J.J.Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store
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header: news archive 1991 to 1999

J.J. Cardinal's In The News....the early years.

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Flint Journal photo
Nicole W., second grade student at Reid Elementary School in Goodrich, takes a closer look at an American goldfinch nest during a class section on birds.
[caption from Flint Journal February 16, 1998; photo by Journal's photographer: Matt Stone]

Student focus on feathered friends

February 16, 1998
by Matt Bach, Flint Journal staff writer

Goodrich - Second grader Javier P. learned about several kinds of bird nests during a presentation at his school Wednesday, but there was one that stuck with him. "I like the one where the bird uses its saliva to stick it in the fireplace," Javier said. "That's weird."

Javier, 7, was talking about a chimney swift - a bird that uses saliva to secure its nest to walls. He and the rest of the Reid Elementary School second-graders learned about chimney swift nests and 15 others by Louise Dawson, owner of J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store in Grand Blanc. "we're giving the children an awareness about birds and how important birds are," said their teacher, Linda Jackson. "We teach how birds signal us to the condition of our environment. If they start dying out, we need to be on the alert. If we have a lot of birds around us, we know we live in a healthy environment."

As part of Wednesday's lesson, the students made "nest soup." They all donated various nesting materials, including straw, hair, string, paper and yarn, then put the items together. Each child will take home some of the materials and leave them outdoors for the birds to use in making nests. Dawson said this is nesting season and the materials will be helpful.

While Javier like the chimney swift nest, he was not too excited about the nest created entirely out of saliva by a Chinese swift and then eaten as part of a soup by people in China. "I wouldn't like it (the soup)," Javier said.

The favorite of the students Jolynn Z. and Carly G. was the silver dollar-size nest of a hummingbird. "I like it because it was little - the littlest nest I've seen," Jolynn said.

Getting students to think and talk about bird nests was the goal behind Wednesday's demonstration, said Dawson. "If they get an appreciation for the natural world, hopefully they won't trash the next one they see now," she said. "Education is a powerful thing to have because maybe now these students will be future bird lovers and customers of J.J. Cardinal's."

Dawson, who makes about four presentations to area schools on bird-related topics each month, charges $25 a visit and donates the fee to a nonprofit group. She has raised $500 since January for the Genesee Audubon Society. Last year, she donated $6,600 to various organizations.

[web note: last names of students and minors were omitted by J.J. Cardinal's web guy]


a book & its author
Peterson Field Guide to Warblers of North America & Jon Dunn

Author in Grand Blanc for book signing event

December 18, 1997
by Sara Mills, Grand Blanc News

Nationally known author Jon Dunn made a recent appearance at J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store in Grand Blanc, as part of a book signing event on Dec. 13.

During the book signing Dunn autographed copies of his book, Peterson Field Guide to Warblers of North America. Dunn signed approximately 10 copies of the book for customers, in addition to several copies to be sold at the store.

Dunn, a native of Dayton, Ohio, said between 10,000 - 13,000 copies of the book were sold in its first printing, creating an entire sellout and thus demanding a second printing of the book. The first copies of the book arrived in stores in October. A second printing was recently issued in December and has already begun arriving in stores across the country.

Dunn was contracted to research, write, and develop this book along with his long-time friend and associate Kimball Garrett approximately 12 years ago with Houghton Mifflin publishers. To this day Dunn has received a mere $500 advance from the publisher and does not expect to see any royalties from sales of the book until sometime this spring.

"It was definitely a labor of love. I wasn't in a rush to get it out. I wanted to be satisfied with it," said Dunn. Dunn has know Garrett since 1967 and the duo have collaborated on several projects in the past, including both articles and books. The book marks Dunn's third foray into the book publishing field. Dunn has previously collaborated on Bird of Southern California published in 1981 with Garrett, as well as contributing several articles to various birding magazines.

Dunn currently serves as an editorial consultant for Birding magazine and is also chief consultant for the National Geographic Society's Field Guide to Birds of North America. While he has no tentative plans for an upcoming book, the author will continue to teach week-long classes at the University of Maine, in addition to leading tours for Wings, an international bird watching organization based in Tucson, Arizona, Dunn said.

Dunn also plans to contribute future articles on Meadowlarks and Longspurs to Birders Journal and Birding magazine.  Dunn said that he is "quite proud" of the final product which appears in the book.

