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It was a mild sunny day as 13 young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered in Johnson County to learn about Eastern Bluebird nesting and to assist with checking boxes along an established nest box trail. We were lucky to have Jim Walters with the Johnson County Songbird Project join us, and he started us off on this fine morning by sharing his knowledge of Eastern Bluebird biology gained from many years of experience monitoring nest boxes. Jim was gracious enough to let us visit his farm, which has been in his family since he was young and contains many diverse habitats that host a variety of bird species. Anxious to see some baby bluebirds, we started off down the trail!
It wasn’t long before we encountered one of Jim’s nest boxes, strategically built with a hole large enough for bluebirds to enter but small enough to deter other birds from using the box and with a small screw on the side that released the front of the box for access. Jim tapped gently on the side of the box with his screwdriver, a subtle warning to an attending parent that we’re coming in. The young bluebirds were left unattended for the morning, likely so mom and dad could search for food. Jim slowly removed the front of the box to reveal a small nest constructed mostly of grasses from the nearby prairie. Inside the nest was a family of baby bluebirds, not older than a couple weeks, quietly resting and enjoying the pleasant weather. All young birders excitedly, but quietly peeked inside the nest box before leaving the baby bluebirds to their morning nap. The was a first for many young birders present!
We checked a few other boxes along the trail, including one that contained a House Wren nest and another that contained a white Eastern Bluebird egg, which is a rare occurrence in a species that lays light blue eggs. We continued along the trail into the woodland on Jim’s farm. Highlights included recently fledged Eastern Wood-Pewees showing off their newly-acquired flycatching skills, a singing Wood Thrush and Eastern Towhee, and later at least two singing Acadian Flycatchers.
We finished the morning with two additional stops, the first of which was to check a Purple Martin colony near the entrance to Jim’s farm. The colony was very active with adult Purple Martins flying and foraging about. Jim cranked down the martin house, which looks like an apartment building compared to the Eastern Bluebird nest boxes, and we carefully checked one of the dwellings. Inside was four baby Purple Martins, not more than one week old, enjoying a morning nap just like the baby bluebirds we saw earlier. Next, we stopped along Highway 1 to check an American Kestrel nest box. Jim removed a long extension ladder from his truck, a necessity for checking these boxes that are mounted on telephone poles at least 10 feet up. Young birders took turns carefully climbing the ladder to peek in at the five baby kestrels inside the box, who were nearly ready to leave the box. What an exciting way to finish off a fun and educational morning!
We’re extremely grateful to Jim Walters with the Johnson County Songbird Project for sharing his knowledge with us and for allowing us to visit his Johnson County farm. You can view photos from our trip here as well as our species list here.
On June 2, 2018, 17 young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered at Fontenelle Forest Nature Center in Bellevue, Nebraska for our joint Iowa Young Birders and Omaha Youth Birding Group field trip. A string of thunderstorms earlier that morning left behind cool air and sunshine and sparked some activity in the birds! We were excited to get started!
We started down the boardwalk into the forest with birds singing from all directions. We were immediately greeted by a singing Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and stopped a bit further down the trail to listen to singing House and Carolina Wrens. We chatted a bit about the preferred habitat of the House Wren compared to one of our target species, the Scarlet Tanager, and how we could use that knowledge to help us identify and locate these different birds. While learning about this, a Wood Thrush was serenading us from a distance. We were also lucky to see a pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds while stopped, one of which appeared to be carrying nesting material. All this excitement and we were only 10 minutes into our trip!
We continued down the boardwalk and quickly noticed that American Redstarts were numerous in the forest. We were offered many great looks at these hyperactive, colorful warblers as they flitted and foraged through the treetops. We learned how to distinguish between males and females of this species based on color and were even lucky enough to observe some territorial displays of two males in the presence of a female. Other great birds in the forest included Red-headed and Pileated Woodpeckers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Tufted Titmouse, and Eastern Wood-pewee.
We finished the morning at the Fontenelle Forest wetlands below the Nature Center, a habitat quite different than that in which we birded earlier in the morning. And as no surprise, we quickly noticed the bird community was a bit different as well. We heard both a Common Yellowthroat and Song Sparrow singing along the trail, along with Tree Swallows foraging on the wing overhead. We were very lucky to hear both Willow and Alder Flycatchers singing nearby, allowing us to easily compare the songs of these nearly indistinguishable species. The “icing on the cake” for our visit to the wetlands, however, was a pair of Prothonotary Warblers. The male was frequently singing and offered great looks to all. This was a life bird for several young birders present, a fantastic way to end a fun morning with friends and family!
