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Twenty-seven young birders, parents, grandparents, and friends joined us at Kent Park on June 4, 2022 for a morning searching for lingering migrants and summer residents among the diverse habitats at this premier birding location. Though the skies suggested earlier rain would continue, they held back long enough to allow for a pleasant hike and a flurry of bird activity.
Our morning started only a few steps from the parking lot, where we paused to view a Mourning Dove perched atop the Conservation Education Center and a male Indigo Bunting perched and singing in a nearby tree. Also singing in our midst was a male Common Yellowthroat, though his skulky behavior typical of this species prevented us from getting a good look. We continued down the trail but were quickly distracted by a dark bird flying low across the trail. Some brief searching in the underbrush produced a Gray Catbird, confirmed by its characteristic “mew” calls.
Further along the trail, we emerged from the woods into an opening near the pond. Here, we were treated to great views of a trio of Red-headed Woodpeckers chasing each other around a tall snag likely hosting a nest in one of the many cavities. We also saw a trio (two males and one female) of Baltimore Orioles foraging in a tall cottonwood tree. We searched the nearby pond for some loafing waterfowl or a sneaky Green Heron came up empty-handed. And we can’t forget the Question Mark butterfly captured by volunteer leader Jayden Bowen, offering an up-close inspection of the wing markings for which this pretty critter gets its name.
From the pond, we hiked up to a prairie area with hopes of seeing some grassland birds. We were quickly rewarded with a singing male Eastern Meadowlark and Dickcissel, both species that rely exclusively on prairies during the nesting season. Also singing from a nearby shrubby edge was a Field Sparrow, its song a series of short whistles resembling a bouncing metal ball. From within the nearby woods we heard a Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing but it, too, eluded the spotting scope. A short time later, young birder Zita spotted an Orchard Oriole perched in a small tree along a field edge.
Our search for grassland birds continued along the property boundary where prairie and lightly-grazed pasture met to produce a nice mix of grassland structure. It was along this boundary that we found a pair of male Bobolinks. They put on quite a show for us, perching in a tree long enough to allow everyone great looks through the spotting scope and later showing off their skills as aerial vocalists. We also heard a Grasshopper Sparrow singing in the pasture and saw an Eastern Kingbird overhead assessing the threat of our presence. What a great list of birds utilizing this unique area of the park!
We finished our hike looping back to the parking lot, observing more of the same birds as well as more butterflies and dragonflies along the way. We’re extremely grateful to volunteer leader Jayden Bowen for his enthusiasm and for planning a fun morning for us! Thanks also to Kristen Morrow with Johnson County Conservation for helping us spread the word about this trip and allowing us some time in the Conservation Education Center after our hike (we highly recommend a visit). And, as always, thanks to the young birders and their families for attending! You can view photos from our morning here as well as a list of birds we saw here.
Excited to welcome some spring migrants, 16 young birders, parents, and friends gathered at Hartman Reserve in Cedar Falls on April 30, 2022. After planning to spend the morning indoors due to forecasted thunderstorms, we were surprised to find fairly pleasant conditions at Hartman when we arrived, thus allowing us to spend the entire morning outdoors!
Our luck continued throughout the morning with some great birds. We hiked from the Nature Center down to the bottomlands near the Cedar River in search of migratory songbirds and waterbirds. Descending towards the river, we stopped briefly to listen to a singing White-breasted Nuthatch that eventually flew into the tree directly above us for a great look. While listening to the nuthatch, an Eastern Phoebe lit on a cable along the trail for a brief look before flying back into the woods. We continued down the trail, admiring the many spring ephemerals in bloom such as Anemone, Dutchman’s Breeches, and Bloodroot, and stopped at the bottom to observe three male Mallards loafing on a nearby pond.
