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Light rain and a brisk wind didn’t stop 15 young birders, parents, grandparents, and volunteers from setting out on a search for migrating wetland birds in northwest Iowa on October 6. And it certainly didn’t stop the birds either, because we ended the morning with more than 40 species!
What better way to start a birding trip? With delicious donuts of course! Many thanks to Kaitlin Anderson and Mary Barrick with Palo Alto County Conservation Board for hosting us and providing a pre-birding snack for all attendees. After our treats, we left the Lost Island Nature Center en route to the first wetland but were immediately distracted by bird activity. Several Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers were flitting about in the trees, and volunteer leaders Lee Schoenewe and Joe Jungers quickly spotted a Red-breasted Nuthatch in a nearby tree. As we worked to position ourselves for some great looks at the Red-breasted Nuthatches (yes, another appeared a short time later), we also noticed a couple Brown Creepers in the area. In the distance, we heard White-throated Sparrows calling and later were able to see one at close range. Both Orange-crowned and Palm Warblers made a quick appearance, and a cooperative Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was spotted high in nearby tree. Yes, we were supposed to be searching wetlands, but who could pass up these great birds?
Our first wetland stop was in Lost Island State Park near the beach, where 29 Great Egrets, 2 Great Blue Herons, and a single Belted Kingfisher were seeking refuge from the brisk wind. It was a quite a sight to see so many egrets in one small spot! We continued to Lost Island Lake Marsh where our hope was to locate both Le Conte’s and Nelson’s Sparrows. Hiking through the grass near the wetland, it didn’t take us long to flush a small, pale sparrow flying low and quickly diving into the grass. It was a Le Conte’s Sparrow, but unfortunately the wind discouraged this bird from remaining visible for all to see. However, we also flushed a Song Sparrow on the walk which allowed us to note the drastic differences in size, color, and flight behavior of the two species. Near the end of our walk, we heard Sandhill Cranes calling in the distance and were able to locate them in flight a short time later. We finished at this location with great looks at a couple Harris’s Sparrows and a young Northern Harrier hunting in the distance.
We made a couple quick stops at other wetlands to continue our search for the elusive Le Conte’s and Nelson’s Sparrows. Although we were unsuccessful in our search, we were not disappointed as young birders were able to see Blue-winged Teal and Pied-billed Grebe through the scope and a kettle of Turkey Vultures high above, obviously successful in their search for warm, rising air. By this time in the morning, we were all wishing they would share some warm air with us!
What a great fall birding trip this was! Many thanks to volunteer leaders Lee Schoenewe and Joe Jungers for finding us some great birds and, again, to Kaitlin Anderson and Mary Barrick with Palo Alto County Conservation Board for hosting us. And a huge thanks to our young birders and their families for braving the cold to join us for a morning of outdoor adventure! You can view photos from our trip here and our species lists below:
Lost Island Lake State Park
Lost Island Lake Marsh
Twenty-one young birders, parents, grandparents, and volunteers kicked off the fall birding season with an exciting morning of birding at Red Rock Reservoir on September 8, 2018. Our target bird list included everything from Ruby-throated Hummingbird to Pileated Woodpecker. When you start the morning off seeing warblers from the parking lot, it’s hard not to be excited!
We spent the morning below the main reservoir at both Ivan’s and South Tailwater Recreation Areas. Immediately from the parking lot at Ivan’s, we spotted a couple American Redstarts in a nearby tree hyperactively looking for insects. We quickly checked one species off our target list by spotting a Ruby-throated Hummingbird at a feeder in the campground. We slowly moved toward the river, carefully watching the treetops and enjoying the extremely pleasant fall weather. Once at the river, we noticed both Caspian Terns and Ring-billed Gulls foraging over the water as well as a large, mixed flock of migrating swallows overhead. We walked farther along the river and stopped to carefully examine an adult male Mallard in non-breeding plumage, making a list of characteristics that help us identify the bird such as the dull yellow bill, overall brown color, and purple speculum on the wing. The occasional Bald Eagle and Turkey Vulture cruised overhead, and several flocks of American White Pelicans were seen taking advantage of breeze throughout the morning.
Next, we started down the paved trail between Ivan’s and South Tailwater Recreation Areas. Although the birds were quiet initially, we enjoyed capturing and examining a Cricket Frog and watching what we all felt was the largest Snapping Turtle in Iowa crawl through the mud in a nearby off-channel wetland. A Great Blue Heron posed nicely in the water for us allowing young birders long, close looks through the spotting scope. As we continued along the trail, we were greeted by White-breasted Nuthatches, a Warbling Vireo, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. We were drawn off the trail for a bit to explore a nearby shale deposit with a stream running through it. What an interesting geological feature!