We’re grateful to Fontenelle Forest for hosting us and to Bob Wells and Tisha Johnson with the Omaha Youth Birding Group for their leadership. And as always, many thanks to the young birders and their families for joining us on another fun and educational trip! You can view photos from our trip here and species lists for both the Nature Center and wetlands below:
Fontenelle Forest Nature Center
Fontenelle Forest wetlands
It was another pleasant spring day in Iowa as 12 young birders, parents, and friends embarked on a search for birds at Dudgeon Lake Wildlife Area near Vinton, Iowa. Dudgeon Lake is well known for hosting a variety of birds including Prothonotary Warbler, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Pileated Woodpecker, all of which prefer the vast expanse of flooded forests found on the area. It is also a favorite location of young birder Coralee Bodeker, who served as co-leader and local expert on our trip. As we gathered in the parking lot, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo sang from across an adjacent pond and several Great Crested Flycatchers were vocalizing in the nearby trees. These birds excited us all to search for more!
As we started down the road, we immediately heard a Gray Catbird singing in the shrubs and learned the call note of a nearby Rose-breasted Grosbeak (a quick squeeze of a squeaky toy). We stopped to watch a male American Redstart foraging low in a tree and listened to an Indigo Bunting singing along the edge of an open field, all the while numerous Turkey Vultures were soaring overhead and Tree Swallows cruising by. Further up the road we encountered both a Wilson’s Warbler and a Tennessee Warbler, our first two migrants of the trip. While hiking down the road, we also stopped to admire a baby Painted Turtle and baby Snapping Turtle found by young birder Andi, as well as several turtles basking on logs in the water.
Next, we started down a trail towards some ponds in search of waterbirds. We were greeted by a singing Common Yellowthroat and a pair of Red-winged Blackbirds. Further along, we spotted a Red-headed Woodpecker perched high on a snag and were able to get great views through the spotting scope. Approaching another pond, we spotted an American Coot and later a Spotted Sandpiper foraging along the shore. We started back towards the vehicles, hearing a singing Warbling Vireo and later seeing a Green Heron flying away over a pond. It was a great finish to a great morning!
Many thanks to Coralee Bodeker and her family for helping organize and lead this trip! We’re also grateful to volunteer leaders Linda Rudolph and Bill Scheible for joining us on this fine morning. You can view our species list here and some photos from our trip here.
Twelve young birders, parents, grandparents, and friends spent a gorgeous Iowa spring morning searching for migrants and learning about birding basics at Des Moines Water Works Park near downtown Des Moines. We started the morning with a short exercise on using binoculars and practiced our skills on a distant sign. With several different habitat types yet to explore, we started off in search of birds all the while discussing what to look and listen for that can help with identifying birds. For example, observing different bird behaviors (e.g., tail bobbing) and the microhabitat within which the bird is (e.g., forest understory or forest canopy) can greatly help to pinpoint which species you see. We had the opportunity to practice these observation skills on a Yellow-throated Warbler singing high in the treetops. Luckily, the bird came down to mid-level in the tree for all to see! Not long before an adult Bald Eagle was seen soaring high overhead.
We continued through the park. American Robins and Chipping Sparrows were numerous, and we stopped to observe an occasional Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, or Chimney Swift overhead. A distant Mourning Dove had us all fooled into thinking it was a raptor until we approached, and a couple of Killdeer in an open grassy field were very cooperative. Now on to the wetlands!
We were quickly greeted by a couple Canada Goose families, the goslings dutifully following the parents into the water as we approached. Double-crested Cormorants were occasionally flying overhead and eventually landing gracefully in the water. Oliver spotted a Great Blue Heron in the distance, which sat tight as we approached to offer clear looks for all. A Red-tailed Hawk was also perched in a distant tree. A Mallard pair joined the Canada Goose families, and several Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shovelers were seen on a distant pond, the colorful males of both species clearly visible from a distance. We finished the morning hiking along a couple more wetlands near the parking lot. Although the birds were quiet, the Chorus and Northern Leopard Frogs were very vocal!
Many thanks to all those who attended our trip on this gorgeous morning! You can view our species list here and some photos from our trip here.
Iowa Young Birders is lucky to have a new partner in our Future in Focus program! Redstart Birding is committed to providing the best optics, gear, and expertise to ensure a quality and enjoyable birding experience for you. With their help, we will continue to offer high-quality optics to young birders for affordable, quarterly payments!
With this exciting change comes new options for optics! We now offer the Vortex Diamondback 8x42 binocular, the perfect binocular for birders of any age. We're also excited to offer the new and improved Vortex Viper 15-45x65mm spotting scope along with the Vortex ProGT tripod kit, a combination made for a lifetime of birding enjoyment!
You can check out these new optics by visiting our Future in Focus page or the Redstart Birding website, and be sure to contact us if you're interested in taking advantage of this unique program!