It became obvious very quickly that the bottomlands was where the birds wanted to be. A bit further down the trail we briefly heard and saw an Ovenbird low in the bushes along with a couple Ruby-crowned Kinglets bouncing in the canopy. A bit later in the morning, a few young birders were lucky to see a Ruby-crowned Kinglet on the ground not more than 10 feet in front of them! Other birds along this section of the trail included a flyover Broad-winged Hawk, White-throated Sparrows, a singing House Wren, and singing Northern Cardinals.
Continuing down the trail, we stopped briefly at a woodland pond to watch a very cooperative Green Heron stroll along the water’s edge. A handful of Wood Ducks erupted from the water as we walked closer, and a Louisiana Waterthrush was singing from somewhere near the water (unfortunately, we never did see it). A non-bird highlight from near the pond and throughout the hike were the many land snails out and about, capitalizing on the moist ground. Before moving on from the pond, we noticed a Gray Catbird darting low in the forest understory and heard a distant Pileated Woodpecker calling.
We continued through the bottomlands, adding species such as Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadee, and Brown-headed Cowbird to our list. We paused for a few minutes near a stream, where many of the young birders saw two White-tailed Deer farther up the trail. We took a group photo near a small branch fort and met a Bernese Mountain Dog named Murphy.
The remainder of our 1.5-mile hike went rather quickly due to sporadic rain showers, but not before stopping at a pond to see a pair of Canada Geese and adding Northern Flicker, Eastern Bluebird, Swainson’s Thrush, and Yellow-rumped Warbler to our species list. A huge thanks to Katie Klus, Naturalist at Hartman Reserve Nature Center, for leading us on a super fun hike! And thanks to all the young birders, parents, and friends who joined us! You can view some photos from our morning here and our species list here.
On April 9, 2022, 20 young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered at Sweet Marsh Wildlife Management Area to assist with the annual Sandhill Crane count organized by Bremer County Conservation Board. Our very knowledgeable local guide for the morning was Heather Gamm, Naturalist for Bremer County Conservation Board. Before heading out to the marsh, Heather first shared with us some information about the area and about Sandhill Cranes, whose populations have been increasing in and around Sweet Marsh for the past several years according to their count data. We were excited to contribute to this important effort!
Arriving at the marsh, we were greeted with a cacophony of bird sounds. After only a few minutes, we already heard Sandhill Cranes calling from a distance and had a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese fly over. While looking at Northern Shovelers, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, and American Coots at our first stop, 5 Trumpeter Swans stole the show by flying directly in front of us. Some even saw a single Ruddy Duck at this stop and a handful of Green-winged Teal, which ended up being our most numerous duck species of the morning.
Despite the fantastic waterfowl show, we were anxious to find those calling Sandhill Cranes. As we hiked farther into the marsh, it didn’t take long to find them. It’s amazing how well such a large bird can conceal itself in marsh vegetation! What started as 5 heads peeking above the cattails grew to approximately 12. After a short time, the birds decided to venture into the open allowing us some great views through the spotting scope. From this location, we also saw some Canada Geese, Blue-winged Teal, and American Coots as well as Red-winged Blackbirds perched on cattails throughout the marsh.
We continued into the marsh, stopping at locally-known Martin Lake to watch a large flock of American White Pelicans loafing at a distance. We talked briefly about the nuptial tubercle, an ornamental bump atop the pelican’s beak which is used for display during the breeding season. Also on Martin Lake were Lesser Scaup and more Trumpeter Swans as well as a Horned Grebe, a new species for many on the trip.
The remainder of our hike through the marsh yielded a single Great Egret, several migratory Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Wilson’s Snipe, and a pair of Northern Pintail. We finished the morning with a total of 30 Sandhill Cranes along with 25 additional species which included 13 species of waterfowl. Spring is obviously a great time to visit your local marsh!
Many thanks to Heather Gamm with Bremer County Conservation Board for leading us on an extremely fun hike and for sharing the local Sandhill Cranes with us! And as always, thanks to those who attended! You can view photos of our morning adventure here and a species list here.
