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Iowa/Illinois Young Birder Weekend

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In addition to the News Posts below, we also send a periodic eNewsletter.  You can view our newsletter archive here and you can sign up to receive future emails at the bottom of this page. 

  • November 21, 2016 9:39 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    Twenty-seven young birders, parents, grandparents, and volunteers met at Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) on November 12, 2016 for our first Waterfowl Migration and Conservation Day.  Although a bit chilly in the morning, the sun was shining and it looked to be a fabulous day for this unique opportunity to tour the Refuge during the peak of waterfowl migration.  The latest report said 25,000 ducks on the Refuge!  Needless to say, we were all excited and quickly loaded the vehicles to begin the tour.

    The Louisa Division of Port Louisa NWR, the area we visited, is closed each year from September 15 – December 31 to minimize disturbance to migrating waterbirds as they rest on their southward journey.  Therefore, we were very lucky to be visiting this area as part of their annual fall migration bus tours.  Cathy Nigg (Refuge Manager) and Jessica Bolser (Refuge Biologist) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were our tour leaders, providing a wealth of information about the unique habitats on the Refuge and their significance.  The importance of this area to migrating waterbirds was quickly evident to us as hundreds of ducks were in view upon entering the Refuge.  Among the many ducks, we identified Wood Ducks, Mallards, Northern Pintail, and Northern Shovelers.  A group of eight Trumpeter Swans was also a nice surprise!

    As we continued our tour of the Refuge, several Ring-billed Gulls and Double-crested Comorants were seen flying overhead.  An extra special treat for one of the vehicles was an extremely cooperative American Bittern standing less than five feet from the road.  We stopped briefly at the viewing platform overlooking Fox Pond, where we added Red-winged Blackbird, Swamp Sparrow, and American Goldfinch to our list.  We also had great looks at a Bald Eagle nest on the east side of the Refuge.  We finished our drive along the east side of the Refuge, where thousands of ducks were lifting off offering an amazing spectacle described as a “duck-nado” by our group.

    Unfortunately, we were unable to plant trees due to high water levels.  However, we had an enjoyable afternoon hiking trails around the Port Louisa Visitor’s Center.  Exciting birds included a Tufted Titmouse, several White-throated Sparrows, and a small group of Cedar Waxwings.

    We’re extremely grateful to Cathy Nigg, Jessica Bolser, and the staff and friends of Port Louisa NWR for hosting us.  Many thanks also to volunteer Kevin Murphy for his leadership.  And as always, we’re thankful to the parents and grandparents for providing the transportation means for the young birders to join us!  You can view photos from our trip here and a list of species here.

  • October 21, 2016 5:22 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    Seven young birders and parents joined us at Ada Hayden Heritage Park in central Iowa for a pleasant fall morning searching for sparrows and other fall migrants.  Ada Hayden Heritage Park has a diversity of habitats and we were anxious to see what we could find on our walk!

    Starting off on the paved trail around the north lake, we were quickly greeted by a large flock of Cedar Waxwings with a couple Eastern Bluebirds mixed in.  It’s always enjoyable to see these two species (even though the Cedar Waxwings were looking a bit drab) and we took the opportunity to carefully study them at close range.  We continued our walk along the paved trail, observing Red-winged Blackbirds overhead and a small group of American Coots on the main lake.

    We next ventured onto the upland trail for hopes of spotting some fall sparrows.  As if on cue, a Ring-necked Pheasant flushed started on the upland trail, one of several we would see on the trip.  Then, one of the young birders spotted an Eastern Phoebe perched on a prairie plant in the distance, a bird that will not likely be sticking around Iowa for much longer.  We continued along the upland trail, flushing a few unidentified sparrows before finally getting close looks at a cooperative Song Sparrow.  We also learned the call note of the White-throated Sparrow, hearing several as we continued our venture.  We arrived at Jensen Pond along the trail, where we quietly observed a group of Canada Geese and tried hard to get looks at a chattering Belted Kingfisher.

    As we returned to the parking lot, the birding slowed a bit and we had a great time studying various caterpillars found by the young birders along the upland trail.  While doing so, we heard more White-throated Sparrows and observed both a Red-tailed and Broad-winged Hawk soar overhead.