He said that he and Garrett spent 10 hours per day for four to five years researching information for the book. "Much of our efforts were spent at the Smithsonian collecting data on various bird specimen," said Dunn. Dunn has spent his life interested in bird watching, according to Dunn. Dunn is an experienced birding aficionado, having been involved in birding since the age of 8. Initially, birding was a hobby eventually became his career, with his career in the political science field turning into his hobby.  Dunn received a B.A. in political science from San Diego State University. He currently funnels his extracurricular energies into politics, subscribing to various political magazines.

Dunn was approached by store owner Louise Dawson earlier this fall regarding the a possible book signing in the area. Dunn already has a following in the Grand Blanc community, making him an excellent guest to participate in a book signing, said Dawson. Dawson contacted Dunn via his e-mail address and then called Common Ground distributors, who is involved with Houghton Mifflin. Dawson and Dunn then exchanged e-mail messages until the date for his arrival was set last month.


Grand Blanc News photo
Vickie Weiss, above left, and Wendy Kelstrom, right, participate in the City School Family Fund Road Rally on Nov. 15. Weiss & Kelstrom, both teachers at City School, search for winning clues at J.J. Cardinal's, while store owner Louise Dawson, center, looks on.

Rally 'round - City School says 'we are here'

November 20, 1997
by Sara Bills, Grand Blanc News staff writer

Grand Blanc - City School in Grand Blanc recently held a Family Road Rally to heighten public awareness regarding the school.

The event, part of the Family Activities Council for the school, was the first of its sort this fall. The rally, held on Saturday, Nov. 15, was designed to bring families together as well as increase local consciousness regarding City School and its "alternative" approach to education.

"We would like to get the word out to increase enrollment," Mary Bishop, Co-President of the Family Council, said. "We want to be very family-oriented in the process."

City School is an extended year public elementary school, which currently occupies space in the Perry Center. While the curriculum does not differ from traditional education, the focus is primarily time on task, allowing the students the opportunity "to learn at their own pace," without the stress of keeping up with their classmates.

Forty-eight students are currently enrolled in City School, which is divided into two classrooms in the Perry Center, with a third room used as an educational lab. The school employees two teachers, Wendy Kelstrom, who teaches grades 1-2, and Vickie Weiss, who teaches grades 3-5.

Classes are held 200 days of the year, with one-week breaks in October, March, and April. During these "intersessions", the school remains open on an optional basis for students who pay a nominal tuition fee, instead of vacationing with their families.

The Family Road Rally, sponsored by Joan Robertson and Leslie Abud, both parents of City School students and coordinators for the Family Activities Committee, boasted participation of 16 families, including teachers, parents, and students. The rally, included a scavenger hunt which took place throughout downtown Grand Blanc, a set of 13 clues, and an informal reception held at the Grand Blanc Fire Hall, following the event.

The rally  was considered a success, according to Robertson, who said she was pleased with the turnout, despite the harsh weather. "It's a nice way to get involved with schools," Robertson said. "I think it's a way to bring a family and school together in a fun way."

Robertson said the rally served its purpose in uniting family and community with education. Ultimately this was the goal of City School, according to both Robertson and Bishop. The rally featured a host of tasks which participants were required to perform in order to earn possible points. The various clues, ranging from finding a shopping bag with handles  to retrieving hay and confiscating peanuts, lured team members all across downtown Grand Blanc's shopping district, including J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store.

The clues were designed to be easily solved within the Saginaw Street area, so that no one would have to venture far from town. Bonus points were awarded to teams who went above and beyond the call of duty and performed mildly embarrassing acts in public - from enacting film scenes in charade form at the video store, to playing leap frog at the dry cleaner.

Previous events have included a camping exhibition, which took place in late September. The marked success of the road rally almost guarantees a return engagement next fall, according to Robertson.

This year marks the debut of the City School, a non-tuition based elementary school which operates on a first-come, first-serve basis. The school was approved by Grand Blanc Board of Education last spring and is funded with money granted to Grand Blanc public schools. The Board of Education initially approved enrollment for a limited number of students, with the remainder of requests relegated to a wait-list until space can be found. The slant of City School deviates only slightly from traditional education, but the parents and educators associated with the project say it "offers kids the chance to truly know more.

"There's no more waiting to catch up and everyone works to their own level," according to Bishop.