On a cool and breezy spring morning, twelve young birders, parents, and friends gathered at Swan Lake State Park near Carroll to look for migrating waterfowl. Many were already commenting about the many ducks seen on the lake within the park. We also had a visit planned from Savanna and a raptor companion from Saving Our Avian Resources (SOAR). Needless to say, we were excited for the morning!
We quickly noticed that American Robins were obviously migrating that morning. They were everywhere! We stopped to observe a few perched in a nearby tree along with a Red-bellied Woodpecker. As we walked down the road towards the lake, we stopped to look at an American Kestrel through the spotting scope, who found an Osprey nest platform to be a convenient location to survey the surrounding area for small-mammal snack. Farther down the road, we saw a White-breasted Nuthatch perched on a fencepost while listening to a Mourning Dove singing from a nearby tree. And, of course, more American Robins running around.
We finally arrived at the lake and quickly noticed a Common Loon gracefully floating on the surface. We were able to locate it in the spotting scope for a quality look before it started diving. This bird was likely en route to breeding lakes farther north but, lucky for us, stopped to take a break at Swan Lake. Also present on the lake were Canada Geese, Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal, and Lesser Scaup. A pair of Common Mergansers also flew by while we watched the waterfowl and a mysterious songbird (later identified as a Fox Sparrow) was singing from the nearby shrubs.
Once finished at the lake, we ventured to the Bald Eagle enclosure to meet Savanna with SOAR. Savanna was accompanied by Ginger, a gorgeous female Red-tailed Hawk who helps educate about raptor rehabilitation and conservation. Savanna shared with us Ginger’s story and also talked with us about the important work that SOAR does to help advance raptor conservation. We learned a ton from Savanna and Ginger was a favorite of all attendees.
Once the presentation was finished, we paused briefly to look for another singing Fox Sparrow before completing our morning with one more stop at the lake. A trio of Red-breasted Mergansers swimming by was a new species for many and both a pair of Bufflehead and a single Great Blue Heron flew by. It was a great finish to an exciting morning!
We are extremely grateful to Savanna Judson and Ginger with SOAR for sharing their time and knowledge with us, and for the great work they do to conserve our raptors! Thanks also to Ms. Tina Newman for helping organize this fun field trip and to the young birders and friends for attending. You can view photos from our morning here as well as a species list here.
To learn more about SOAR, click here.
On Saturday, March 26, 2022, 23 young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered at Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center near Sioux City to kick off the spring migration season. At 28℉, it didn’t quite feel like spring! But the sun was shining beautifully through the forest and we were excited for our first field trip of 2022.
We were joined by Kari Sandage with Woodbury County Conservation who introduced us to the area. Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center is nestled in the heart of the Loess Hills landform region, a landform consisting of wind-blown soil deposits for which only one other example exists in the world (the Loess Plateau in China). After some fun facts from Kari, she led us first down to the bird feeders where we enjoyed views of some very cooperative Black-capped Chickadees and Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers. Later down the trail, we heard a White-breasted Nuthatch laughing at us from a nearby tree and stopped to admire a large cavity in a tree, a possible home for Pileated Woodpeckers which have been seen in the area.
We turned the corner on the trail to head up to an observation platform where we enjoyed gorgeous views overlooking the area. We heard a Wild Turkey gobble in the distance and saw a distant Red-tailed Hawk soaring overhead. After leaving the platform and heading back down the trail, we caught a quick glimpse of a pair of Cooper’s Hawks in a flighted courtship overhead. We continued our hike up to a hilltop prairie, but not before stopping to look for a calling Brown Creeper in the woods (unfortunately, its camouflage worked well) and watch a Barred Owl flushed from the treetops. Once at the hilltop prairie, Kari showed us Yucca, a native Iowa plant that is unique to the Loess Hills area of Iowa. It’s always fun to see other unique critters and plants!
We ventured back towards the Nature Center to finish our hike, enjoying the many American Robins along the way and stopping to see a Barred Owl and Red-tailed Hawk in the live raptor display. Our morning was not complete, however, without some time exploring the amazing Nature Center!
