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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. 

  • March 05, 2016 2:04 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)
    On a gorgeous spring-like day, 12 young birders and nature explorers from Iowa Young Birders and the Junior Explorer’s League of Burlington joined together for a morning learning about hawk identification and watching Bald Eagles on the Mississippi River.  We had a very fun morning!  Burlington Eagle Watching 2/27/2016

    We started the morning with a brief program about how to identify Iowa’s hawks and eagles.  Young birders and nature explorers learned that in addition to the color of the feathers, size and shape are very important characteristics for identifying hawks and eagles.  Thanks to hawk and eagle display boards from our friends with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Diversity Program, young birders and nature explorers could observe the life size and shape of Iowa’s hawks and eagles, seeing first-hand just how large a Bald Eagle is!

    Anxious to get outside to enjoy the beautiful weather, we headed out along the Mississippi River to look for Bald Eagles and other birds.  We were quickly treated by an adult Bald Eagle soaring overhead and all young birders and nature explorers enjoyed great looks.  We took the opportunity to learn about the conservation success story involving the magnificent bird.  Bald Eagles continued to fly overhead for the entire morning, a pleasing sight over the big river.  We also observed several Ring-billed Gulls foraging over the river and learned how to identify the gulls as well as a bit about their life history.  But most importantly, we were enjoying the outdoors on a spring-like day in February!

    We’re grateful to Jessica Johnson and the Junior Explorer’s League of Burlington for allowing us to join them.  Many thanks also to the Port of Burlington Welcome Center for allowing us to use their facilities.  You can view our trip list here:  http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27851886
  • February 10, 2016 8:58 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    Another great issue of "A Prairie Girl's Notebook", written and illustrated by one of our youth members, Coralee Bodeker.  Thanks Coralee for letting us share this on our website!

    Treasuring the Bald Eagle.pdf

  • January 22, 2016 10:24 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)
    With the high temperature reaching a chilly 3 degrees Fahrenheit, 14 young birders along with their parents and grandparents were excited to spend the morning indoors learning how to sketch birds as part of our first ever Sketching Workshop on January 16, 2016 in Iowa City!  What’s even better?  We were able to enjoy displays of birds from all over the world at the University Of Iowa Museum Of Natural History!

    We started the morning exploring the fascinating displays at the Museum, including the one-of-a-kind cyclorama of Laysan Island.  Laysan is a small island in a chain of islands north and west of the main Hawaiian Islands and is home to several neat birds, including the well-known Laysan Albatross.  Excitement was high after seeing specimens of favorite birds from all over the world!  Next, we gathered by a display of songbirds to learn about describing birds based on anatomy, such as a “rusty cap” or “spotted breast”.  We also talked about differences in size and shape of many birds.  After all, sketching is not only fun, but is also a very useful field tool for documenting birds and identifying them later.

    We were very lucky to have guest artist and educator Kate Kostenbader join us to share some of her tips on sketching birds.  Kate first talked about observing bird behavior and posture, such as what the bird is doing and how it is perched.  For example, an American Crow perches on a branch much differently than a Downy Woodpecker perches on the side of the tree, and that will impact how you begin sketching the bird.  Kate also shared that a good starting point for sketching birds is to draw an oval as the body, since most bird bodies are oval in shape.  Then, you can start to add other parts such as the head, feet, and tail.  After learning a few more tricks from Kate, young birders gathered their sketching kits provided by Iowa Young Birders and headed out to sketch some birds in the museum.

    This was the fun part!  The young birders spread out in the entire bird hall and started sketching.  Great-horned Owl, Black-billed Magpie, Horned Puffin, Whooping Crane, Baltimore Oriole, Wood Duck, birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors coming to life on paper.  Once young birders were finished sketching their birds of choice, we gathered together again and young birders shared with the group the different birds they sketched.  Such artistic abilities displayed by all the young birders!  We finished the morning by giving away copies of the “Sibley Guide to Birds, Eastern Region” to two lucky young birders, courtesy of a grant from the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union. 

    We are very grateful to Kate Kostenbader for her instruction, leadership, and enthusiasm.  We are also grateful to the University of Iowa Pentacrest Museums, who co-sponsored this workshop.  And as always, many thanks to the young birders for their keen interest in birds and to the parents for allowing the young birders to join us!
  • December 23, 2015 3:12 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    On one of the coldest mornings so far this winter, 13 young birders, parents, and volunteers gathered for our final field trip of 2015.  Young birders had the opportunity to assist with the Red Rock Christmas Bird Count (CBC).  The CBC is an annual event during which volunteers count all the birds they observe in a 15-mile-diameter circle in a particular area.  CBC’s are conducted across the world each year by nearly 100,000 volunteers, and the information collected contributes to the knowledge of bird populations.  After a brief explanation of the CBC program, the young birders were anxious to do some birding and contribute to bird conservation!