[Web note: J.J. Cardinal's has provided frequent, ongoing educational programs to City School students since it's inception.]


Associated Press photo: Louise Dawson
Louise Dawson opened her bird shop five years ago, selling 2,000 pounds of bird seed a week.
[photo & caption from Grand Rapids Press 1/12/97]

Birdspotting: Michigan caught in midst of fast-growing pastime

January 12, 1997
by Greta Guest, Associated Press (wire story published in several state newspapers including: the Detroit News, Oakland Press, Midland Daily News, The Grand Rapids Press)

DETROIT - Nancy Tar eschewed bird-watching in her youth because it wasn't cool. But now Tar, vice president of the Michigan Audubon Society's board of directors, said the image of a bird-watcher as a pinched-nose, bespectacled, bookish loner has been replaced.

"You don't have to worry about being a nerd anymore," said Tar, of Berkley [MI]. "The average bird watcher is between 35 and 49 and has a college education. The people doing it are well-educated Baby Boomers."

There has been a growth nationally of people flocking to bird-watching as a way to reconnect with nature and to enjoy the thrill of adding another species to one's "life list." Tar said those lists are compiled by serious birders to track species they've seen and identified, usually with a good set of binoculars and a field guide.

There are now 10 times as many bird-watchers as hunters in the country, according to the American Birding Association. And bird-watching has become just as competitive as hunting for some, said Jim Granlund, treasurer of the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, a popular Upper Peninsula [MI] destination for bird-watchers.

Michigan has about 1 million hunters and while no group tracks the numbers of bird-watchers and backyard bird feeders, Granlund estimates there are 1,000 serious birders and likely a million or more feeders.

Competitive nature
"A birder is fairly competitive. It becomes: 'how many can you see in one day, in one year'. It's like hunting - you know where and how to look for birds, how to attract them, how the behave," Granlund said. Granlund said bird-watching is predominantly a male hobby, estimating 75 percent of birders are men. Many of them communicate bird sightings via the Internet through a listserve called Birdchat. Members of the list exchange e-mail messages about all aspects of bird-watching.

The growing interest in bird-watching has given rise to ecotourism in some parts of the state. For example, four years ago the city of Mio organized its first Kirtland's Warbler Festival, where people come to see the species found nowhere else in the country. The festival "really clicks with birders," said Diane Szabo, co-owner of the Songbird Motel in Mio. "I think it's the time when people want to get away from the theme parks and roller coasters and want to get back to nature. And, it's a very inexpensive vacation."

Szabo's mother, Virgie Purchase, came up with the idea as a way to promote tourism in her small town. She even renamed the motel from the Alpine to the Songbird to resonate with bird-watchers. Birders have money to spend. We found that out. And they are the greatest people in the world," Purchase said. "When you come up here, you're in the woods. It's very laid-back and serene."

Check out the shorelines
Purchase said the festival, which starts May 16, also gives bird-watchers and education and they leave having learned something about nature.

Besides Mio, the best bird-watching sites in Michigan are on its shorelines, said Maureen Martin, spokeswoman for the Nature Conservancy. Some of the most popular destinations are the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The migration of birds like hawks and other raptors occurs in September and October. Other species migrate in the spring, Mrs. Martin said.

But the vast majority of bird-watchers in Michigan see it all from their back yards and range from school kids to retirees, said Louise Dawson, owner of J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store in Grand Blanc.

Dawson opened her shop five years ago and mixes the seed herself. She started out selling 2,000 pounds of birdseed a week in 1992 and now sells upwards of 5,000 to 6,000 pounds each week. "There's a real misconception it's just the retirees. I get people in their 30s come in and say 'I can believe I'm doing this, but it's really fun,' " she said. She said the image of the typical bird-watcher is  "frumpy."

"We resent that," she said, laughing.


students examine monarch chrysalis
Reid Elementary 4th grader Randy H. and 3rd grader Anjela S. are enthralled at the size of a Monarch butterfly chrysalis. Once the butterflies hatch, the students and their classmates will set 30 monarchs free to study their migration patterns.
[photo & caption from Grand Blanc News 9/5/96; chrysalis color enhanced by web guy]

Flying Free
Students hatch butterflies to study migration patterns

September 5, 1996
By Nick Chiappetta, Grand Blanc News staff writer

A group of Reid Elementary School students will soon be doing a project that would make many adults envious. The third through fifth graders in Julie Martin's and Charlene Litten's multi-age class will soon be hatching Monarch butterflies and tracking their migration to Mexico.