Once back on the trail, we found a little hotspot of bird activity in which we saw a Black-and-White, Magnolia, and Golden-winged Warbler while a Carolina Wren and Yellow-throated Vireo sang to us from nearby. We turned back towards the parking lot and, on the return trip, added Ovenbird, Swainson’s Thrush, and Red-eyed Vireo to our species list among others. A cooperative Belted Kingfisher perched on a limb near the wetland was an exciting bird for young birders. Back at the parking lot, the bird activity was even hotter than earlier and young birders spotted several Chestnut-sided Warblers, a Bay-breasted Warbler, and another Black-and-White Warbler low in the brush. What a great finish to the morning!
This trip could not be possible without the assistance of Marla Mertz with Marion County Conservation Board. We’re grateful to volunteers from the Red Rock Lake Association for their leadership on the trip and for providing snacks. And as always, many thanks to our young birders and families for attending! You can view photos of our trip here and our species list here.
On August 18, 2018, eleven young birders, parents, grandparents, and volunteers met at Memorial Park in Ottumwa for a morning of birding in southern Iowa. The morning started off cool and overcast but quickly warmed up when the sun appeared. Lucky for us, the birds were hot all morning!
Our target bird at Memorial Park was the Mississippi Kite, a unique Iowa bird. Memorial Park is one of two regular nesting locations for this species in Iowa, and the nesting pair had returned for another southern Iowa summer. It didn’t take long for us to find the small family as one of the adults was perched in the top of a White Pine tree near the parking lot as young birders arrived! However, this was only the beginning of what continued to be an amazing spectacle as both adults actively hunted overhead, showing off their talent in aerial acrobatics. The two juvenile birds were also present, continuously calling to remind their parents of their hunger and expected receipt of any captures. After an hour of watching in awe, we decided it best to leave for our second destination despite the desire to watch these birds even longer. This was a life bird for all young birders present, and for the parents and grandparents as well!
Next, we traveled south of Ottumwa to Pioneer Ridge Nature Area. Owned and managed by Wapello County Conservation Board, Pioneer Ridge contains a variety of habitats that makes birding this location very exciting. Although the temperature was rising quickly, the birds were still quite active and we were immediately greeted by Gray Catbirds and American Goldfinches. Several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were also putting on a great show, chasing each other along the edges of a nearby pond. We stopped along the trail to examine a Baltimore Oriole nest and spotted two young Great Crested Flycatchers in the distance. Later on our hike, we took a break in a nearby barn shelter to search for bats in the rafters (beneath the piles of guano) and enjoyed close-up views of a Black Swallowtail butterfly captured by one of our young birders!
It was a mild sunny day as 13 young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered in Johnson County to learn about Eastern Bluebird nesting and to assist with checking boxes along an established nest box trail. We were lucky to have Jim Walters with the Johnson County Songbird Project join us, and he started us off on this fine morning by sharing his knowledge of Eastern Bluebird biology gained from many years of experience monitoring nest boxes. Jim was gracious enough to let us visit his farm, which has been in his family since he was young and contains many diverse habitats that host a variety of bird species. Anxious to see some baby bluebirds, we started off down the trail!
It wasn’t long before we encountered one of Jim’s nest boxes, strategically built with a hole large enough for bluebirds to enter but small enough to deter other birds from using the box and with a small screw on the side that released the front of the box for access. Jim tapped gently on the side of the box with his screwdriver, a subtle warning to an attending parent that we’re coming in. The young bluebirds were left unattended for the morning, likely so mom and dad could search for food. Jim slowly removed the front of the box to reveal a small nest constructed mostly of grasses from the nearby prairie. Inside the nest was a family of baby bluebirds, not older than a couple weeks, quietly resting and enjoying the pleasant weather. All young birders excitedly, but quietly peeked inside the nest box before leaving the baby bluebirds to their morning nap. The was a first for many young birders present!
We checked a few other boxes along the trail, including one that contained a House Wren nest and another that contained a white Eastern Bluebird egg, which is a rare occurrence in a species that lays light blue eggs. We continued along the trail into the woodland on Jim’s farm. Highlights included recently fledged Eastern Wood-Pewees showing off their newly-acquired flycatching skills, a singing Wood Thrush and Eastern Towhee, and later at least two singing Acadian Flycatchers.