    You can view photos of our adventure here and a full list of species observed here.  Many thanks to the parents and young birders for joining us on this fine fall morning!

  • September 29, 2016 10:49 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    September 24, a beautiful fall morning at Hitchcock Nature Area in the heart of the Loess Hills where 24 young birders, parents, grandparents, and friends enjoyed spending time in the hawk watch tower and raptor banding blind.  Everyone was excited for this unique experience and anxious to get started.

    Some of us started the morning with Bethany Thornton in the hawk watch tower.  Bethany shared with us the importance of counting migrating raptors and some tips for identifying raptors in flight.  The birds were slow to get started, but we soon spotted a distant Great Blue Heron, some Turkey Vultures starting to lift off, and an occasional Osprey riding the winds with their “m-shaped” wings.  In between bouts of scanning the horizon, we were able to pick out some good birds in the trees below including a Wilson’s Warbler, Eastern Towhee, and we even heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

    The rest of us started the morning in the raptor banding blind with experienced raptor bander Jerry Toll.  Jerry shared with us his many experiences banding raptors.  Although the nothing was caught in the first hour, we were lucky to get several close looks of different raptors including an Osprey.  We also got up-close looks at and learned about the equipment needed to capture hawks.  It was very exciting!

    Young birders, parents, and friends rotated into the hawk watch tower and raptor banding blind for the remainder of the morning.  We were treated with a Cooper’s Hawk captured at the banding blind, and several other good birds from the hawk watch tower and adjacent nature center including Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned, and Broad-winged Hawks, a Peregrine Falcon, and even an adult Sabine’s Gull!  Even though a storm front rained out some of us in the banding blind, we still had a great morning on this unique experience!

    We’re grateful to Bethany Thornton and Jerry Toll for sharing their knowledge and experience with us, and to volunteer Ross Silcock for his leadership.  You can view photos from our field trip here and our complete species list here.

  • September 29, 2016 7:08 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    Iowa Young Birders is committed to encouraging the development of young birders, which is why we're excited to offer our Camp Scholarships for a third year.

    Scholarships of up to $500 will be given to one or more young birders interested in attending one of the American Birding Association Young Birder Camps or any other approved young birder camp.  Scholarships are open to any young birder who is an Iowa resident and 13-18 years of age.  

    "These camps are a great way for young birders to not only improve their skills, but also connect with other young birders from across the country and develop a lifetime of friendships," said Tyler Harms, Executive Director of Iowa Young Birders.  "We're lucky to have the generous support of many donors who appreciate the importance of these opportunities for young birders."

    The deadline for scholarship applications is February 1.  For more information about these scholarships, to apply, or to make a donation to our scholarship fund, click here.

  • September 02, 2016 1:50 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    Want to know what we've been doing all summer?  Check out our August Member and Friends Newsletter here!

  • July 20, 2016 7:20 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    On the afternoon of July 7, 2016, 28 young birders, parents, grandparents, friends, and volunteers embarked on a one-of-a-kind family birding adventure to Colorado.  We’d been waiting for this moment since February, so excitement was in the air as we gathered in the breakfast room of the Quality Inn and Suites in Ft. Collins.  The scouting reports said birds were active and the weather forecast looked perfect for the weekend.  

    After a brief introduction and distribution of new equipment to the young birders, which included a brand new copy of the Field Guide to the Birds of Colorado (personally signed by author Ted Floyd), a Rite-in-the-Rain Birder’s Journal, and an Iowa Young Birders Nalgene water bottle, we wasted no time and headed out to Gateway Natural Area near Ft. Collins for some foothills birding.  Soon after we exited the vans, we spotted a Lazuli Bunting singing in a tree near the parking lot.  We quickly set up the scopes for a closer look, and many of the young birders had their first life bird after only ten minutes of Colorado birding!  Soon after, a Lesser Goldfinch was found perched on a power line near the parking lot.  We continued walking down the trail and were not only greeted by gorgeous views of the foothills, but also found multiple Violet-Green Swallows, Western Tanagers, Spotted Towhees, and Bullock’s Orioles as well as a single Red-naped Sapsucker, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Rock Wren among the other birds.  What a great start to our weekend!  After dinner, many of us ventured out at dusk to Maxwell Natural Area on the edge of Ft. Collins to listen for Common Poorwills.  Unfortunately, the birds were not cooperative and we were unable to add this species to our trip list. 

