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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.
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.
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 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!
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
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.
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!
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!
We've had an exciting fall at Iowa Young Birders. Read about our recent happenings here.
Some interesting thoughts about sparrows and bird feeding from one of our young birder members, Coralee Bodeker. Enjoy her essay and illustrations below.
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.
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