On a brisk but sunny fall morning, three young birders joined us on our search for migrating waterfowl at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, a premier rest area for migrating waterbirds in western Iowa. Park Ranger Peter Rea and volunteer Brad with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were our local experts, and we were grateful they could join us to guide our exploration of this neat area.
Before venturing out from the Visitor’s Center, however, Peter shared with us some information about the Refuge and its importance to migratory birds and other wildlife. He also talked briefly about wetland management and how properly managed wetlands provide food for migrating waterbirds, not only those fall migrating birds we were about to see that morning but also those birds passing through in spring. We learned that migrating waterbirds need protein (e.g., insects) in the spring, especially females, for breeding but need an energy boost from carbohydrates (e.g., seeds from annual plants) in the fall to continue their migratory journey south. As Peter said, wetlands are like an “all-you-can-eat buffet” for waterbirds all year!
After his presentation, Peter, along with Brad, took us out on the auto-tour route. Having already scouted the area earlier that morning, they knew some great birds were around. Not a quarter-mile down the road, we stopped for great looks at what was likely the best birds of the morning – a group of 7 White-faced Ibis! The birds were extremely cooperative, allowing us to view them through the spotting scope and study their field characteristics. Also in the area was a lone Snow Goose among several Canada Geese. Thousands of Northern Pintail nearby made for an amazing sight in the morning sun. It was a great start to the morning.
Continuing down the auto-tour road, we stopped occasionally to view other waterbirds using the numerous wetlands on the Refuge including some Pied-billed Grebes, Double-crested Cormorants, and a large group of American Coots. Additionally, we encountered new waterfowl species including small, scattered groups of Wood Ducks, a large concentration of Mallards that flushed as we drove by, littering the air with birds, and a duo of male Ring-necked Ducks from a vantage point overlooking DeSoto Lake. To finish the morning, Peter and Brad took us into an area closed to the public to continue our search, finishing our morning with a group of Great Egrets foraging along a flooded roadway and a distant group of Wild Turkeys, the third group of this upland species we encountered that morning.
It was an enjoyable and education morning thanks to the assistance of Peter and Brad from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service! You can see what other species we found by viewing our trip list and see photos from our morning here.