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From June - August 2020, 170 young birders participated in our first Summer Birding Program. View photos from last summer shared by young birders and their families here, and click the link below for a short report on the success of the program as measured through a follow-up survey.
Summer Birding Program Report_2021.pdf
Meet Fawn Bowden, newly-elected Chair of our Board of Directors, long-time volunteer leader, and mother of two young birders!
Current town: Riverside, Iowa
Hometown: Wyoming, Minnesota
Fawn with her daughter, Mieka, viewing Sandhill Cranes from the blind at Rowe Audubon Sanctuary on our IAYB weekend trip to Kearney, Nebraska, March 2015.
What sparked your interest in birds/nature?
My father and grandmother were/are both bird and nature lovers. My grandmother always had bird feeders up and filled and knew all about each bird that came to them. I'll never forget the first time she showed me a Crossbill that was at her feeder (she lived in NW Wisconsin) and that its beak was crooked like that on purpose. I also thought it was amazing that she seemed to have conversations with the chickadees, as they would always answer her calls.
What is your favorite bird?
That's a hard question, there are so many! Probably the Common Loon for it's beautiful call and plumage and because it's the state bird of my home state of Minnesota. The babies are adorable too. Also any sort of owl. They're often hard to find, so it seems special when you do see or hear one.
What is your favorite birding/outdoor space?
I've been exploring a new place each week with the kids during the stay-at-home precautions during the Covid-19 pandemic, so I think I may have a few new favorite places now! Pike Run Wildlife Area in Muscatine is pretty neat with some lowland woods and wetlands. Clemmons Creek Wildlife and Recreation Area in Washington County has pristine woodlands, prairie and also wetlands. Maskunky Marsh in Mahaska County can be a really good spot for shorebirds, if the water levels are low enough. Of course Cone Marsh is great and we live about 25 minutes away, so I do go there quite a bit.
Do you have young birders in your family?
Yes, two, Mieka, 12 and Henry, 11. Their desire to learn about birds ebbs and flows as other interests and activities come into their lives, but I'm hoping that they'll keep coming back to it with fondness as time/life permits.
Do you remember your first Iowa Young Birders field trip?
Yes! Mieka and I both remember it very well. It was to George Wyth SP to see Saw Whet Owls and see them we did.
It's hard to pick one, but the Saw Whet Owl trip and the Sandhill crane trip to Nebraska were favorites.
I think it's important to support the things you believe in.
So they can come to know, hopefully enjoy and value the natural world. If they know it and love it, they will want to protect it and care for it. Plus, it's important for them to know that humans and nature are interconnected and interdependent.
Iowa Young Birders recently received a $4,000 donation in memory of the late Don Sievers, lifelong Iowa birder and outdoor educator for the Department of Natural Resources at the Springbrook Conservation Education Center. The award was presented to Iowa Young Birders by Don's children, Shelby VanNordstrand, Chris Sievers, and Ashley Sievers, to honor their dad by helping educate young Iowans about the beautiful birds our state has to offer.
"We are extremely humbled by and grateful for this generous gift", said Executive Director Tyler Harms. "We are honored to continue Don's legacy of outdoor education and respect for nature through our programs".
You can read more about Don below, including some of his favorite birding spots, in a note provided by his children, Shelby, Chris, and Ashley.
The children of Don Sievers are pleased to present this memorial gift of $4,000 to Iowa Young Birders. There is no better way to honor our Dad than by helping this organization educate young Iowans about the beautiful birds this state has to offer. Our wish is for these youth to grow up in Iowa with the same appreciation and respect for nature that our dad instilled in us. We cherish these lessons as we pass them on to our own children with help from the available programs and events that Iowa Young Birders offers.
Whether it was banding birds at Springbrook Conservation Education Center or driving around the Greene county countryside, our dad was at peace outdoors. He enjoyed the simple things in life; a cup of coffee and pair of binoculars always within reach. His passion for the outdoors was only matched by his desire to spread nature’s offerings to others.
Many donations from friends and family have made this gift possible. We trust that these gifts will provide great opportunities for Iowa’s youth and encourage all to spend more time outdoors with family.
Don lost his battle with pancreatic cancer over 3 years ago. He and his late wife, Suzanne, raised their family in Jefferson. He worked for the Iowa DNR for 34 years at Springbrook Conservation Education Center.
