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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!
In this issue of "A Prairie Girl's Notebook", Iowa Young Birders member Coralee Bodeker shares the magnificence and importance of trees, even after they have fallen.
Another great essay and illustration by Iowa Young Birders member Coralee Bodeker!
A Mink in the January Thaw.pdf
On March 4, 2017, young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered in the Science Building on Iowa State University campus to learn tips for identifying Iowa shorebirds. Young birders were excited to peruse the various teaching specimens on the tables and were enthusiastic to master the skills to distinguish species within this challenging group of birds.
We started the morning by examining the various teaching specimens, taking time to observe and record the unique characteristics of each. It didn’t take us long to develop a list of characteristics for each species, and pick out those similar characteristics listed for all species (e.g., long legs, longer bill, etc.). Next, we learned how to lump the various species into different groups based on overall size and shape, the first step in helping us to identify a given species. We finished this exercise with an activity in which we placed shorebird silhouettes in the appropriate group based only on size and shape.
Next, we talked about how to group the various species based on their foraging methods, “pickers”, “probers”, and “waters”. We discussed these different methods of foraging and how they might affect the bird’s behavior and the location where they are foraging within a specific habitat. We finished with another activity, “Feeding Time”, in which young birders drew a species from a jar and had to forage for a candy bar in the appropriate habitat using the appropriate method. It was quite fun!
We finished the morning learning about colors of shorebirds. Not just color patterns in plumage, but colors of bills, legs, and other markings that are identifying characteristics of some species. For example, we compared leg and bill color of the Least Sandpiper (yellow legs and black bill) to that of the Semipalmated Sandpiper (black legs and black bill), characteristics that can help in identifying these very similar species. Our last activity of the day was to learn the colors of different shorebird species using coloring sheets. Each young birder could color a shorebird species of their choice, helping them observe and learn the different colors of that species.
It was a fun morning, and we’re grateful to the parents and grandparents for allowing their young birders to join us! You can view photos from the workshop here.
Eagles and gulls were numerous at Credit Island Park on February 18, 2017 where 32 young birders, parents, and grandparents enjoyed a beautiful and unseasonably warm morning of birding. As flocks migrating geese (Snow Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Canada Geese) streamed overhead, we set off to explore this unique park nestled in the Mississippi River. We were quickly greeted by numerous Ring-billed Gulls foraging on shore and over the water, all of which offered the opportunity to study characteristics of these birds at close range. Target bird number 1, check!
As we moved toward the other side of the island in search of more gulls and Bald Eagles, we were greeted by three species of songbirds singing. We heard both a Song Sparrow and Mourning Dove in the distance, and stopped to listen to the melodious song of the Eastern Bluebird. A bit more walking and searching turned up the singing male bluebird and everyone enjoyed close-range looks of this beautiful bird.
On the other side of the island, Ring-billed Gulls were again numerous foraging over the water and roosting on the ice. Also present were Bald Eagles, both adults and immatures, and young birders were able to compare plumage differences of eagles of different ages. We also observed an immature Ring-billed Gull among the adults, offering the chance to compare plumage differences in different ages of Ring-billed Gulls as well. To top things off, an immature Herring Gull joined the roosting Ring-billed Gulls on the ice.
We finished the morning looking for other birds on the interior of the island. We found a cooperative Red-tailed Hawk, a Cooper’s Hawk flying overhead, various woodpeckers, a Northern Cardinal, and several Dark-eyed Juncos. Lastly, we stopped and examine feathers of a Canada Goose, learning about the differences between primary, secondary, and down feathers.
We are grateful to Walt Wagner-Hecht for his leadership on this trip, to local guide Jim Nordquist for joining us, and to all the parents, grandparents, and young birders for enjoying a morning of birding with us! You can view photos from our trip here and a list of species here.
Our February Members and Friends Newsletter is here for your reading enjoyment!
We had an exciting year at Iowa Young Birders - several fun and educational field trips, an extended birding experience to Colorado, several partnerships, and much more! Our full impact can be seen in our year-end report below.
2016 Impact Iowa Young Birders.pdf
Iowa Young Birders member Coralee Bodeker is using her artistic talents to raise funds for raptor conservation! Coralee recently composed an article to raise awareness about the decline of American Kestrel populations as part of her regular series, "A Prairie Girl's Notebook". She also sketched an American Kestrel on canvas that she is auctioning on Ebay to raise funds for raptor conservation. View the links below to read Coralee's article and bid on her one-and-only canvas print of the American Kestrel. Bid now to help Coralee contribute to raptor conservation!
Kestrels, An Iowa Legacy.pdf
You can also view Coralee's print for auction here.
On January 21, 2017, 11 young birders, parents, and grandparents joined us for a visit to Dale Maffitt Reservoir, a popular waterfowl wintering location south of Des Moines. It was foggy, but temperatures hovered around 40 degrees making it a pleasant morning for birding.
Our target bird for the day was the Trumpeter Swan. Upwards of 200 swans had been reported at this location this winter and we were excited to see how many were around that morning. Upon arrival and a short hike, we quickly counted 81 swans on the water! We discussed the differences in appearance between adult and juvenile swans, and enjoyed close looks at these fabulous birds on the water and flying overhead.
After studying the swans, we continued hiking along a nature trail around the lake. We were unsuccessful in our search for roosting owls in the pines along the trail, but enjoyed the usual winter songbirds including Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, and various woodpecker species. We were even treated with a small flock of Eastern Bluebirds.
While observing the bluebirds, we were surprised to hear a Greater White-fronted Goose calling overhead. We moved quickly to the edge of the water to locate two Greater White-fronted Geese mingling among the Canada Geese and Trumpeter Swans. We also saw two drake Redheads and a female Ruddy Duck, and were treated with the opportunity carefully compare three Cackling Geese with the nearby Canada Geese while learning about the differences in these two species. It was certainly a fun and educational morning!
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