We are extremely grateful to Kari Sandage for leading us on a fun hike and to volunteer Jemmie Dyk for her leadership on the trip. And as always, thanks to the young birders and their families for joining us! You can view some photos from our trip here and our species list here.
During the summer of 2021, Iowa Young Birders hosted the second Summer of Birds summer birding program thanks to funding from the Warren B. and Juanita E. Reynolds Fund and Iowa Audubon, Wild Birds Unlimited in Ames, and our many members and supporters. Click the link below to read about the huge success of this program for the second year running!
Summer Birding Program report_2022.pdf
On October 9, 2021, a lively group of young birders met at Great Western Park in Manning, Iowa to search for fall-migrating waterfowl and other birds. After brief introductions, sharing of our favorite birds (always one of the most fun aspects of the morning), and discussion of what we might see that morning, we started off down the trail with binoculars in hand. The crisp fall air was full of excitement and anticipation.
It wasn’t long before we encountered our first birds of the morning, flying circles above us and landing near the top of a nearby tree. American Goldfinches! We took a few minutes to learn about molt in American Goldfinches, as well as other birds, and learned a couple identification tricks for our state bird in flight: an undulating flight pattern and a flight call that sounds like “potato chip”. A bit further down the trail, a small group of American Robins flew over, a few of the more than 60 American Robins we would see throughout the morning.
While walking down the trail, we noticed a collection of nest boxes on fence posts. We took a few moments to learn about these boxes, built for Eastern Bluebirds and used by other species such as Tree Swallows, and admired the careful architecture of a nest in one of the boxes. Suddenly, young birder Noah spotted a Peregrine Falcon flying low and directly overhead, offering everyone great views of its long, pointed wings and falcon-like body shape. While definitely not on our list of expected birds, we were pleasantly surprised to see our fastest bird in North America!
We continued to add to our list of fall migrants along the far side of the pond. A Yellow-rumped Warbler, one of the last warbler species to migrate through Iowa, perched in a tree over the trail voicing its characteristic “chupp” all along, and we were able to patiently entice a duo of Marsh Wrens from the cattails and into view. A small flock of six Blue-winged Teal burst into flight from a shallow part of the wetland and a group of 13 Canada Geese decide to spend some time loafing on the pond. As we started back towards the parking lot, we paused several times for Northern Flickers, Blue Jays, and American Robins that were bopping among the treetops, and a Bald Eagle and Turkey Vulture soaring in tandem was a nice end to a great morning of fall birding in Iowa.
Many thanks to all those who attend and to Ms. Tina Newman for helping organize this trip. You can view our complete species list here and some photos from our morning here.
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.
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.
Celebrate migratory birds with us in May and show off your unique, artistic abilities by participating in our Coloring Contest! All kids ages 1-18 years old are eligible to participate. Below are guidelines for the contest:
Coloring pages will be provided. You can pick them up at Wild Birds Unlimited in Ames (213 Duff Avenue) or can download and print them below. You can also email us (email@example.com) to request a coloring page by email or conventional mail
To download the coloring page for ages 1-10, click here
To download the coloring page for ages 11-18, click here
All artistic media are allowed (e.g., crayons, colored pencils, paints)
Each child is allowed to submit one entry
Each entry must include the child’s name, age, and contact information for a parent or guardian
Entries must be dropped off at or mailed to Wild Birds Unlimited in Ames (213 Duff Avenue) by May 31, 2021. All entries will be displayed at the WBU store.
Entries will be judged on neatness and creativity in the following age groups: 1-5 years old, 6-10 years old, 11-15 years old, and 16 years old or older
Prizes will be awarded to the best three pages in each age group, and those awarded a prize in each age group will be entered into a drawing for a brand new pair of Vortex Diamondback 8x28 binoculars!
Thanks to our friends at Wild Birds Unlimited in Ames for co-sponsoring this fun event!
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