About 30 chrysalises, the cocoon stage of the butterfly, were donated to the school by Louise Dawson, owner of J.J. Cardinal's nature store in Grand Blanc. The butterflies were raised in their egg and larvae stage before Dawson acquired them and will become full butterflies within the next couple of days.

The children received the chrysalises just before Labor Day weekend and were kept in cold storage so they would not hatch over the weekend. After they hatch by the middle of next week, the butterflies will be studied, tagged and then set free.

Through the program known as Monarchs Forever, scientists will be in Mexico and, with the tags on the butterflies from many schools in the United States, will be able to determine from where and how far the unique butterflies traveled. Martin said her students in past years have raised Painted Lady butterflies but have never been able to tag and track a butterfly's migration pattern before. "We actually get to be part of this scientific process and discovery," Martin said.

Martin said she found out about the project when she went to Dawson's store over the summer to buy a birthday present for one of her students. Dawson approached her about Monarchs Forever and Martin thought it would be a good idea. Martin said the project follows the Michigan Educational Assessment Program's requirement of students having to know the life cycle of a butterfly.

But in addition to the required curriculum, the children will be collecting intricate data about the butterflies and about the migration patterns. The project is fun for Martin as well who said she is excited about hatching the Monarchs and setting them free. "To teach it out of a book is one thing but hands-on is another," Martin said.

Dawson said there is one specific place in Mexico where all Monarch butterflies go to lay their eggs but what is more amazing is scientists did not even find this place until 1975. She said it is still not known why the butterflies travel to that specific place, how they instinctively know the way or even how they find their way. Scientists speculate the Monarchs, which only fly during the day, use the sun or the earth's magnetic field to find their way to Mexico. They can fly at heights of up to two miles and cover nearly 80 miles in a day.

Scientists study the Monarchs because wile not endangered, their numbers are dropping. "There are fewer and fewer that come back every year," Dawson said.

After the butterflies hatch from their chrysalis stage, the Reid children will use what they have learned to record the gender of the butterfly, when and where they released it and weather patterns. They will also tag one of the wings of each butterfly. The tag has a number on it which scientists will know how to use so they can determine where the butterfly came from. And Dawson said the tag in no way hurts the butterfly. Students at Cook and Myers elementary schools in Grand Blanc are also doing the program.

[web note: last names of students and minors were omitted by J.J. Cardinal's web guy]


Flint Journal photo: Woodfield bird house project
Eric W., 14, of Grand Blanc fastens a birdhouse to a tree on the Captain's Club golf course in Grand Blanc Township
[photo & caption from Flint Journal 5/23/97]

Links might reduce need for pesticide by scoring a birdie

May 23, 1995
By Mary Jean Babic, Flint Journal staff writer

Birdhouses are becoming as common as clubhouses at golf courses these days. Attracting birds to munch insects is one way groundskeepers are trying to cut down on costly pesticides - and improve the environmental image of golf courses.

"It's quite a big issues now," said Chris Allard, superintendent of Sugarbush Golf Club in Davison. More golf course superintendents in Flint and around the country are working natural methods of pest control - such as bug-slurping birds - into maintenance programs.

They also are attempting to restore lost habitat by roping off wetlands, stocking ponds with fish and just letting some areas grow wild. While superintendents say pesticides will remain a staple in golf-curse maintenance, ecological and economic concerns have spurred them to examine ways to reduce use.

"I don't want to spray pesticides if I don't have to," said Steven  P. Kolongowski, superintendent of the Captain's Club, which opened a year ago in Grand Blanc Township.

Kolongowski has enlisted Louise Dawson, owners of J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store, to help in preserving habitat and attracting birds. Dawson sold the course several birdhouses, designed to draw bluebirds, purple martins and bats. Bluebirds dine on crickets and grasshoppers and purple martins favor mosquitoes. One bat can devour up to 7,000 insects a night.

Not only will houses help pest control, Kolongowski and Dawson said, they will replace habitat lost to development. "it's great any time that (golf courses) can put back something that they took out," Dawson said. "They are under fire from a lot of different groups."

