On a gorgeous late-summer morning, 17 young birders, parents, and supporters joined us for a hike through Greenwood-Ashworth Park, a premier central Iowa birding locale nested in the heart of Des Moines. After a one-year hiatus in our field trip schedule due to the global pandemic, we were all excited to be in the field and birding together again. Our target for the morning was the Mississippi Kite, a small raptor that forages mostly on flying insects and is known to nest in only two locations in Iowa: Des Moines (around Greenwood-Ashworth Park) and Ottumwa. Though the kite was our target, we were excited to see what other birds we could find!
Upon embarking up the road to the main portion of the park, we were quickly greeted by the scolding calls of a Tufted Titmouse, an uncommon bird in central Iowa, as well as the broken, burry song of a Yellow-throated Vireo. We paused briefly to search for these birds among the dense canopy of leaves but were unsuccessful. While waiting, however, we did take the opportunity to learn a bit about plants as there were several native Gray Dogwood shrubs along the woodland edge that were full of berries. These berries are an important food source for birds in winter as other food sources disappear. We continued up the road to be treated to great views and a comical performance from a family group of Eastern Bluebirds; the young birds were learning how to hawk for insects and were still a bit clumsy.
After a brief stop to view a pair of female Mallards on the pond, we continued along the trail. We saw a Mourning Dove on the trail as well as a few American Robins low in the trees. We even stopped to view an interesting gathering of wasp-like insects at the base of a tree, later identified as Bald-faced Hornets (thanks to our friend James Baggett for the ID assistance). A bit further along the trail we stopped to search for a singing Indigo Bunting high in the treetop and were excited to find a flurry of bird activity. Gray Catbirds were flitting around in a small shrub in front of us, an Eastern Wood-Pewee was singing in the distance, and we later saw a female Baltimore Oriole and male Northern Cardinal. Just before moving along, a young birder spotted an Osprey flying high over the park likely en route to somewhere with warmer temperatures in winter. We spent 45 minutes in this one spot!
We continued around the pond and back towards the vehicles. Though we did not find a Mississippi Kite, we were excited to close the morning with great views of a Broad-winged Hawk soaring over the park, another likely nesting resident.
Many thanks to the young birders, parents, and supporters who joined us for our first field trip in more than a year! We’re also grateful for the local knowledge of young birder Leo Gaukel and supporter James Baggett, both of whom spend a lot of time birding in the park.
Click here to view photos from our trip and see our species list here.