Challes donates childhood bird egg collection to N.D. state parks

Contributed by Marie Challes. Lewis and Clark Park Ranger Zach Audette and Marie Challes with the donated bird egg collection.

In the mid 1960’s, Marie Challes, then in her early teens, and her father set their sights on the native birds around their family farm near Ray, N.D. For nearly two years they kept their eyes keen and patiently watched the birds’  movements and mannerisms and managed to collect eggs from over 20 species. Her father, a farmer, rancher and nature observer, built a  case for their fragile findings.

Nearly 60 years later, that collection is now being shared with visitors of North Dakota state parks as the display will become an exhibit for state park interpreters to use.

“I wanted the eggs to go somewhere where somebody could learn from them,” Challes said. “I wanted to find a home (for the display).”

That home was found when she took the display to Lewis and Clark State Park, a place her and her husband Dave enjoy camping. The park contacted the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department headquarters who said they would take the collection that, after so many years, is in near pristine condition.

Challes, the daughter of Harvey and Aurita Weyrauch, grew up on a farm south of Ray. Her father’s curiosity and wonder of nature was ingrained in her childhood.

“My dad was always into nature. He was just a talented man,” Challes said. “Many of the ranchers around would call him when they had something wrong with one of their animals and he would try to diagnose. He was just really curious about all of nature. Very self taught.”

At one time, the father and daughter duo took a taxidermy correspondence class together, learning about all aspects of the animals they worked on. The family hosted varieties of pets on their farm from snapping turtles to racoons, owls and baby fawns.

“Whatever you can imagine, we had as a pet,” Challes said. “And you just kind of learn about nature.”

Congruent of their observances, Challes and her dad decided to start a bird egg collection. Harvey built a wooden case with a glass top to house their collection. Over 20 species would be found over the course of a couple of years. Eggs from mallards, pheasants, song birds and even a few unique chicken eggs.

“We would watch these birds and find their nests,” Marie said. “We poked a hole in either end and blew them out.”

Over the years the childhood collection was put away and all but forgotten. When recently cleaning out the farmhouse, up through the square hole in the ceiling, in the attic, sat the display. Even with half of the glass gone, the eggs still remained in near perfect condition.

Challes fixed the glass, touched up the case and used Spanish moss to form a nest for each group of eggs. A plaque was made that says “Donated in memory of Harvey Weyrauch, Ray, N.D. by Marie Challes, Williston, N.D., specimen collection 1965-1968.” Challes handed over the donation to Lewis and Clark State Park Ranger Zach Audette.

Audette will keep the display at the park until it can be transported to the chief outdoor educator at the department headquarters in Bismarck. There, the eggs and names will be verified as well as identifying the few eggs not labeled. Then, they will decide if the collection will become a traveling display to different parks or if it will be utilized in an existing interpretive center.

“I think there are so many children today that don’t really experience the outdoors like they should,” Marie said. “And when you awaken them to something … It's the ‘stop and smell the roses’ thing; we are out there and we don’t pay attention to the nature, the play of that shadow on the rock. Whatever it may be.”

As the wonderment of the world around Harvey was passed to his daughter through the journey of building the egg collection, so it will be when the display travels from state park to state park, allowing children and adults alike to take a closer look at the fascination of nature.

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