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It was a brisk Iowa morning on February 10, 2018 when 10 young birders, parents, and friends embarked on a winter birding adventure at George Wyth State Park near Waterloo. Despite the cold, the sun was shining and the birds were active. We were excited to begin the search for our target birds, the Northern Saw-whet Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Pileated Woodpecker!
We started the morning listening to some of the early singers such as Northern Cardinals, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Black-capped Chickadees near the park entrance. While listening to these birds, we noticed a large bird flush from a nearby pine tree. After a few more views of the bird, we surmised it was a Barred Owl. Shortly thereafter, volunteer leader Connor Langan spotted a flock of 25 Common Redpolls overhead. An exciting and unexpected sight only 30 minutes into the trip!
We then headed towards the bird blind to search for Northern Saw-whet Owls. We learned about Northern Saw-whet Owl winter habitat from volunteer leader Tom Schilke as we hiked back toward the owl location. We stopped off at the bird blind to watch the feeders for a few moments, and enjoyed close-up views of Red-bellied, Downy, and Hairy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, and other winter songbirds. We continued our hike, excitement building as we grew closer to a stand of Eastern Red Cedars known to host saw-whet owls in winter. After about 5 minutes of searching, volunteer leader Connor Langan located a single Northern Saw-whet Owl! We carefully snuck back to enjoy fantastic views of the tiny bird, conducting what we all termed the “saw-whet shuffle”. As we hiked back towards the parking lot, we heard and saw a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks overhead. Two of our target birds in in five minutes!
Our last stop was a series of bird feeders in the center of the park, near where we saw a flock of Wild Turkeys earlier in the morning. Most numerous at the bird feeders were House Finches and American Goldfinches, and we also spotted another Red-shouldered Hawk nearby. It was a fun end to a great morning!
What an exciting year 2017 was at Iowa Young Birders. We led young birders and their families on 10 trips across the state, released our unique optics rent-to-own program, and much more. You can read more about our exciting year in our 2017 Year-End Report here. Many thanks to YOU for supporting us along the way! We're looking forward to 2018!
On January 27, 2018, 18 young birders and parents kicked off the 2018 field trip year at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge for our Junior Duck Stamp Day. Brian Murillo, award-winning wildlife artist who has placed in both the Junior Duck Stamp Contest and the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, graciously joined us to share tips about sketching and painting waterfowl for the Junior Duck Stamp. Young birders were excited to get started!
Doreen Van RysWyk, coordinator of the Junior Duck Stamp Program in Iowa, started our exciting morning with a brief overview about the Program. Doreen shared with us the history of the Federal Duck Stamp Program, which has deep roots in Iowa. The first winner of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest was Iowa cartoonist Jay Norwood (“Ding”) Darling, and the only five-time contest winner is Iowa wildlife artist Maynard Reece. Young birders learned how art contributed to both the Junior and Federal Duck Stamp Programs has had a huge impact on habitat restoration and conservation education.
Next, Brian shared with us how his passion for wildlife art started, sketching and painting all sorts of birds and other wildlife as a kid in central Iowa. He provided valuable tips to young birders on creating a life-like painting or sketch of waterfowl and other birds. We learned the importance of contrast between the bird and background, about establishing a light source, and about scale of the creation. Young birders then put these tips to work by sketching birds of their choice while Brian provided advice and encouragement. An Eastern Bluebird, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Wood Duck, Piping Plover, and Redhead emerged on paper. What amazing talent our young birders have! Young birders then presented their artwork to the group and shared why they chose their bird of interest. We finished this activity with some “Duck Trivia”, learning about life history characteristics of waterfowl.
Taking advantage of the unseasonably warm day, we finished our morning with a brief hike around the Prairie Learning Center. Raptors provided the best show, with both Red-tailed Hawks and Bald Eagles soaring overhead. We were lucky to see the resident Bison on the Refuge and observed a recently-burned portion of the prairie and learned about the importance of prescribed fire for managing prairie habitats for birds.
Nine young birders, parents, grandparents, and volunteers enjoyed a brisk fall morning birding below the Saylorville Dam near Polk City on November 18. The wind was howling, but we were still able to tally 27 species with the two best birds being raptors: Red-shouldered Hawk and Merlin! You can view a couple photos from our trip here and a complete species list here. Many thanks to Ulrike Grimaldi and Denny Thompson for their leadership and expertise!
Young birders, parents, and grandparents enjoyed a fun morning full of birds at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area in Iowa City on October 15! You can view photos from the trip here and a species list here. Many thanks to Board Member Fawn Bowden for leading the trip and for the photos!
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
On August 26, 2017, 15 young birders, parents, grandparents, and volunteers were welcomed with a pleasant late summer morning at Swan Lake State Park near Carroll. Carroll County Conservation Naturalist Matt Wetrich, our guide and local expert, welcomed us to the park and provided quick tips on using binoculars and bird guides. We had an exciting morning planned with several different stops within the park, and we anxiously started off.
Our first stop involved a search for woodpeckers and various songbirds in an open forest area near the campground. We quickly heard Blue Jays, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, and White-breasted Nuthatch. We headed down to a fishing pier on the lake, and once there were greeted with a flock of Purple Martins. After receiving fleeting looks of a Red-headed Woodpecker, we were finally able to get great looks at one perched on dead limb low in a nearby tree. We also flushed a Common Nighthawk from the tree, a very exciting experience! A bit further down the trail, an Eastern Wood-Pewee and Eastern Kingbird were perched in the open allowing us to carefully study these two closely-related species. This was a great stop!