Please check out some of Don’s favorite birding spots in Greene and Guthrie counties: Goose Lake, Dunbar Slough, Finn Pond, Springbrook State Park, McMahon Access, Henderson Park
Did you know you can use eBird to track the spring migration of your favorite migratory bird? Follow the simple steps below to see where different species are being seen in North America!
First, navigate to the eBird homepage by clicking here.
Next, click the "Explore" button as shown in the image below:
Then, click the "Species Map" link as shown below:
Once the map appears, type the name of your favorite species and select it from the drop-down box once it appears. Below, we use the Ruby-throated Hummingbird as an example:
When you select your species, purple boxes should appear on the map. This shows the entire range for which the species has been seen in all years. To see only where the species has been seen so far this spring, select the "Year-Round, All Years" box as shown below. Then, click the "Mar-May" button and the "Current Year" button illustrated below:
And you're done! Below is our map of where Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are currently being seen!
And here is another example map for Lesser Yellowlegs, a shorebird that migrates through Iowa each spring and fall (they're already here!):
You can repeat the above steps for any species and any time of year in which you are interested. You can even restrict your search to Iowa by specifying "Iowa" in the upper-right box in the above map.
Have fun exploring, and thanks to Team eBird for providing this great tool for us!
On February 7, 2020, 13 young birders, parents, and grandparents joined us in Duluth, Minnesota for our second Northern Minnesota Weekend trip. The mild weather resulted in much better travel conditions than last year, allowing us to arrive in Duluth on Friday afternoon with time for an evening visit to Sax-Zim Bog, our target location. Before heading north, we met for a brief welcome and introduction to our weekend. The excitement for Boreal birds was building, however, so we kept the welcome brief and loaded our van (the Snowshoe Hare), to head north!
Photo credit: Heidi Walz
After about 45 minutes, we entered the south side of the Bog, an interesting habitat consisting of spruce-tamarack bog areas intermixed with shrubby, wet meadow areas. We immediately commenced our search for owls and were quickly rewarded with one of our target birds, a Northern Hawk Owl, on the east side of the Bog perched high in a spruce tree. The bird was extremely cooperative, posing nicely for photos and close looks through spotting scopes. Saying goodbye to the Northern Hawk Owl, we headed towards the Admiral Road feeders to await the arrival of the Boreal Owl that had been consistently seen for the prior week. However, after only ten minutes, we received word of a Great Gray Owl at another area in the Bog. We quickly loaded the van and headed that way but were just too late. The disappointment of missing the Great Gray Owl didn’t last long, however, because we were diverted back to the Admiral Road feeders because the Boreal Owl had appeared. We arrived just as the sun was setting, but the Boreal Owl was still present and extremely cooperative! Everyone was able to see the owl through spotting scopes as the daylight rapidly disappeared. What a great end to our first day!
We arose bright and early Saturday morning for a quick breakfast at the hotel before loading the van for a 6:30 AM departure to the Bog. Our first stop - the Racek feeders to view Sharp-tailed Grouse that fly over from the nearby lek for their breakfast each morning. We arrived at first light but the grouse had not yet arrived. We waited excitedly in the van, spotting the occasional Black-capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker visiting the feeders and were treated to a Red-breasted Nuthatch that landed on the road ahead of the van. Our patience paid off, and after waiting just shy of an hour, three Sharp-tailed Grouse landed in the top of the tree immediately beside the van, so high that some of us were unable to see them. Soon after, however, one of the grouse flew down to ground under the feeders for his or her breakfast. Our first stop was a success!
After viewing the grouse, we stopped by the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog Visitor’s Center to see what was visiting the bird feeders. We added Canada Jay at this location as well as more Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. However, the most entertaining observation was the local Red Squirrels! These quick and feisty critters were constantly stealing from the bird feeders and it was fun to watch their acrobatics as they jumped from tree to feeder and back.
Next, we made our way to Mary Lou’s feeders, a regular location for Evening Grosbeaks. Upon our arrival, we immediately spotted a pair of Evening Grosbeaks at one of the feeders near the road. We exited the van and joined the many other birders enjoying these vibrant yellow finches (yes, although it has “grosbeak” in its name, the Evening Grosbeak actually belongs to the finch family). Also frequenting Mary Lou’s feeders were numerous Hairy Woodpeckers, the occasional Downy Woodpecker, and few Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches.
