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Birds of a feather: Jaime Thibodeaux and George-Ann Maxson help lead the local Audubon Society

Mississippi Headwaters Audubon Society members, from left, George Ann Maxson and Jaime Thibodeaux spend a morning birding at Lake Bemidji State Park. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Jaime Thibodeaux wasn’t raised with bird feeders in the back yard and the Peterson’s field guide on the dining room table.

“My parents didn’t have a connection to nature,” Thibodeaux said. “In fact, one of my memories is my mom looking at a mallard and calling it a ‘stripy duck.’

“I think I’ve come a long way.”

Thibodeaux’s transformation has been nothing short of spectacular as she has progressed from ‘stripy duck’ to the president of the Mississippi Headwaters Audubon Society chapter based in Bemidji.

“My grandfather on the Thibodeaux side was into volunteering with conservation organizations, and when I moved to Bemidji four years ago, Laddie Elwell sucked me into the Audubon Society, Thibodeaux said. “She invited me to a meeting and before long I became the secretary and then the president.

“The Audubon Society really is the most active conservation organization in town.”

George-Ann Maxson followed a similar route, although her journey began 32 years ago.

“When my husband and I moved here, we were recruited by Laddie and within one year, I was elected president of the chapter,” Maxson said. “During the past 32 years, I’ve held all of the posts.” She now serves as the treasurer, the membership chair and the co-chair of the education committee.

Thibodeaux and Maxson are proud members of the Audubon Society chapter because they believe what the organization supports.

“Our mission statement is ‘Fostering personal connections to, and stewardship of, our natural world,’” Thibodeaux said. “People now are spending more time indoors and it is our mission to help people move outdoors and use nature to reset their clocks.”

The Bemidji Audubon Society chapter prods people to get outside through a variety of means. Youngsters have the opportunity to explore the natural world through the chapter’s Young Naturalist Program events.

Adults may add to their outdoor experiences by attending a MHAS meeting or joining the chapter birders for the annual Bemidji Christmas Bird Count or another chapter excursion.

“There are 12 Audubon chapters in Minnesota, and our territory covers a 75-mile radius,” Maxson said, adding the Bemidji chapter was established in 1976.

Minnesota’s 12 chapters boast a membership of 11,000, with 400 members in the Bemidji chapter. Of the 400, the active volunteers within the chapter number between 15 and 30, depending upon the project.

“It takes time to organize the volunteers and our goal is to increase the volunteer (base) so we can do more projects,” Thibodeaux said.

Many projects center on the Nielson Spearhead Center located on the east side of Spearhead Lake south of Bemidji.

The facility has been used as a center for environmental education and research since 1979 and is the base of operations for the chapter’s young naturalist program.

Led by Dan Bera, the chapter’s naturalist, youth have the opportunity to explore the wonders of the natural world and learn how organisms live and relate.

Those lessons include bird identification, an aspect of the natural world that Thibodeaux certainly would have taken advantage of had she had the opportunity.

“I’ve always liked watching birds, but I never knew what they were,” Thibodeaux said. “My interest in nature spiked when I moved to Tennessee and worked at a park but I didn’t know how many birds there were and what they were until I took a class at college.”

Thibodeaux learned those lessons well, and today can identify birds visually and well as through their calls.

And Thibodeaux would love to pass that knowledge to anyone with an interest in birding.

“We do more education than birding and if someone knows the difference between an orange-crowned warbler and a ruby-crowned kinglet we would love to have him or her as a group leader,” she said. “The chapter just received a grant from the Minnesota Onithological Union to acquire 12 sets of binoculars, field guides and field notebooks for our adult and youth activities.

“We are the leading conservation organization in Bemidji and if you are interested in on-the-ground conservation, we are the connection.”

Maxson agreed.

“There is a wide variety of birding experience within our club,” she said. “We are far more than just a bird watching group — we concentrate on the environment that supports the birds,” Maxson said.

“The Mississippi Headwaters Audubon Society chapter offers the chance for people to meet and spend time with others who are interested in the outdoors and conservation issues. And we always welcome fresh ideas and new faces.”

For more information on the Mississippi Headwaters Audubon Society chapter, visit its website at

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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