    Red Rock

    Group photo overlooking Lake Red Rock.  Not pictured is Walt Wagner-Hecht.

    Young birders were grouped with volunteer leaders and each group covered a different area of the count circle.  As the air warmed, the birds became more active making the birding a bit more exciting.  Young birders found many exciting birds including Rough-legged Hawk, Eastern Screech-Owl, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Harris's Sparrow, and some young birders even saw life birds such as Red-shouldered Hawk.  What an exciting morning!

    At noon, we met at the Red Rock Visitor’s Center to have lunch and compile our species list.  After sharing some stories from the morning, we tallied a list of 66 species, which is about an average number of species for the Red Rock CBC.  We finished the morning by snapping a group photo overlooking the lake.  We were so excited to count birds that this was the only photo we took all morning!

    Many thanks to Denny Thompson, Kevin Murphy, Steve Dinsmore, and Bill Scheible for helping with this fun and valuable experience for the young birders.  We are also grateful to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Lake Red Rock for opening the Visitor’s Center so we could gather for lunch and a mid-day compilation.
  • December 11, 2015 5:51 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    We've had an exciting fall at Iowa Young Birders.  Read about our recent happenings here.

  • November 11, 2015 9:51 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    Some interesting thoughts about sparrows and bird feeding from one of our young birder members, Coralee Bodeker.  Enjoy her essay and illustrations below.

    Prairie Harvest.pdf

  • November 05, 2015 11:45 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)
    It was a cool and dreary morning, but that wasn’t going to stop six young birders and their parents and grandparents from birding Lake Manawa State Park near Council Bluffs as part of our joint field trip with the Omaha Youth Birding Group.  The birding started off a bit slow but quickly picked up throughout the morning.

    After meeting briefly at 8:45 AM to organize, we headed straight for the 772-acre lake that gives Lake Manawa State Park its name.  There was a Red-throated Loon spotted at the lake the previous week and we were all anxious to see if the bird was still around (unfortunately, it wasn't).  We first scoped the water from a vantage point on the southernmost tip of the lake and were unable to find much of any waterbirds.  We did, however, have a handful of Ring-billed Gulls fly over.  We knew there was a large raft (a tightly-packed group of ducks or gulls resembling a “raft” on the water) of ducks further up on the lake, so we decided to re-locate for a better look.  But, before doing so, we had the unique opportunity to view and learn about American Kestrels up close thanks to Tad Leeper and Linda Dennis from Fontenelle Forest Nature Center and their captive American Kestrels.  Both birds are injured and, as a result, are not suited to living in the wild, so they are used for educational purposes.  What a neat experience to see these birds up close!

    Once re-located, we exited our cars in the parking lot and walked toward the lake.  A small raptor flew into view and landed in a tree approximately 75 yards from where we were standing.   Our immediate reaction was perhaps a Cooper’s or a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Upon closer inspection, we realized it was a Merlin!  We quickly set three spotting scopes on the bird and all young birders and their parents and grandparents received great looks of this cooperative bird, which just happened to be dining on a small, unidentified songbird.  Even some of the more experienced trip leaders were enjoying the unique close-up of this neat little falcon.  This was likely the best bird of the day, and a life bird for many of the young birders.  From this point, we also observed Double-crested Cormorants roosting in a distant tree and were able to determine that most of the ducks in the large raft were Gadwall.

    Next, we relocated to “Boy Scout Island”, a small peninsula on the northern tip of the lake in attempts of again getting a better look at the large group of ducks.  Distant looks created a challenge once again, but we received nice looks through the spotting scope at a small group of Ruddy Ducks near the observation platform.  Some of the trip leaders explained the identifying characteristics of a Ruddy Duck, including their small body size overall and their stiff tails pointing upward.

    Our plan was to finish the day viewing the water from the beach near the campground, but we were intercepted by local birder Clem Klaphake who escorted us to a phenomenal spot for sparrows.  Harris’s Sparrows were erupting from the brush in incredible numbers, and many of the young birders were able to get quality views of this species.  We heard several White-throated Sparrows singing from the brush, and even an uncommon Spotted Towhee emerged for a quick glimpse before going into hiding.  One of the young birders, Sam Manning, found a couple of Pine Siskins with a group of American Goldfinches.  What an excellent end to a fun trip.