After about 30 minutes at Mary Lou’s feeders, we loaded the vans to warm up and make our way south Winterberry Bog. A quick stop before lunch along County Road 7 on the east side of the Bog yielded our second Northern Hawk Owl for the trip as well as a distant group of both American Crows and Common Ravens, allowing for a nice comparison of these two similar species. We then arrived at Winterberry Bog to search for both Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers. We were greeted by several other birders with the same idea, who all stated both woodpeckers were present and actively foraging a short hike into the dense sprue bog. Excited, we started off down the narrow path in the snow. Listening intently for drumming as the snow crunched under our feet, we hiked for about five minutes before meeting other birders that were photographing a Black-backed Woodpecker high in a spruce tree. We waited patiently as the bird worked up and down different trees, voraciously removing bark with his beak in search for tree-burrowing insects. After a short time, the bird was nearly on top of us, showering us with spruce bark and allowing for fantastic views! We started our hike back to the van with hopes of encountering an American Three-toed Woodpecker. Lucky for us, young birder June spotted one hidden among the dense spruce branches. What a cool bird!
Lunch time! We stopped again at the Wilbert Cafe in Cotton for a delicious meal and our fill of coffee and hot chocolate, just the energy boost we needed to continue our search for owls in the afternoon. We started back down County Road 7 as this road seemed to be the place to see owls this year. Not far down the road, we stopped to look at a Northern Shrike. While doing so, volunteer leader Kevin found a distant Snowy Owl perched high in a tree, a new bird for our trip! Everyone had great looks through the spotting scopes before loading the vans and continuing our search for owls. Much of our afternoon was spent searching for a Great Gray Owl along the roads throughout the Bog. We did stop again at the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog Visitor’s Center for a visit to the gift shop and were greeted again by the feisty Red Squirrels and a few Canada Jays. Additionally, we had great views of an adult Northern Goshawk that flew over the road just in front of the van. Thanks to young birder dad Paul for spotting this gorgeous bird for us! Unfortunately, our day of birding ended without a Great Gray Owl, but we saw several other fantastic birds and made some great memories along the way.
On Sunday morning, we decided to visit Canal Park in Duluth to look for gulls and other waterbirds on the mighty Lake Superior. Once again, we were not disappointed by our decision. Among the many Ring-billed and Herring Gulls around the lake were at least five different Glaucous Gulls, all of which were close to shore and easily viewed through binoculars. Additionally, we spotted a distant Great Black-backed Gull on the lake, a life bird for nearly everyone on the trip. Finally, while exchanging farewells in the parking lot, we were treated to the show of two Peregrine Falcons chasing Rock Pigeons around the nearby buildings. An amazing finale to an amazing weekend!
This trip would not have been possible without our young birder parents, who chauffeured their young birders to Duluth to join us and who graciously helped with spotting birds and other trip logistics along the way. We are extremely grateful to volunteer leader Kevin Murphy, who once again provided fantastic leadership, expert navigation around the Bog, and a contagious passion for birds and birding. Many thanks to Annalise Skrade, Paul Skrade, Heidi Walz, and Kathy Solko for helping capture the many great memories on this trip and for sharing photos with us, all of which you can view here. And lastly, a huge thanks to Bobby Walz for diligently maintaining our eBird checklists throughout the weekend, which you can view below.
Sax-Zim Bog - Admiral Road Feeders (2/7/2020)
Sax-Zim Bog - Racek Feeders (2/8/2020)
Sax-Zim Bog - Visitor's Center (2/8/2020)
Sax-Zim Bog - Mary Lou's Feeders (2/8/2020)
Sax-Zim Bog - County Road 7 (2/8/2020)
Sax-Zim Bog - Winterberry Bog (2/8/2020)
Sax-Zim Bog - Kolu and McDavitt Roads (2/8/2020)
Duluth - Canal Park (2/9/2020)
The staging of migrating Tundra Swans on Pool 9 of the Mississippi River is an Iowa birding spectacle that many travel to see each fall. On November 16, 2019, 10 young birders, parents, and grandparents traveled to Allamakee County to see these magnificent white birds along with other migrating waterbirds. Armed with an information sheet outlining differences in key characteristics of the three species of swans we see in Iowa (Trumpeter, Tundra, and Mute), we set off down Red Oak Road on a gorgeous fall morning with spotting scopes in hand.
Blue Jays and Black-capped Chickadees called to us as we strolled down the road in the warm morning sun, and Red-bellied, Hairy, and Downy Woodpeckers announced their presence while flying from tree to tree. We stopped occasionally along the road to view waterfowl that found some open water among the ice sheets on the river - flocks of Canada Geese and Mallards along with an occasional small group of Common Goldeneye and Buffleheads. We heard the swans before we saw them as we neared our vantage point, their high-pitched “hoo-hoo” echoing off the bluffs. The excitement was definitely building!
