On September 11, 2021, 12 young birders and parents joined us for a visit to Emma McCarthy Lee Park in Ames to experience fall migration and search for some other nesting residents unique to this large, contiguous forest area in the middle of Ames. It was a great morning for birding, as demonstrated by the calling Red-breasted Nuthatch that sent us scrambling away from the parking lot even before our introductions. This Red-breasted Nuthatch was one of four we either saw or heard in the park throughout the morning. It was a fantastic start to a fantastic morning.
While hiking down the hill to the lower portion of the park, a Hairy Woodpecker perched on the top of a snag climbing above the canopy, a great opportunity to view this bird and learn about the subtle differences between it and its smaller cousin the Downy Woodpecker. White-breasted Nuthatches calling along the trail as well as we paused to admire a Paper Wasp hive and a couple of impressive puffball mushrooms in the woods. Once in the lower portion of the park, we heard and saw some American Goldfinches and American Robins overhead as well as a Red-bellied Woodpecker and Northern Flicker.
We started down a trail with hopes of finding some fall migrants and we were not disappointed. We found a great flurry of bird activity that started with great views of a Northern Parula, one of the few warbler species that nest in Iowa and in the park. We were then treated to great views of a very cooperative Blue-headed Vireo, who perched head-high on a branch approximately 15 feet in front of us. Young birder Noah spotted a Magnolia Warbler in fall plumage skulky through the shrubs, who was later joined by a Nashville Warbler, and at least three different Black-and-White Warblers were gleaning insects from various trees around us. A Brown Thrasher perched high in the canopy was a nice surprise and an unexpected location for this species, and a steady stream of migrating Common Nighthawks (42 birds total) were gliding south above the canopy.
Further along the trail we heard a Cooper’s Hawk laughing from the trees and flushed a Barred Owl, who perched up in a tree for all young birders to see before disappearing into the forest. We also paused to view an Ovenbird silently foraging on the forest floor thanks to the keen eyes of young birder parent Ulrike. We later heard an Eastern Wood-Pewee calling from deep in the forest. We were entertained by Northern Cardinals on our hike back to the car and closed the morning with a soaring Turkey Vulture overhead, our only raptor species for the morning.
Many thanks to the young birders and parents for joining us for this fun morning! And thanks to young birder parent Ulrike Grimaldi for keeping our species list.
View photos from our morning here and a species list here.