Fifteen young birders, parents, grandparents, and volunteers landed at Palo Alto County Conservation Board’s Lost Island Lake Nature Center in the heart of the Iowa Prairie Pothole Region for a morning exploring the many wetlands and prairies of this area. Although a bit breezy, it was a pleasant morning to be outdoors.
We started at Lost Island Lake, viewing the many Franklin’s Gulls that had yet to depart their overnight roost on the lake for a day of feeding and flying. Among the hundreds of Franklin’s Gulls was a single female Ruddy Duck, one of the smallest ducks we see in Iowa. Despite having a variety of prairie and wetland birds as targets for the trip, we couldn’t ignore the allure of the woods in the heart of fall migration! We hiked a short loop through Lost Island Lake Park and enjoyed several exciting birds including two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers as well as a small flock of migratory songbirds that included a Tennessee Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and Red-eyed Vireo.
Near the end of our hike through the woods, we received word of a Sanderling at the nearby beach. We quickly loaded the vehicles and headed there. We searched tirelessly for the small shorebird and were finally able to locate it just before giving up our effort! All participants quickly located the juvenile bird as it walked towards us. The bird continued to walk towards us until it was nearly three feet in front of us! Not only was this a life bird for most, but it was also the closest anyone in the group has ever been to this species! Also present along the beach was a Spotted Sandpiper, and the “icing on the cake” was a flyover Peregrine Falcon.
After the beach, we loaded the vehicles once more en route to a wetland area just north of the lake. As we arrived, we immediately spotted a cryptic Wilson’s Snipe among the cattails. We quickly assembled the spotting scopes for closer inspection by all. A Common Yellowthroat and Marsh Wren were voicing their presence as we viewed numerous Killdeer and a couple Pectoral Sandpipers in the drying area of the wetland. We then focused our efforts to some more secretive birds, Sora and Virginia Rails. Volunteer leader Lee Schoenewe had the right tools to entice these birds into view, an mP3 player and speaker to play their calls. It wasn’t long before both species were calling in response, and with some patience all were able to see both species as they darted among the cattails. A great end to an exciting morning!
Many thanks to Miriam Patton and Palo Alto County Conservation Board for organizing this trip, to volunteer Lee Schoenewe for his leadership and expertise, and to all those who attended the trip! You can view photos from our trip here as well as our species lists below:
Lost Island Lake Park