    Many thanks to Bob Wells and our friends with the Omaha Youth Birding Group for showing us a great time in western Iowa.  And as always, thanks to the parents and grandparents for chauffeuring the young birders to Lake Manawa for a Saturday morning of birding with friends. 
  • October 14, 2015 11:14 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    On October 10, 2015, 16 young birders and parents enjoyed a crisp fall morning at Harrier Marsh near Ogden, Iowa.  In the midst of fall sparrow migration, our targets were two of the smallest sparrows inhabiting wet grasslands; the Le Conte’s Sparrow and the Nelson’s Sparrow.  The wind was starting to pick up, which would make our search more difficult, but excitement filled the air as the young birders anticipated a couple new birds for the life list.

    As we arrived at the Marsh, we immediately located three Pied-billed Grebes diving on a nearby wetland.  We stopped for a quick look before beginning our sparrow hunt.  We started down the gravel road that splits the marsh in half and were not seeing much for action, so we decided to venture off road and into the prairie.  After about five minutes of walking through the prairie, we flushed a small, light-colored sparrow that immediately dove back into the grasses.  Someone called out that they thought it was one of our target species.  So, we recruited the help of the parents to help track down the illusive bird and flush it towards the young birders.  After several attempts, we still were not able to get good looks at the bird but knew at this point it was a Le Conte’s Sparrow.  On the last attempt, parents and young birders slowly crept to the location where the bird was last seen.  As we closed in, hoping the bird would pop up, a friendly hunting dog surprised us and came to the assistance.  The dog ran to the sparrow spot and flushed the bird.  The dapper little orange-faced bird sat in the open for what seemed like an eternity, offering great looks for all the young birders.  One of our young birders, Noelle Wagner, was even able to get a stunning photo of the bird (shown in the slideshow).  After this experience, we decided it was necessary to recruit an official Iowa Young Birders dog!

    We continued on our sparrow hunt into the marsh.  If there’s one thing we were all reminded of on this trip, it was that looking for fall sparrows is challenging!  However, persistence often pays off as in the case of the Le Conte’ Sparrow.  Near the edge of one of the wetland basins, a young birder spotted a small bird perched on a blade of grass swaying in the wind.  He immediately thought it was a wren, and after some observation and discussion of the characteristics, decided it was a Marsh Wren.  This was an exciting find for many of the young birders.

    We finished our morning walking the property boundary along a grassland and cropland edge.  This proved to be an excellent spot for sparrows, and we continued to flush several Song and Swamp Sparrows as well as an occasional Savannah Sparrow.  We also observed an American Kestrel hunting the adjacent crop field as well as a couple of Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures riding high on the wind.

    After our morning of birding, we met for lunch and discussion of future field trips at the Ogden Public Library.  Young birders were provided the opportunity not only to suggest ideas for future field trips, but also to aid in planning the trips they suggested by selecting a time of year and location.  The young birders broke out in groups and were given two tasks.  The first task was to think of 2-3 themes for future field trips, such as a hawk watch or an owl prowl.  The second task was to dream big!  In other words, if Iowa Young Birders was to take another long trip, where would you want to go?  How fun it was to hear both the creative and important ideas from the young birders!  Not only were they suggesting trips to target certain birds, but they were also suggesting trips to improve their identification skills (e.g., ID workshops) and to increase bird conservation and education (e.g., conservation work days).  And the “dream big” ideas were very fun!  Florida Everglades for Pink Flamingos, Sax Zim Bog for winter owls, and Arizona for hummingbirds and other southwest specialties.  However will we choose?

    A big thanks to the parents for chauffeuring the young birders to this event and to the young birders for their great ideas regarding field trips.  The Ogden Public Library was gracious to let us stick around after hours.  And lastly, thanks to Noelle Wagner for sharing her photo of the Le Conte’s Sparrow for our slideshow and to Walt Wagner-Hecht for keeping our trip list and notes during our afternoon discussion.

  • October 14, 2015 1:00 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    Iowa Young Birders was recently featured in an article in the Omaha World-Herald about getting kids interested in birding and bird conservation.  You can read the article here.

  • October 09, 2015 8:36 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    A great essay and drawings by one of our young birder members, Coralee Bodeker, about her experience at her grandparent's cabin.  Thanks for sharing Coralee! 

    On Their Own.pdf

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