We finished the morning with two additional stops, the first of which was to check a Purple Martin colony near the entrance to Jim’s farm. The colony was very active with adult Purple Martins flying and foraging about. Jim cranked down the martin house, which looks like an apartment building compared to the Eastern Bluebird nest boxes, and we carefully checked one of the dwellings. Inside was four baby Purple Martins, not more than one week old, enjoying a morning nap just like the baby bluebirds we saw earlier. Next, we stopped along Highway 1 to check an American Kestrel nest box. Jim removed a long extension ladder from his truck, a necessity for checking these boxes that are mounted on telephone poles at least 10 feet up. Young birders took turns carefully climbing the ladder to peek in at the five baby kestrels inside the box, who were nearly ready to leave the box. What an exciting way to finish off a fun and educational morning!
We’re extremely grateful to Jim Walters with the Johnson County Songbird Project for sharing his knowledge with us and for allowing us to visit his Johnson County farm. You can view photos from our trip here as well as our species list here.
On June 2, 2018, 17 young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered at Fontenelle Forest Nature Center in Bellevue, Nebraska for our joint Iowa Young Birders and Omaha Youth Birding Group field trip. A string of thunderstorms earlier that morning left behind cool air and sunshine and sparked some activity in the birds! We were excited to get started!
We started down the boardwalk into the forest with birds singing from all directions. We were immediately greeted by a singing Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and stopped a bit further down the trail to listen to singing House and Carolina Wrens. We chatted a bit about the preferred habitat of the House Wren compared to one of our target species, the Scarlet Tanager, and how we could use that knowledge to help us identify and locate these different birds. While learning about this, a Wood Thrush was serenading us from a distance. We were also lucky to see a pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds while stopped, one of which appeared to be carrying nesting material. All this excitement and we were only 10 minutes into our trip!
We continued down the boardwalk and quickly noticed that American Redstarts were numerous in the forest. We were offered many great looks at these hyperactive, colorful warblers as they flitted and foraged through the treetops. We learned how to distinguish between males and females of this species based on color and were even lucky enough to observe some territorial displays of two males in the presence of a female. Other great birds in the forest included Red-headed and Pileated Woodpeckers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Tufted Titmouse, and Eastern Wood-pewee.
We finished the morning at the Fontenelle Forest wetlands below the Nature Center, a habitat quite different than that in which we birded earlier in the morning. And as no surprise, we quickly noticed the bird community was a bit different as well. We heard both a Common Yellowthroat and Song Sparrow singing along the trail, along with Tree Swallows foraging on the wing overhead. We were very lucky to hear both Willow and Alder Flycatchers singing nearby, allowing us to easily compare the songs of these nearly indistinguishable species. The “icing on the cake” for our visit to the wetlands, however, was a pair of Prothonotary Warblers. The male was frequently singing and offered great looks to all. This was a life bird for several young birders present, a fantastic way to end a fun morning with friends and family!
We’re grateful to Fontenelle Forest for hosting us and to Bob Wells and Tisha Johnson with the Omaha Youth Birding Group for their leadership. And as always, many thanks to the young birders and their families for joining us on another fun and educational trip! You can view photos from our trip here and species lists for both the Nature Center and wetlands below:
Fontenelle Forest Nature Center
Fontenelle Forest wetlands
It was another pleasant spring day in Iowa as 12 young birders, parents, and friends embarked on a search for birds at Dudgeon Lake Wildlife Area near Vinton, Iowa. Dudgeon Lake is well known for hosting a variety of birds including Prothonotary Warbler, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Pileated Woodpecker, all of which prefer the vast expanse of flooded forests found on the area. It is also a favorite location of young birder Coralee Bodeker, who served as co-leader and local expert on our trip. As we gathered in the parking lot, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo sang from across an adjacent pond and several Great Crested Flycatchers were vocalizing in the nearby trees. These birds excited us all to search for more!
As we started down the road, we immediately heard a Gray Catbird singing in the shrubs and learned the call note of a nearby Rose-breasted Grosbeak (a quick squeeze of a squeaky toy). We stopped to watch a male American Redstart foraging low in a tree and listened to an Indigo Bunting singing along the edge of an open field, all the while numerous Turkey Vultures were soaring overhead and Tree Swallows cruising by. Further up the road we encountered both a Wilson’s Warbler and a Tennessee Warbler, our first two migrants of the trip. While hiking down the road, we also stopped to admire a baby Painted Turtle and baby Snapping Turtle found by young birder Andi, as well as several turtles basking on logs in the water.
