up; while out birdwatching, or hearing the soul-stirring (in a good way) hoot and calls of an owl in the dark. Owls bring mystery and a natural sense of awe to our lives. While attending the owl festival throughout the past two winters, these feelings are always in the air. Whether you're a die-hard owl lover, or are simply interested in learning a little bit here-and-there about owls and the environments which they live in, the owl festival can only amaze you :-)

There are so many ways to experience owls at the festival. The upstairs classrooms are filled with local art vendors and naturalists, that are happy to spread the word about owls, and make their beautiful artwork available. Several friends from the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas attended booths at the festival, as did a wide-variety of artists with their owl-themed booths! Nearly anything owl-related could be found at the festival... from cute little stuffed owls, to owl paperweights, owl book-ends, owl bookmarks, books about owls, owl shirts, owl jewelry, owl hats and much more! There was even a non-stop bake sale going on, to raise money for the Houston Nature Center. All of the baked goods were owl-themed; all of which were delectable!

This past owl festival, I was privileged to host a photography booth (adjacent photo). It was my second photography booth I've ever hosted! I met so many wonderful people this past weekend, and was able to reconnect with some wonderful friends, like Jan Dunlop (author of The Boreal Owl Murder book). Jan hosted a booth next to my booth, and we talked about some wonderful bird experiences and got to catch up on life!
To find out more about her books and what she does, go to:

Karla Bloem, pictured above, is the director of the Houston Nature Center. She is the amazing woman who started the International Owl Festival, and has kept it going year after year!

Slim, a wood-carver, made an appearance this winter. I remember seeing him at last winter's owl festival. He is an older gentleman, with an amazing ability to cut, form and shape wood into beautiful creations, like a second-nature. He produces these beautiful wooden creations by hand-carving the wood - that's right, hand carving! The owl pictured to the side was carved out of a block of wood, in under 2 minutes (right in front of me)! He loves it when little kids come over to his booth. Slim carves each child an owl to take home with them, and takes their hand, puts the owl in their hand, and while cradling the owl in their hand, says "give a hoot, don't pollute." To find out more about his work, go to:

There were two main speakers at the festival; Raju Acharya (left) from Nepal, and Roar Solheim (right) from Norway. Raju is the director of an organization called Friends of Nature, and is also a renowned owl conservationist. Roar is the Senior Curator of Zoology at Agder Museum of Natural History in Kristiansand, Norway). Both of the speeches given were awesome. Raju talked about much of the conservation work that he has initiated and pursued throughout Nepal, to help put a halt to the illegal trade/hunting of owls. Roar's speech was filled with endless amounts of owls photos, taken throughout his studies in Europe. It was a captivating speech; the raised awareness/appreciation of owls is something that embeds itself in how you think, your daily actions, and creates this urge to teach people about owls :-)

Speaking of being more environmentally-conscious, I did some picture-taking and brainstorming during the festival, to think of ways to spark interest in the little things that humans do on a regular basis. I spent Friday night and Saturday night at the Settle Inn, a hotel in La Crosse, WI. The first thing I noticed when I got tot the hotel was a little "save our planet" sign in the bathroom. Although this sign is becoming common in more hotels, it's the little things like this sign that not only make us aware of how to reduce our impact on the environment (while traveling), but might also make for changes made while at home. Minimizing laundry, for example, isn't just an act that saves on water. Less detergent is used when you do fewer loads of laundry (for doing laundry at home, few loads but full loads of laundry is the most efficient way to do laundry). Whenever you do a load of laundry, you are using water to clean your clothes. Even before the water has arrived "at" your house, it has undergone treatment to make sure it is safe to drink and use. There is already a large amount of energy used to prepare and filter the water, prior to using & consuming the water at home. On washing machines, I always stay away from the "white" or hot-water setting on the dial. Yes, hot water will get your clothes ridiculously clean, but will also slowly wick colors out, will break-down prints on shirts, and will increase wear/stress on the fabric. Clothes and colors on clothes will last longer is the clothes are washed in warm or cool-water settings. Washing clothes at a cooler water setting uses less energy to heat up the large amount of water. Always rinse the clothes on the "cold" setting too, as there really isn't a need for heated water to simply rinse the clothes. I've got a few other ideas about reducing the impact on the earth while doing laundry, but will stick to the owl festival topic for this blog entry :)

Recycled toilet paper was the toilet paper offered at the hotel... Recycled toilet paper uses less raw paper to create a nearly-identical product. There is a whole slough of processes which are used when making virgin paper. By using recycled, or even partially-recycled paper, you reduce the need for cutting down new trees, processing the new trees, and converting the pulp into paper. Often times with reducing your impact on the earth, there are many direct/indirect sources of energy which are omitted from the final product. Another thing that I liked about the hotel I stayed at was the toiletries. Yes, we're talking about the tiny toiletries, but here's the deal about the toiletries in this hotel...

The shampoo, conditioner, and bars of soap were all biodegradable (will readily break down into basic/"natural" substances). Many soaps nowadays are created without the certification of being biodegradable. These soaps' residues will often linger longer in the environments which they enter, and are often less-safe for the environment. Another cool tidbit about the soaps in this hotel, was that they were not tested on animals. It makes me cringe just thinking about what all goes into animal-testing on products. These are small and simple things that I've noticed during my stay at the Settle Inn (the hotel in La Crosse, WI, during my festival visit). as a result of their environmental consciousness, I recommend this hotel if you're looking for a descent place to stay which has a few green features within the hotel.

Another green choice which I made during my travels going through the vicinity of the Twin Cities, was to gas up at Holiday gas stations. The holiday stations located in and around the Twin Cities are formulated slightly differently than other gas stations throughout the Midwest. Reformulated gas is often the choice of standard-grades of octane at many gas stations. Some gas stations only carry reformulated gasoline. The term reformulated gas means that a certain percentage of the gasoline is blended with ethanol, a corn-based fuel. Now here's the catch about reformulated gas... it burns cleaner (reduced emissions), however it typically lowers thefuel economy slightly, so there is a trade-off. Also, on some older vehicles, reformulated gas actually causes a bit of hesitation or rough idle, versus using traditional gasoline. Would you rather have slightly better fuel economy and have "standard" emissions, or consume even more gas (lower fuel economy) but have cleaner emissions? Something to think about...

Here's where the Holiday gas stations come into play. Holiday is based out of Minnesota, and around the Twin Cities, they have offered a formulation of gasoline called Blue Planet. Blue Planet is the standard gasoline for all of the "grades" or octane levels of gasoline, within the cities at Holiday stations. The Blue Planet gasoline is a low-sulfur and low-benzene gasoline (typical gasolines have maximum allowed amounts of these substances within the fuel after the filtering process)... and Blue Planet has even-further reduced amounts of both of these toxic substances. Blue Planet gasoline provides benefits even beyond reformulated gas (even lower emissions), however there is no fluctuation in fuel economy or engine performance. The American Lung Association even recognizes Blue Planet gasoline as a "clean air choice"! A little more more information about Blue Planet gasoline can be found at these two links:

Oh and on a last quick note... I won my first photography contest this past weekend! The photography contest is entirely limited to owls. My "Mama Northern Saw-whet Owl" picture won 3rd place, via the judges vote. The grand prize was awarded to the picture which received the most votes from the owl-festival-participants. I was really excited to hear that the same owl print received the most votes of any other print. If you stop by the Houston Nature Center, my Saw-whet print will be framed on display! The small entry fee for the photography contest helps raise funds for the Houston Nature Center.

More information regarding the International Festival of Owls can be found at this link:

Thanks for reading my blog! Good birdwatching,

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