At Sugarbush, which just opened this spring, no birdhouses are up yet. However, Allard said that when workers spray pesticides they do it on a calm day to reduce the risk of chemicals drifting into wetlands on the course. And parts of the course not involved in the playing of the game aren't maintained at all, he said. Some pesticide spraying, Allard said, "is necessary. You can't run the golf course without it, but you can minimize how much you use, too."

Environmentalists have long criticized golf course as habitat destroyers that soak up chemicals to produce their manicured grounds. But one environmental group, the Audubon Society of New York State, decided to view golf courses as opportunities to preserve wildlife.

Many times, golf courses offer the only green space in highly developed areas, said Jean Mackay, education director for the organization. So in 1991 the Audubon Society started its Sanctuary Program. Society members work with golf courses to recommend methods of restoring habitat and reducing reliance on chemical turf treatments.

Mackay acknowledged that traditionally the relationship between environmentalists and golf courses "has been pretty antagonistic." But after a New York golf course contacted the group to get suggestions about natural pest control, Mackay said, Audubon members thought other courses might be interested in the same information. To date, about 1,500 courses are working with Audubon, about 10 percent of all courses in the country.

In Michigan, 86 courses - among them the Captain's Club, Heather Highlands in Holly and Washakie in North Branch - are part of the program, which also offers courses the opportunity to become certified by the Audubon Society.

Mackay said natural pest control can greatly reduce pesticide use, which can cost a course, depending on its size, from $10,000 to $50,000 a year. "It saves them a lot of money. It's safer for them. I find they're pretty much very open to doing it, but it does take time to switch over and know what they are doing."

Ron Wisniewski, superintendent of Flushing Valley Golf and Country, didn't think the pesticide reduction would be so dramatic. "It's going to be a while down the road until we're totally pesticide free, and we spray when we have to," he said. Even without natural methods, Wisniewski said, golf courses are more healthy than they were years ago when groundskeepers used compounds such as lead arsenic and mercury. All they knew was that it worked, it killed the bugs," Wisniewski said.

Today, superintendents use more biodegradable bacteria for pest control, he said. And, Mackay said while in the past groundskeepers blanketed the turf with pesticides, today they are more careful about applying chemicals only where needed.

Bird houses haven't gone up yet at the Flint Golf Club, said Jim Moore, assistant superintendent. However, course officials have planted wildflowers and let some areas "grow up less manicured," he said. Ducks and geese have nested in those areas. "Its good, number one, for the wildlife, and number two for public relations," Moore said, adding that the Flint Golf Club intends to enroll in the Audubon program. "The focus is to reduce the use of pesticides. I think everybody's making a move that way."

But Wisniewski said golf courses aren't as unhealthy as critics say. "If that's the case we wouldn't have all the squirrels and wood ducks and everything else we'd have around here," he said. "They'd be lying around dead. Our livelihood depends on protecting the environment. If we contaminate it, we won't have a job."

[web notes: 1. subsequent to the publication of the above Flint Journal article, Flushing Golf & Country Club added dozens of bird nesting boxes throughout the course's lovely, natural wooded setting; 2. last names of students and minors were omitted by J.J. Cardinal's web guy]


Inside Grand Blanc photo of Louise Dawson
Louise Dawson
[photo from Inside Grand Blanc Jan. 1995]

When people told her chasing a dream is for the birds, she agreed

January 1995 - Inside Grand Blanc

Many people would say that turning your back and walking away from 17 years in a prestigious and high paying position with a national company is for the birds. And Louise Dawson couldn't agree more.

Dawson, owner of J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store here Inside Grand Blanc, not only agrees but couldn't be happier with her decision to leave J.C. Penney and open her store. Dawson spent 17 years with Penney's and her department was perennially ranked in the top 10 nationally. It was a good job with a promising future. Now with her own store, J.J. Cardinal's, she has none of the security J.C. Penney offered her. But, that big smile gives her away. It is obvious she has no regrets and now loves what she does. "I've always had a love of nature," she says. And as she was feeling more and more stifled in her job she decided to take the plunge and do what she had always wanted to do.

J.J. Cardinal's, located on Saginaw Street at Holly Road (next to Subway), marked it's third anniversary in December. And the success of the store proves that it is not only a hobby for Dawson, but that she is using some of that expertise from Penney's to make her own venture a hit.

"We're a nature store with a heavy emphasis of feeding birds," Louise says of J.J. Cardinal's. "We've become the nature center for our area." People come in all the time with questions and have brought in a host of creatures they didn't know what to do with. Then, Louise says, there are those who come in "just to get their J.J. Cardinal's fix."

