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Sixteen young birders, parents, and grandparents enjoyed great looks of Greater Prairie-chickens through spotting scopes at the Kellerton Grasslands on April 11, 2015. We observed up to 28 prairie-chickens on the lek at one time! When we arrived, we were lucky to occasionally hear the males “booming”. This is the loud, low-pitched sound made by the males by inflating air sacs on the side of their necks while displaying. It was fun to see the males and females dancing with one another! Shortly after we arrived, we had a surprise visit by Bruce Ehresman, Non-game Avian Biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (Iowa DNR). Bruce was just finishing up his lek survey for Greater Prairie-chickens and shared with us his vast knowledge on the Iowa DNR’s reintroduction of the Greater Prairie-chicken as well as current efforts to conserve this species and its habitat. Bruce also shared his knowledge and experience with other grassland birds such as Henslow’s Sparrows, Northern Harriers, and Short-eared Owls. After about 45 minutes viewing the prairie-chickens, we walked down the gravel road through the Kellerton Grasslands. The chorus of Eastern Meadowlarks was spectacular, and we observed Northern Harriers and other raptors soaring and hunting the grasslands. We even found a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes that were cooperative and offered many good looks through the spotting scope! When we returned to the viewing platform, we greeted a migratory flock of American Golden-plovers that landed in a harvest soybean field near the parking lot. These birds are often spring visitors to Iowa on their long trip from their wintering grounds in South America to their breeding grounds in the high Arctic. This was a life bird for many of the young birders! Many were disappointed that we were unable to locate an Upland Sandpiper, one of our targets for the day. However, as we were all leaving in our vehicles, we stopped on the gravel road to viewing two Upland Sandpipers right beside the road. Many thanks to Bruce Ehresman for taking some time to share with us his knowledge about Greater Prairie-chickens and other grassland birds. Overall, we observed 19 species. Thank you to Walt for keeping our eBird checklist that can be viewed here: http://ebird.org/ebird/ybn/view/checklist?subID=S22804755
Thirteen young birders ranging in age from 8 to 16 along with 20 parents/grandparents/friends boarded our charter bus in Iowa City and Des Moines for the 430 mile trek west to central Nebraska. Near Grand Island we stopped to stretch our legs (but mainly to go birding!) at Mormon Island Recreation Area (http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/parks/guides/parksearch/showpark.asp?Area_No=123) . The warm sun and blue skies made this a very pleasant stop but even better were the 15 species of waterfowl including a single Eared Grebe. A flock of 30 Sandhill Cranes flew overhead--a tiny preview of tomorrow's adventures! Here is a link to our checklist for this location
(http://ebird.org/ebird/ybn/view/checklist?subID=S22562013) . We arrived in Kearney right on time and were greeted at our hotel by the Kearney Visitor and Convention Bureau. Everyone on our trip received a welcome bag filled with information and goodies including lens cleaning cloths to hang on our binocular straps. Dinner at Ruby Tuesday was excellent and one of our young birders celebrated his birthday with a pretty impressive ice cream dish! We arranged with the Microtel to put our breakfast at 4:30 a.m. and by 5:15 we were back on the bus for the short trip to Rowe Audubon Sanctuary. (http://rowe.audubon.org/) After an orientation and video, we were led out to our reserved viewing blinds by volunteer leaders. Since our blinds were right on the river above the nighttime crane roosts, we were completely silent, unlike the cranes! Even as we
walked to the blinds, we could hear seemingly thousands of cranes bugling and sounding off with their contact calls. As the morning slowly grew light, we could begin to seeing a mass of cranes resting on the sandbars. We spent the next two hours marveling at one of North America's last great migration spectacles! As the light grew, so did the number of cranes! Cranes as far as the eye could see. Even dense clouds of crane flocks on the horizon. It was truly spectacular! After returning to the headquarters, we managed to gather together for a group photo. And in with the blackbird and starling flock at the headquarters feeder, we enjoyed great looks at as many as four Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Here is our checklist for Rowe Sanctuary