    On Friday morning, we loaded the vans at 6:30 to begin our trip into the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park.  We traveled to the park on Highway 34 which follows the scenic Big Thompson River.  Along the way, we lucked into close-up views of Bighorn Sheep along the highway.  Despite being a bird trip, we were just as excited about the mammals!  Our plan was to travel up to the alpine tundra (approximately 12,000 feet elevation) for Brown-capped Rosy-Finch and White-tailed Ptarmigan.  Our first stop was Lava Cliffs for the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, and it wasn’t long before someone spotted one on the ground.  After quick views in the scope, and a few minutes enjoying the entertaining Yellow-bellied Marmots, we continued up the mountain.  Our next stop was Medicine Bow Curve, a regular location for White-tailed Ptarmigan.  Despite searching for several minutes, we were unable to locate a ptarmigan.  However, views of several White-throated Sparrows and American Pipits were a nice consolation.  We headed back down the mountain en route to Endovalley for lunch, with a quick stop at Rainbow Curve to add Clark’s Nutcracker to our list.  Upon arrival at Endovalley, we were treated to a fantastic lunch prepared by Linda Bendorf as well as great birds including several Broad-tailed Humminbirds, Stellar’s Jays, and Violet-Green Swallows as well as Hammond’s Flycatcher, Mountain Chickadee, and Western Wood-Pewee.  We then moved to the Alluvial Fan area near Endovally on a quest for American Dipper, which was successful.  On our return to Ft. Collins we stopped at the Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain NP.  Although it wasn’t extremely “birdy”, we got fantastic looks at a cooperative Williamson’s Sapsucker and multiple Pygmy Nuthatches.  Our last stop was Fawn Brook Inn in Allenspark, a location known to host several hummingbirds, and we were not disappointed.  We saw several Broad-tailed and Black-chinned Hummingbirds as well as a single male Rufous Hummingbird.  It was a long, but very successful day!

    We started early again Saturday morning with the Pawnee National Grasslands and a short list of target grassland species on our agenda.  We stopped at various locations with the Grasslands and were highly successful, adding Burrowing Owl (including fun views of owlets), Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs, Lark Bunting, Loggerhead Shrike, Mountain Plover (including a color-banded bird), and Ferruginous Hawk to our list.  An exciting part of the day was another fantastic lunch (prepared again by Linda B.) and close-up views of several Common Nighthawks at Crow Valley Campground.  On our return to Ft. Collins, we stopped at Fossil Creek Reservoir and were greeted by a cooperative juvenile Say’s Phoebe.  We also added several waterbirds to our list including several Western Grebes and a single Clark’s Grebe, a nice opportunity for young birders to see the differences between these similar species.  Another great day in the books!

    Our first stop on Sunday morning was Union Reservoir near Longmont with hopes of adding more waterbirds to our trip list.  A family group of Cinnamon Teal, several Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and singing a singing Common Yellowthroat and Savannah Sparrow were the highlights at this location.  We then headed for Old South St. Vrain Road, a well-known location for foothills birding.  Before arriving there, we made a quick detour to Heil Ranch along Red Gulch Road to see Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays.  Not long after starting our walk down Old South St. Vrain Road, we were joined by Ted Floyd, Editor of the American Birding Association’s (ABA) Birding magazine, author of our new field guides, and Colorado birding expert.  It was great fun to bird Ted at one of his favorite birding locations as well as see some of our target birds including Cordilleran Flycatcher and White-throated Swift.  We finished our day at Hall Ranch for the last fantastic lunch and a brief presentation by Ted.  We also thanked Iowa Young Birders Board Members Ross Silcock and Bill Scheible for their dedication to and support of Iowa Young Birders as the complete their terms on the Board.

