Karen Tisthammer with her Natural Resources class.
Karen Tisthammer with her Natural Resources class.
The Southeast Minnesota Chapter of Quail Forever has named Karen Tisthammer of Spring Grove High School as Teacher of the Year for 2012.

Runners up were Brad Harguth of Caledonia High School and Peggy Kreutzman of La Crescent High School.

Tisthammer, whose duties include teaching Natural Resources courses to grades 10-12, has a long history of cooperating with the conservation group whose aim is to help bring back the bobwhite quail to the North Star State.

"It first started over 15 years ago when Thurman Tucker contacted me," she said last week. Originally from Tennessee, Tucker is the founder of Quail Forever in Southeast Minnesota and has worked tirelessly for decades to boost regional quail populations.

Historically, a stable population of the diminutive game birds existed in the southeastern corner of the state.

"Tucker asked me if our students would like to be a part of it," Tisthammer recalled. "I said, 'Sure, we'd be happy to do that!'"

"One of the first projects that we did was a student exchange with kids in the (Twin) Cities, which is where Thurman is from. Some Spring Grove students went up there and helped clean up a vacant lot, while students from the cities came down here and got to do some activities that have to do with quail."

"We've been involved with quail feeding, too. Kids at the school built the feeders, put them out and placed corn in them for the birds. We've done 'feathering' as well. That's where you cut down small trees and lay them out in such a way as to provide cover for the birds."

Another project that was undertaken by her class was making population estimates by talking to school bus drivers who were asked to note quail sightings.

"I still ask my students if they've had any quail sightings," Tisthammer said. "They report in to me where and how many they've seen. An especially good time to find out what's out there is during deer season... that's when they're going to hear and see them.

"Thurman comes in fairly often and speaks to our Natural Resources class, usually three of four times a year. He has a recording that we have the kids listen to of a bobwhite quail. They get to try and imitate it.

"We used to have a lot of coveys. The problem now is we don't see so many, so we're trying to help them out.

"We try to include different outdoor activities each year, not just about quail. We've taken trail walks to spot wildlife. Last year, we had an activity where the kids would predict the snowfall for each month... that was fun. There's usually a field trip of some sort."

This winter, a special treat for students is a field trip to the National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic that will be held at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Friday, Feb. 15, Tisthammer noted.

Quail Forever is sponsoring the trip and will even be providing food and transportation for the class. The convention will feature plenty of information on how to manage land for bobwhite quail.

Nature lovers often find something irresistible in the cheery whistle of the birds and enjoy seeing them scoot through a cover or take off with a whirl and glide across a field.

But for Karen, seeing a Minnesota quail involved a long wait.

"I saw my first quail this past summer," she said. "I was in my house, and I heard the whistle. The windows were open. It was June 14. I knew what it was so I went outside and followed the whistle, and there was just one quail in a tree, basically in my yard. I was so excited!"

Tisthammer chuckled, adding, "When I told Thurman, he got a kick out of how excited I was about it.

"One thing that Thurman always tells my students is, 'We just want you to enjoy nature, to be outside and take pleasure in what you'll find there.'"