Dawson's primary products are bird feeders and bird seed. There is an extensive selection of feeders in all sizes, types and price ranges. "Just about everything here has been field tested in my own backyard," she adds. As for the bird seed, she has even consulted with a professor from Cornell University for formulations the birds will really eat and enjoy.

But, J.J. Cardinals is not just a bird store. It features feeders for other animals such as squirrels as well as science and nature kits and items for children, books on various nature subjects, art, jewelry, wind chimes and much more.

Still, what J.J. Cardinal's really offers is education. That is something Dawson really believes in. "I think education is powerful," she declared. She and her staff are more than happy to answer questions and spend time with people so they will know more not only about the merchandise she carries, but about the world of nature that she obviously enjoys.

While most stores selling bird feed will try to convince customers that the birds need the feed to survive, Dawson takes a more honest approach in educating the public. "The only reason to feed is to bring them closer," she explains.

Louise is very appreciative of the support she has received in her new venture. First, from her husband, Mike. "Support is the key word," she smiles remembering when she first decided to leave her job (and pay check) at Penney's. Secondly, from the community. "People warned me not to open here in Grand Blanc because 'Grand Blanc people don't shop here,' "  she remembers. But, her experience has been just the opposite. "The support we've received from the local people has been tremendous."

Many times when you walk into a small store where you may be the only customer at the time and the clerk offers to "help you," you may fell intimidated or pushed into buying something. That is not the feeling you get at J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store. There is no pushing and you feel comfortable taking time just poking around the unique shop.

It takes a special person to leave a good job with a major company to pursue a love of nature. Louise Dawson is such a special person and J.J. Cardinal's is a special store. There is no better time to find out about J.J. Cardinal's for yourself as during January "there are things going on all month." Whether you have a passion for nature, a love of birds, or an admiration for people who pursue their own dreams, you will find them all at J.J. Cardinal's.

[web note: the store grew, expanded and moved since this article appeared & now is located at 12830 S. Saginaw, Grand Blanc, in the Pavilion Shops across from the Grand Mall.]


Mr. Ray Clay in Jan. '94

Mr. Ray Clay

Owl caller to speak locally

January 6, 1994
The Grand Blanc News

Nature buffs in the Grand Blanc area will be treated to a special presentation by Ray Clay, a noted area naturalist and the man Michigan Resource Magazine calls the "voice of nature."

Clay has developed and practiced the ability to imitate various birds and animals and is now able to attract many species to their natural habitats.

Titled "Bird and Animal Calls," the free lecture will also feature a video presentation and demonstration of Clay's bird calls. The event is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday January 20 at J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird and Nature Store in Grand Blanc.

[web note: we've misplaced the article which appeared after Mr. Clay's presentation, which is regrettable since so many people attended and enjoyed his amazing skill and wit. Shortly after visiting J.J.'s Mr. Clay passed away. We were lucky to have met and experienced him.]


Flint Journal photostory calls Louise "The BirdLady of Grand Blanc"
Louise Dawson, owner of J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store in Grand Blanc, has carved out a profitable business from her love of nature.
[photo & caption from Flint Journal July 31, 1993]

Bird Lady of Grand Blanc
      Nature store feathers nest

July 31, 1993
by Paul Janczewski, Flint Journal staff writer

Grand Blanc - A visitor walking into J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store could go into sensory overload from the bombardment of sight, sound and smell. The aroma of bird seed and feed mingles with cedar feeders, creating a pleasant olfactory presence.

One's ears is drawn to mystical music playing from a portable tape player, a peaceful, moody blend of harps and harmonicas, blended with nature sounds.

And then one sees the owner, Louise A. Dawson, carefully stacking shelves, or expertly answering a casual question about birds from a customer. While she clearly has birds on her mind, Dawson is no bird-brain.

"I love nature," she said. "And birds have been my passion since I was 10 years old and making my first feeder out of scrap wood. It was a mess," she said about that first feeder. "A couple of shelves I banged into this poor tree with too many nails."

Since then, Dawson, 39, has carved a profitable business from her passion. Her demeanor is calm and authoritative without being preachy. Her immaculate attention to detail in the store is not lost as she attends to the whims and wishes of her customers. "If you're really deep into this, you're an ornithologist. If your interest is more casual, you're a birder," she said.