    We have several people to thank for this amazing experience.  First and foremost, we thank Carl and Linda Bendorf, who put forth tireless effort to plan a memorable experience and feed us very well!  Our volunteer leaders and chauffeurs Ross Silcock, John Rutenbeck, Bill Scheible, and Linda Rudolph made this trip possible and we appreciate their leadership.  We are grateful to Ted Floyd for joining us on Sunday and for signing our new field guides.  Lastly, we are extremely grateful to the parents and grandparents for allowing their young birders to join us for this weekend of fun with friends and great birding.

    Click here to view photos from our trip.  You can also view our bird lists from our various stops below:

    Gateway Natural Area

    Rocky Mountain NP - Rainbow Curve

    Rocky Mountain NP - Lava Cliffs

    Rocky Mountain NP - Medicine Bow Curve

    Rocky Mountain NP - Endovalley

    Rocky Mountain NP - Alluvial Fan area

    Rocky Mountain NP - Wild Basin area

    Fawn Brook Inn - Allenspark

    Pawnee National Grasslands - Raptor Alley

    Pawnee National Grasslands - County Road 45

    Pawnee National Grasslands - Crow Valley Campground

    Pawnee National Grasslands - County Road 99/100

    Fossil Creek Reservoir

    Union Reservoir

    Heil Ranch - Red Gulch Road

    Old South St. Vrain Road

  • June 15, 2016 6:20 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    On June 11, 2016, 20 young birders, parents, and grandparents set out for a warm morning of birding around Lost Island Lake Huston Park and Trumbull Lake near Ruthven in northwest Iowa.  Watching the many colorful birds at the feeders near the Lost Island Lake Nature Center including Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Baltimore Orioles, and Blue Jays had everyone excited to head out into the park.

    We started the morning learning about birding with our ears from volunteer leader Lee Schoenewe.  Lee explained to us that learning bird songs can be a very effective way to find and identify birds, especially during spring and summer months when birds can be more difficult to see.  As we walked to a known location of a Baltimore Oriole nest, young birders got to hear the singing male oriole.  After viewing not one, but two oriole nests, we continued walking around the new campground at Huston Park.  We were treated with views of a stunning Yellow Warbler, a pair of Gray Catbirds, and even were able to see a pair of American Redstarts that may be breeding in the park again this year.

    After a quick break at the Nature Center, we started down the wooded trail towards the lake.  Several House Wrens were singing, and one young birder spotted a female Eastern Bluebird perched low in a tree that offered great looks for all.  Two species of flycatchers, an Eastern Wood-Pewee and Great Crested Flycatcher, made a brief appearance and young birders learned about the “sallying” behavior exhibited by this group of birds.  More birding by ear allowed us to find a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher and Yellow-throated Vireo.

    We finished the morning at Trumbull Lake, a premier shallow lake wetland in northwest Iowa about 3 miles from Huston Park.  Young birders quickly realized the bird community was quite different as a result of the different habitat, something we learned earlier in the morning.  Trumbull Lake is known for its uncommon wetland birds to Iowa, and young birders were treated with views of Ruddy Ducks, a Western Grebe, Eared Grebes, and a Red-necked Grebe.  We also had a Black Tern fly over, and heard a Least Bittern calling from the wetland. 

    Many thanks to Miriam Patton with Palo Alto County Conservation Board and volunteer leader Lee Schoenewe for a great morning of birding in northwest Iowa!  You can view our species list for Lost Island Lake Huston Park here and for Trumbull Lake here.  You can also view additional photos of our trip by clicking the photo above or here.

  • May 17, 2016 9:11 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)
    We had an absolutely fantastic morning for our bird handling event in Ames on May 14, 2016, and 14 young birders and parents were excited to learn about bird handling and banding and about the possibility of holding a bird!

    We started the morning learning about the techniques and importance of bird handling and banding from our host and volunteer leader Stephen Dinsmore.  Dr. Dinsmore shared with us the use of mistnets, a large net made of fine mesh used to capture songbirds (the method we were using to capture birds during our event).  He also taught us how to safely hold songbirds as well as take various measurements such as the length of their beak, their legs, and wing cord, demonstrating these techniques on a recently captured Common Grackle.  Lastly, the young birders discussed with Dr. Dinsmore reasons why we want to capture and band songbirds and what we can learn from the information, such as tracking migration and other movements, estimating bird survival, and many others.  Anxious to see if any birds were in the net, we headed towards the backyard.