Iowa Young Birders member Coralee Bodeker authors and illustrates her regular column, "A Prairie Girl's Notebook" from her home near Vinton, Iowa. Coralee received Honorable Mention for her writing and art among young birders across the nation in the 2018 American Birding Association Young Birder of the Year contest.
Enjoy this recent issue about her observations of a House Wren pair near her home. Thanks Coralee, and congratulations!
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources invites all to attend the 15th Annual Prairie Chicken Day at the Kellerton Bird Conservation Area on Saturday, April 7, 2018 starting at sunrise. The event will take place at the viewing platform on 300th Avenue near 242nd Street southwest of Kellerton. Click here for a map of the location. Afterwards, the Kellerton Bird Conservation Area will be dedicated as a Globally Important Bird Area by Iowa Audubon!
Help celebrate this important area for Iowa birds and enjoy seeing Greater Prairie-Chickens during their annual lek display!
It was a brisk Iowa morning on February 10, 2018 when 10 young birders, parents, and friends embarked on a winter birding adventure at George Wyth State Park near Waterloo. Despite the cold, the sun was shining and the birds were active. We were excited to begin the search for our target birds, the Northern Saw-whet Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Pileated Woodpecker!
We started the morning listening to some of the early singers such as Northern Cardinals, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Black-capped Chickadees near the park entrance. While listening to these birds, we noticed a large bird flush from a nearby pine tree. After a few more views of the bird, we surmised it was a Barred Owl. Shortly thereafter, volunteer leader Connor Langan spotted a flock of 25 Common Redpolls overhead. An exciting and unexpected sight only 30 minutes into the trip!
We then headed towards the bird blind to search for Northern Saw-whet Owls. We learned about Northern Saw-whet Owl winter habitat from volunteer leader Tom Schilke as we hiked back toward the owl location. We stopped off at the bird blind to watch the feeders for a few moments, and enjoyed close-up views of Red-bellied, Downy, and Hairy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, and other winter songbirds. We continued our hike, excitement building as we grew closer to a stand of Eastern Red Cedars known to host saw-whet owls in winter. After about 5 minutes of searching, volunteer leader Connor Langan located a single Northern Saw-whet Owl! We carefully snuck back to enjoy fantastic views of the tiny bird, conducting what we all termed the “saw-whet shuffle”. As we hiked back towards the parking lot, we heard and saw a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks overhead. Two of our target birds in in five minutes!
Our last stop was a series of bird feeders in the center of the park, near where we saw a flock of Wild Turkeys earlier in the morning. Most numerous at the bird feeders were House Finches and American Goldfinches, and we also spotted another Red-shouldered Hawk nearby. It was a fun end to a great morning!
What an exciting year 2017 was at Iowa Young Birders. We led young birders and their families on 10 trips across the state, released our unique optics rent-to-own program, and much more. You can read more about our exciting year in our 2017 Year-End Report here. Many thanks to YOU for supporting us along the way! We're looking forward to 2018!
On January 27, 2018, 18 young birders and parents kicked off the 2018 field trip year at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge for our Junior Duck Stamp Day. Brian Murillo, award-winning wildlife artist who has placed in both the Junior Duck Stamp Contest and the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, graciously joined us to share tips about sketching and painting waterfowl for the Junior Duck Stamp. Young birders were excited to get started!
Doreen Van RysWyk, coordinator of the Junior Duck Stamp Program in Iowa, started our exciting morning with a brief overview about the Program. Doreen shared with us the history of the Federal Duck Stamp Program, which has deep roots in Iowa. The first winner of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest was Iowa cartoonist Jay Norwood (“Ding”) Darling, and the only five-time contest winner is Iowa wildlife artist Maynard Reece. Young birders learned how art contributed to both the Junior and Federal Duck Stamp Programs has had a huge impact on habitat restoration and conservation education.
Next, Brian shared with us how his passion for wildlife art started, sketching and painting all sorts of birds and other wildlife as a kid in central Iowa. He provided valuable tips to young birders on creating a life-like painting or sketch of waterfowl and other birds. We learned the importance of contrast between the bird and background, about establishing a light source, and about scale of the creation. Young birders then put these tips to work by sketching birds of their choice while Brian provided advice and encouragement. An Eastern Bluebird, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Wood Duck, Piping Plover, and Redhead emerged on paper. What amazing talent our young birders have! Young birders then presented their artwork to the group and shared why they chose their bird of interest. We finished this activity with some “Duck Trivia”, learning about life history characteristics of waterfowl.
Taking advantage of the unseasonably warm day, we finished our morning with a brief hike around the Prairie Learning Center. Raptors provided the best show, with both Red-tailed Hawks and Bald Eagles soaring overhead. We were lucky to see the resident Bison on the Refuge and observed a recently-burned portion of the prairie and learned about the importance of prescribed fire for managing prairie habitats for birds.
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