(http://ebird.org/ebird/ybn/view/checklist?subID=S22585301). On our way back to Iowa, we spent several hours at Desoto National Wildlife Refuge (http://www.fws.gov/refuge/desoto/) north of Omaha/Council Bluffs. Tom Cox, project leader for the refuge, took time out of his busy day to narrate a very interesting bus tour of the refuge and we learned about the evolution of habitat and wildlife management at Desoto. While we were watching a new Bald Eagle nest that Tom pointed out, one of the adult eagles cruised in a went to the nest. Here are our checklists for the road tour around Desoto (http://ebird.org/ebird/ybn/view/checklist?subID=S22585300) and our time at the visitors center (http://ebird.org/ebird/ybn/view/checklist?subID=S22585299) . Lots of happy birders on the way home! And a big Iowa Young Birders thank you to:
* CIT Signature Transportation for their excellent bus service (our driver, Paul, was awesome)
* Ross Silcock and Bill Scheible for their great volunteer leadership
* All the parents, grandparents, and friends of young birders who made this trip possible
* Our 13 young birders whose energy and enthusiasm made this trip a lot of fun
* Walt Wagner-Hecht for coordinating our eBird checklists
* Rowe Audubon Sanctuary for their work in preserving this critical habitat and sharing it with visitors
* Tom Cox and Desoto National Wildlife Refuge for hosting our visit and their work with habitat restoration
And our trip sponsors: Gold Level: Eagle Optics, Sharon & Dick Stillwell, and Quad City Audubon Silver Level: Kearney Visitors Bureau, Loess Hills Audubon, Tallgrass Prairie Audubon
Iowa Young Birders was featured in the January 2015 issue of the Bur Oak Land Trust Environmental Journal (http://www.buroaklandtrust.org).
With the generous support of many donors, Iowa Young Birders is announcing the creation of the Iowa Young Birder Camp Scholarship.
Each year, the American Birding Association offers two week-long young birder camps. Camp Avocet (Delaware in August) and Camp Colorado (Estes Park in July) are considered premier opportunities for young birders to increase their birding skills, learn about bird conservation, and about careers in ornithology. Above all, young birders have the opportunity to meet other young birders from around the country.
Iowa Young Birders is committed to encouraging the development of young birders and we are excited to offer a scholarship of up to $500 to one or more Iowa young birders interested in attending an ABA camp.
Scholarships are available to any young birder who is a resident of Iowa and is between the ages of 13 - 18 (the age range eligible for the ABA camps.) Young birders need not be a member of Iowa Young Birders nor do they need to show financial need.
As part of their application, young birders are asked to submit an essay written describing their most memorable Iowa birding experience and how it has changed their thoughts, ideas, or outlook on conservation. The deadline to apply for the Iowa Young Birder Camp Scholarship is April 1.
If you would like to contribute to the Iowa Young Birder Camp Scholarship, please click here.
Twenty-four hardy birders explored the wonders of a wintry George Wyth State Park near Waterloo on February 21, 2015. Our group included 12 young birders ages 8 to 16. Led by our local guide, Francis Moore, we braved an icy trail to an area that traditionally hosts one or more Northern Saw-Whet Owls. During our pre-walk orientation, we learned how this little winter visitor got its name by listening to a brief sample of its distinctive song and call. "Whet" means to sharpen something and even though none of us have ever actually heard the sound of someone sharpening or "whetting" a saw, at least we understand the concept!
When we approached the cedar trees that were likely to have a roosting owl, we paused as a group and sent Francis on ahead to (hopefully) locate an owl. While we waited, we learned some of the techniques for finding roosting owls including looking for large amounts of "whitewash" (owl droppings) on the trunks of trees.
In a few minutes, Francis returned with the news that he had found at least one owl. We sent small groups back into the brush with Francis and all took turns quietly observing the owl.
With this kind of view, it was a very happy group of young birders, parents, and volunteer leaders!
As we walked back to our cars, one of the resident Red-Shouldered Hawks flew right overhead.
Another field trip highlight was that we had two copies of the Sibley Guide to Birds donated to Iowa Young Birders. The name of each young birder was on a slip of paper and two names were drawn at random. And two young birders went home with a book!
Thank you to volunteer leaders Francis Moore and Bill Scheible for your help and to the parents who drove (and who, I'm quite sure) also enjoyed seeing the Northern Saw-whet Owl!
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