    Dr. Dinsmore had two long mistnets set up around his bird feeders in his backyard.  We immediately noticed small songbirds moving about in the net and we quickly worked to extract the birds.  Dr. Dinsmore demonstrated to young birders how to quickly and safely remove the birds, removing the feet first, then the wings and the head.  In the nets were two Gray Catbirds, a pair of American Goldfinches, a young male Baltimore Oriole, and a stunning male Magnolia Warbler.  Young birders were able to assist with removing birds from the net and conducted measurements on the birds once back in the garage.  We were excited to hold the birds and view them up close, and safely released them once finished.  A few more checks of the nets yielded three more Common Grackles and a Blue Jay.  It was an exciting day for everyone!

    We’re extremely grateful to Stephen Dinsmore for hosting and for sharing his knowledge and experience with bird handling!  You can view more photos from our trip here.

  • May 11, 2016 8:58 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)
    At the peak of spring migration, 13 young birders, parents, and volunteers spent the morning searching the diverse habitats of Squaw Creek Park near Marion on May 7, 2016.  After a brief lesson on migration and a drawing for two lucky winners of a “Sibley Guide to Birds, Eastern Region” provided by the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union, we set off in search of new arrivals.

    We started off the morning viewing shorebirds on a wetland area near the Red Cedar Lodge.  We set up the spotting scope and were able to get great looks at five species of shorebirds including Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral, and Least Sandpipers.  In addition, we saw Blue-winged Teal and a family of Mallards.

    We then ventured down to a wooded area along a small stream.  We were immediately greeted by views of White-crowned and Harris’s Sparrows in a mixed migrant flock, and we continued to chase this flock of birds around for the remainder of our hike.  We also observed several other new arrivals including Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Eastern Towhee among many others.  The keen-eyed young birders were quick to pick out many of the birds as they quickly flitted among the trees.  It was a great morning to be in the woods, and we tallied 50 species on the morning!

    We’re grateful to volunteer Bill Scheible for his leadership and local expertise and to Walt Wagner-Hecht for keeping our trip list, which you can view here.  You can also view more photos from our trip here.

  • April 06, 2016 6:32 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    It was 31 degrees with a brisk 30-mph wind, but that didn’t stop 18 young birders, parents, grandparents, and volunteers from scanning the water and searching the woods at McIntosh Woods State Park near Clear Lake on April 2, 2016.  A cold but fun morning it was!

    We started off the morning braving the wind to scope diving ducks on Clear Lake.  Despite the strong winds, there were several birds moving about, and we quickly noticed a group of Lesser Scaup close to shore.  Among the Lesser Scaup were two Redheads and several Bufflehead and Ring-necked Ducks, offering the young birders great views of these common diving duck species.  A bit of searching with keen eyes also yielded four Double-crested Comorants and a single Common Loon on the far side of the lake.

    We then moved to a small pond located in the center of McIntosh Woods.  There was a small dock and viewing blind on the pond, and all the young birders ventured onto the dock to look at the many dabbling ducks on the pond.  Mallards, Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Blue-winged Teal, and Northern Shovelers were loafing and feeding on the pond at close range, their many colors stunning in the morning light.  Here, we learned about the habitat and life history differences between dabbling and diving ducks and even got to look at some of what the dabbling ducks were eating.

    Next, we focused our attention to the woods to search for migrant passerines.  It wasn’t long before we located some migrating Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets flitting about near the trail.  Walking a bit further, we saw an Eastern Phoebe foraging along a wooded edge, a first of the year for many adults and young birders alike.  As we exited the woods, we were able to see and hear some migrating Fox Sparrows and a Barred Owl, a favorite on the trip.  We finished the morning by scoping the lake once more, and were able to see several Common Loons at close range.  A great way to finish the morning!

    We are grateful to Todd Von Ehwegen and the Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board for co-sponsoring this trip and for providing Kaufman Field Guides for all young birder attendees.  Many thanks also to our volunteers Carolyn Fischer, Linda Rudolph, and Bill Scheible for their leadership.  You can view our bird list here and photos from our trip here.

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