We crested a small hill at which there was a gap in the trees along the road, offering us the perfect view of the river below. From here, we enjoyed fantastic views of the nearly 300 Tundra Swans that were loafing and feeding on the river along with several Bald Eagles. Flocks of migrating ducks were consistently flying down river. The challenge of trying to identify them on the wing and at a distance was quite fun! We also had great looks at small groups of Common Goldeneyes and Buffleheads actively diving, and a duo of both American Wigeon and Canvasback were a treat. Enjoying the fabulous weather, we watched the waterfowl for nearly 2 hours, breaking away from the spotting scopes occasionally to catch glimpses of a Bald Eagle overhead or a Black-capped Chickadee flitting through the branches of a nearby tree.
As the sun went behind the clouds, we decided to head back to the cars and travel to the Driftless Area Education Center near Lansing to finish our morning. Managed by the Allamakee County Conservation Board, this fantastic resource combines nature with the history of the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa. The hour spent here definitely sparked curiosity among our group!
We’re grateful to Iowa birder Billy Reiter-Marolf from New Albin, who graciously scouted the area and provided us with valuable updates on access and local birds. You can view photos from our morning here and our species list here.
On a brisk but sunny fall morning, three young birders joined us on our search for migrating waterfowl at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, a premier rest area for migrating waterbirds in western Iowa. Park Ranger Peter Rea and volunteer Brad with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were our local experts, and we were grateful they could join us to guide our exploration of this neat area.
Before venturing out from the Visitor’s Center, however, Peter shared with us some information about the Refuge and its importance to migratory birds and other wildlife. He also talked briefly about wetland management and how properly managed wetlands provide food for migrating waterbirds, not only those fall migrating birds we were about to see that morning but also those birds passing through in spring. We learned that migrating waterbirds need protein (e.g., insects) in the spring, especially females, for breeding but need an energy boost from carbohydrates (e.g., seeds from annual plants) in the fall to continue their migratory journey south. As Peter said, wetlands are like an “all-you-can-eat buffet” for waterbirds all year!
After his presentation, Peter, along with Brad, took us out on the auto-tour route. Having already scouted the area earlier that morning, they knew some great birds were around. Not a quarter-mile down the road, we stopped for great looks at what was likely the best birds of the morning – a group of 7 White-faced Ibis! The birds were extremely cooperative, allowing us to view them through the spotting scope and study their field characteristics. Also in the area was a lone Snow Goose among several Canada Geese. Thousands of Northern Pintail nearby made for an amazing sight in the morning sun. It was a great start to the morning.
Continuing down the auto-tour road, we stopped occasionally to view other waterbirds using the numerous wetlands on the Refuge including some Pied-billed Grebes, Double-crested Cormorants, and a large group of American Coots. Additionally, we encountered new waterfowl species including small, scattered groups of Wood Ducks, a large concentration of Mallards that flushed as we drove by, littering the air with birds, and a duo of male Ring-necked Ducks from a vantage point overlooking DeSoto Lake. To finish the morning, Peter and Brad took us into an area closed to the public to continue our search, finishing our morning with a group of Great Egrets foraging along a flooded roadway and a distant group of Wild Turkeys, the third group of this upland species we encountered that morning.
It was an enjoyable and education morning thanks to the assistance of Peter and Brad from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service! You can see what other species we found by viewing our trip list and see photos from our morning here.
Our founder and past Executive Director Carl Bendorf is featured this month for our "Meet an IAYB Leader" series. Carl remains active in IAYB as our Board Treasurer. Learn more about him below!
Current town: Longmont, Colorado
Hometown: I grew up in Amana, Iowa and lived in Iowa City for 35 years.
As early as I can remember, we had a number of books around home about animals, nature, and birds. I used to pore over those books for hours and wonder where these cool things could be found. Later on, a friend and I would ride our bicycles out in the country and at some point, we started looking at birds. When I was about 11 years old, I hooked a toy parabolic microphone up to a small Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder and my first recording was of an Eastern Bluebird.
Since moving to Colorado four years ago, I think my favorite bird has become the White-tailed Ptarmigan. They never leave the alpine tundra (above 11,000 ft. in Colorado) and change from pure white in the winter to looking like a lichen-covered stone in the summer. I’ve had a great time finding and showing these interesting birds to dozens of birders.
