On a warm and breezy summer morning, seven young birders and parents joined us on a morning exploration of Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt, a prime birding location near Des Moines. Our target birds were the Prothonotary Warbler and Green Heron, both bottomland forest specialists and frequent residents of Chichaqua Bottoms. Excited to see both birds, we set off. However, before looking for birds we took the unique opportunity to observe a female Painted Turtle actively laying eggs in an excavated nest not far from the water. Later in the morning after she was finished and heading back to the water, Executive Director Tyler Harms captured the turtle and quickly showed young birders the beautiful markings (which give the Painted Turtle its name) on the underside of the turtle’s shell before safely placing her back on her journey to the water.
Tallying our species list in the shade. Photo credit: Ulrike Grimaldi
Next, we walked along the campground towards the Jack Pine Trail looking and listening for birds. American Redstarts, Eastern Phoebes, and Eastern Wood-Pewees graced us with their songs and Red-headed Woodpeckers flew overhead. High in one of the trees, a parent found a Cedar Waxwing nest and we all watched as both parents brought material back to the nest. An exciting sight for all of us!
Our hunt for Prothonotary Warblers and Green Herons continued along the Jack Pine Trail. Although we did not see any of our target birds along the trail, we did hear several House Wrens and our only Great Crested Flycatcher for the morning, had great looks at a stunning male Indigo Bunting, and saw and heard several Gray Catbirds.
We headed back to the trailhead and stopped for a quick snack and water break. Not long into our break, one of our parents spotted a Prothonotary Warbler across the water from where we were sitting. Soon, the bird flew into plain view and everyone watched the bright yellow beauty for several minutes before it flew out of sight. Finally, we could check off one of our target species!
We wrapped up the morning tallying our species, and some ventured out on canoes to search for our second target species, the elusive Green Heron. We saw not one Green Heron, but at least four Green Herons at different areas!We grateful to Shelly and James with Polk County Conservation for allowing us to use their canoes. And thanks to the young birders and parents for joining us! You can view photos from our trip here and our species checklist here.