Next, we started down a trail towards some ponds in search of waterbirds. We were greeted by a singing Common Yellowthroat and a pair of Red-winged Blackbirds. Further along, we spotted a Red-headed Woodpecker perched high on a snag and were able to get great views through the spotting scope. Approaching another pond, we spotted an American Coot and later a Spotted Sandpiper foraging along the shore. We started back towards the vehicles, hearing a singing Warbling Vireo and later seeing a Green Heron flying away over a pond. It was a great finish to a great morning!
Many thanks to Coralee Bodeker and her family for helping organize and lead this trip! We’re also grateful to volunteer leaders Linda Rudolph and Bill Scheible for joining us on this fine morning. You can view our species list here and some photos from our trip here.
Twelve young birders, parents, grandparents, and friends spent a gorgeous Iowa spring morning searching for migrants and learning about birding basics at Des Moines Water Works Park near downtown Des Moines. We started the morning with a short exercise on using binoculars and practiced our skills on a distant sign. With several different habitat types yet to explore, we started off in search of birds all the while discussing what to look and listen for that can help with identifying birds. For example, observing different bird behaviors (e.g., tail bobbing) and the microhabitat within which the bird is (e.g., forest understory or forest canopy) can greatly help to pinpoint which species you see. We had the opportunity to practice these observation skills on a Yellow-throated Warbler singing high in the treetops. Luckily, the bird came down to mid-level in the tree for all to see! Not long before an adult Bald Eagle was seen soaring high overhead.
We continued through the park. American Robins and Chipping Sparrows were numerous, and we stopped to observe an occasional Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, or Chimney Swift overhead. A distant Mourning Dove had us all fooled into thinking it was a raptor until we approached, and a couple of Killdeer in an open grassy field were very cooperative. Now on to the wetlands!
We were quickly greeted by a couple Canada Goose families, the goslings dutifully following the parents into the water as we approached. Double-crested Cormorants were occasionally flying overhead and eventually landing gracefully in the water. Oliver spotted a Great Blue Heron in the distance, which sat tight as we approached to offer clear looks for all. A Red-tailed Hawk was also perched in a distant tree. A Mallard pair joined the Canada Goose families, and several Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shovelers were seen on a distant pond, the colorful males of both species clearly visible from a distance. We finished the morning hiking along a couple more wetlands near the parking lot. Although the birds were quiet, the Chorus and Northern Leopard Frogs were very vocal!
Many thanks to all those who attended our trip on this gorgeous morning! You can view our species list here and some photos from our trip here.
Iowa Young Birders is lucky to have a new partner in our Future in Focus program! Redstart Birding is committed to providing the best optics, gear, and expertise to ensure a quality and enjoyable birding experience for you. With their help, we will continue to offer high-quality optics to young birders for affordable, quarterly payments!
With this exciting change comes new options for optics! We now offer the Vortex Diamondback 8x42 binocular, the perfect binocular for birders of any age. We're also excited to offer the new and improved Vortex Viper 15-45x65mm spotting scope along with the Vortex ProGT tripod kit, a combination made for a lifetime of birding enjoyment!
You can check out these new optics by visiting our Future in Focus page or the Redstart Birding website, and be sure to contact us if you're interested in taking advantage of this unique program!
Iowa Young Birders member Coralee Bodeker authors and illustrates her regular column, "A Prairie Girl's Notebook" from her home near Vinton, Iowa. Coralee received Honorable Mention for her writing and art among young birders across the nation in the 2018 American Birding Association Young Birder of the Year contest.
Enjoy this recent issue about her observations of a House Wren pair near her home. Thanks Coralee, and congratulations!
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources invites all to attend the 15th Annual Prairie Chicken Day at the Kellerton Bird Conservation Area on Saturday, April 7, 2018 starting at sunrise. The event will take place at the viewing platform on 300th Avenue near 242nd Street southwest of Kellerton. Click here for a map of the location. Afterwards, the Kellerton Bird Conservation Area will be dedicated as a Globally Important Bird Area by Iowa Audubon!
Help celebrate this important area for Iowa birds and enjoy seeing Greater Prairie-Chickens during their annual lek display!
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