Being from flatland Iowa, the mountains have always been a mysterious place to me. Now I get to visit the mountains regularly but they are still mysterious (and host a lot of cool birds!)
Our children are grown and we don’t have any grand-children so, sadly, no.
How did you first learn about Iowa Young Birders?
I had the idea in 2010 to start an organization in Iowa that could provide the same type of support for young birders that is provided by, for example, a youth soccer league. I’m thrilled that IAYB continues to thrive under Tyler Harms' leadership and the great support from the IAYB Board and all the parents, grandparents, families and friends of the young birders.
Do you remember your first IAYB field trip?
I remember wondering if anyone would show up for our first IAYB field trip at Terra Park in July 2012. It was a thrill when perhaps a dozen kids plus parents/grandparents turned out and we had a great time.
What has been your favorite trip thus far?
Well, I could cheat and say it was the family birding adventure we organized out here in Colorado in the summer of 2016! I also remember being pushed around in a wheelchair during our woodcock evening after I’d broken my ankle following a slip on the ice (while carrying a bag of bird seed!) Actually, every trip was a wonderful experience.
What motivated you to become an IAYB Board member?
It’s been a bit of a challenge to be active on the IAYB Board from here in Colorado but Tyler has always arranged for me to be able to participate in meetings by conference call and we get great reports on the activities. It’s great to be able to stay involved.
Why do you feel exposing kids to birds and nature is important?
Of course, there is overwhelming evidence of the value of exposure to birds and nature. I’ll just reflect on my own experience as to what birding has meant in my own life in terms of unforgettable experiences, great friends, and being a wonderful window into the larger world around us.
Our search for migrating shorebirds at Saylorville Reservoir on September 7 was a success! Ten young birders, parents, and grandparents got to see seven different species of shorebirds including a flock of 16 Red-necked Phalaropes, an uncommon shorebird in Iowa, and close looks at a Baird's Sandpiper! Along with the shorebirds, we found an additional 23 species including Caspian Tern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Cooper's Hawk to name a few. It was a great morning of fall birding in Iowa! You can view photos from our trip here and our complete species list here.
On a pleasant summer morning, 26 young birders, parents, and grand parents gathered at Hawkeye Wildlife Area near Iowa City for a unique and exciting opportunity to band Wood Ducks. Our knowledgeable and very experienced leaders were Tom Billerbeck, Dave Kutz, and Dave Nicholson with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Tom, Dave, and Dave assist with the Iowa DNR’s banding program each year, banding mostly Wood Ducks, Mourning Doves, and Canada Geese. Waiting for us, although not so patiently, were 12 Wood Ducks in a handmade transport cage that resembled a small pet carrier. The birds immediately caught our attention and sparked excitement among the group, so we wasted no time kicking off what would surely be a memorable morning for all!
We first learned all about banding birds, including the different types of bird bands used and the information we can gain from banding birds. While sharing this great information with us, Tom showed a map of locations where Wood Ducks that were banded at Hawkeye Wildlife Area and nearby Otter Creek Marsh have been found. Birds banded in Iowa were recovered as far north as Canada and as far south as the Gulf Coast! We were also taught how to properly and safely hold Wood Ducks for banding. Equipped with this information, we were ready to band some ducks! Tom, Dave, and Dave carefully and skillfully extracted the nervous ducks from the box, placing each in the hands of an eager young birder for holding prior to banding. Dave K. then placed a uniquely-numbered metal band on each bird, at least those that were not keen enough to escape, before they were released. It was 30 minutes of pure excitement!
We finished the morning with a hike around Hawkeye Wildlife Area, which included a stop at the trapping site where we observed and learned about the trapping methods used to capture Wood Ducks (which also includes setting separate traps to capture bait-thieving critters such as raccoons). Continuing on our hike, we observed several great birds including multiple singing Sedge Wrens, one of which provided us with great views perched high in the grassland. We also heard a singing Eastern Towhee and Bell’s Vireo and saw an Osprey soaring at a distance. Before heading back to the vehicles, Tom spoke with us about early-successional habitat management and the birds that benefit from such management including Northern Bobwhite and Field Sparrow. We’re always learn a ton when we have experts like Tom join us!
We’re extremely grateful to Tom, Dave, and Dave with the Iowa DNR for teaching us about bird banding and for keeping some cooperative Wood Ducks for us. Thanks also to Annalise Skrade and Kathy Solko for capturing some great photos of our fun morning. And as always, thanks to those who joined us! You can view photos from our morning here and our species list here.
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