She describes her store as geared to nature "with a strong birding emphasis." With her blue jean skirt, bright T-shirt and pulled back long black hair, Dawson could be a modern-day hippie - with a job.

Eighteen months ago, Dawson opened her shop after tiring of managing the hair salon at J.C. Penney's and other retail adventures. "I just wanted to try doing it for myself," she said. "After all, selling shampoo is the same as selling bird seed."

Dawson's store at 12500 S. Saginaw holds a cornucopia of stuff. She also sells sweat shirts and T-shirts adorned with nature, soothing music, sundials and chimes. "People grocery shop for their birds like they do for themselves," she said.

She credits her serenity to parents who exposed her to the outdoors and all its natural beauty and mystery. "They always took me to Kensington Nature Park as a child," she said. "It was so beautiful and huge with its nature education and nature trails."

One can see her mind's eye rewinding, drifting back to a time when a romp in the woods was more enjoyable than playing with dolls. "I'm a nature nut," she said.

But birds are No.1 on her nature list. "They're so beautiful. Their songs give people lots of pleasure, they're so relaxing," she said.

Her favorite bird inspired the name of her shop. "Why, a cardinal, of course," she said. Dawson defends birdwatchers everywhere with facts and stats. "There are more people watching birds than watching football," she said. "More money is spent on bird equipment and food than is spent on golf." She said millions are into birding. "It's a way to get back to basics, and it's very inexpensive," she said.

Besides catering to the bird and nature lovers, Dawson visits various groups in the community offering lectures on nature and birds, and leads a twice-monthly bird walk in the woods at the Commons, a 270-acre wooded site off Perry Road. The unstructured walks have been as short as 40 minutes and as long as three hours if the birds are cooperating. "Some days, nobody's around," she said. "Other days, you can't  write the species fast enough."

She said her nature walks rely on sight and sound, and avoiding movements that would send birds scurrying. "I want them to respect the nature, stay on the trail, don't pick the wildflowers," she said. "Don't alter nature's course. I want people coming away with a different understanding and respect for nature."

Dawson said of the 367 species of birds in Michigan, 83 have been identified during the walks. Walks are conducted every other Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. As few as four people and as many as 44 have shown up, but Dawson said the ideal group consists of eight to 12 people. "The ideal time to start the walk is 6 a.m., but 9 is a more livable hour to be out there," she said. "You know, the early bird catches the worm."

Most of her knowledge is self-taught, she said. But when customer ask questions she does not know, she will consult a group of experts she's come to know from various universities or look it up herself.

"Different birds require different foods, and at different levels (on a bird feeder)," she said. "There's a science to it." For instance, she has discovered that hummingbirds are not timid at all. "In fact, they're quite aggressive," she said.

Blue jays seem to chase other birds away when feeding, as do the red-bellied woodpeckers. Her observations also have occurred at her home, which has 10 acres of wooded area and lots of nut-producing trees. "But there isn't any bird I don't like," she said, including the ones that leave calling cards on her clean car.

But you will not find birds for sale in her shop. Dawson said she remains neutral on the caged bird issue, because some of her customers have them. "I don't want to ruffle and feathers," she said. But generally, she said, if birds are bred as captive they don't know what they are missing. Birds that are raised in the wild and then captured are a different story.

Her husband, Michael, a sales manager for Ameritech Publishing, also is a naturalist.

In the past 18 months, Dawson has conducted 29 bird walks with more than 300 people, held 15 in-store seminars for more than 400 people, visited 12 senior citizen centers with lectures, aiding six scout groups in building 150 bluebird houses and visited nine schools, talking to 450 children.

But Dawson has no desire for the fast-paced life. "It doesn't take a lot to entertain me," she said. "I'd rather sit in my back yard. I get more enjoyment from that than going to Las Vegas."

[note #1: business continued to grow - more space was needed to display an expanded assortment of nature products, so the store moved to 12830 S. Saginaw, Grand Blanc, in the Pavilion Shops across from the Grand Mall.]
[note #2: as of 8/10/03 Louise has yet to visit Las Vegas.]

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J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store ®
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12830 S. Saginaw St., Grand Blanc, MI  48439 810-695-8733
Rev. 04/18/10 illustrations, text & fun © LAD, Inc. 1992-2016
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