After a quick stop near the lake to view a Baltimore Oriole nest, we headed up to the Bald Eagle display and nearby trail. At this stop, Matt shared with us the story of the two resident eagles at Swan Lake State Park. Both eagles were injured and are now permanently housed at the park for educational purposes. We took this opportunity to learn a bit about bird conservation and about the important parts of responsible decisions, knowledge and caring. Afterwards, we headed down the trail to a large brush pile. Although quiet initially, the brush pile produced many good birds including Indigo Buntings, a House Wren, a Wilson’s Warbler, and both Blue and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. A Cooper’s Hawk and several Turkey Vultures were soaring overhead as we searched the brush for more birds.
We finished the morning visiting the swan pond, home of a captive pair of Trumpeter Swans, and then the new Thelen Bird Sanctuary and bird blind. A Hairy Woodpecker visited the feeders while in the blind, and a Belted Kingfisher flew low over the lake as we compiled our morning list. Both were great birds to finish a fun morning!
We are very appreciative of Matt’s leadership and expertise on the trip. You can view photos from our trip here and our species list here. Many thanks to all those who attended!
On July 8, 2017, sixteen young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered at Seed Savers Exchange near Decorah for a gorgeous morning of birding. Barn Swallows and a singing male House Wren greeted us as we started up the Oak Woods Trail. Before the trail head, we stopped near the barn to listen to a signing Chipping Sparrow and American Robin, two common Iowa birds but always fun to hear!
As we headed up the trail, we stopped at a clearing near the top to listen to and view a Mourning Dove in the distance. We also heard a singing Indigo Bunting at this location, who graced us with his melodious song but did not let us see him. A bird that did welcome us, however, was a stunning male American Goldfinch who landed approximately 10 feet from us in the opening for fantastic views. We continued along the trail to the overlook where we spent nearly 20 minutes viewing several exciting birds. From this location, we saw a small flock of Cedar Waxwings, a Brown Thrasher, a cooperative Eastern Wood-Pewee, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird among others. Singing high in the treetops was a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.
We headed back down the trail to the main yard, stopping briefly in the gardens for a brief lesson about the importance of plants to birds. We discussed how birds use plants for food, shelter, and nesting, and about how different birds use different plants. We enjoyed the many colorful blooming plants while taking a water and snack break, then continued to the Orchard Trail for another hike.
After a short distance along the Orchard Trail, we heard an Eastern Towhee in the distance. It wasn’t long before we located the bird in the understory. Not too long after, we located a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak feeding a young bird on the forest floor. We also heard a Wood Thrush singing in the distance. We finished our hike along the creek where we saw and heard Song Sparrows, a Common Yellowthroat, and Downy Woodpecker. As we hiked through the parking lot back to our vehicles, the last bird of the day was a singing male Northern Cardinal.
We finished the day with 35 species, including many other highlights not listed above. You can view our trip list here as well as photos from our morning here. Many thanks to all those who attended and to Seed Savers Exchange for hosting us!
On a warm and breezy summer morning, seven young birders and parents joined us on a morning exploration of Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt, a prime birding location near Des Moines. Our target birds were the Prothonotary Warbler and Green Heron, both bottomland forest specialists and frequent residents of Chichaqua Bottoms. Excited to see both birds, we set off. However, before looking for birds we took the unique opportunity to observe a female Painted Turtle actively laying eggs in an excavated nest not far from the water. Later in the morning after she was finished and heading back to the water, Executive Director Tyler Harms captured the turtle and quickly showed young birders the beautiful markings (which give the Painted Turtle its name) on the underside of the turtle’s shell before safely placing her back on her journey to the water.
Tallying our species list in the shade. Photo credit: Ulrike Grimaldi
Next, we walked along the campground towards the Jack Pine Trail looking and listening for birds. American Redstarts, Eastern Phoebes, and Eastern Wood-Pewees graced us with their songs and Red-headed Woodpeckers flew overhead. High in one of the trees, a parent found a Cedar Waxwing nest and we all watched as both parents brought material back to the nest. An exciting sight for all of us!
Our hunt for Prothonotary Warblers and Green Herons continued along the Jack Pine Trail. Although we did not see any of our target birds along the trail, we did hear several House Wrens and our only Great Crested Flycatcher for the morning, had great looks at a stunning male Indigo Bunting, and saw and heard several Gray Catbirds.
We headed back to the trailhead and stopped for a quick snack and water break. Not long into our break, one of our parents spotted a Prothonotary Warbler across the water from where we were sitting. Soon, the bird flew into plain view and everyone watched the bright yellow beauty for several minutes before it flew out of sight. Finally, we could check off one of our target species!
We wrapped up the morning tallying our species, and some ventured out on canoes to search for our second target species, the elusive Green Heron. We saw not one Green Heron, but at least four Green Herons at different areas!
We had a great time learning about Barn Owls and building Barn Owl boxes as part of the Lucas County Birding Festival on May 6, 2017. We are grateful for assistance from volunteers Adam Janke, Coady Lundy, Jacob Newton, and Dave Offenburger. We also thank Helga Offenburger for preparing the Barn Owl nest box kits, Beth Brown for sharing her knowledge of owls with us, and Nick Piekema with Iowa State University Research and Demonstration Farms for hosting us. You can see photos from our fun event here!
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