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On Saturday, April 22, 2023, 19 young birders, parents, grandparents, and friends gathered at Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City to search for early spring migrants. The morning temperature of 35 degrees Fahrenheit and the occasional snow flurry made it challenging to think of spring, but the birds didn’t let the weather stop them and neither did we!
Our first spring migrant, an Eastern Phoebe, appeared before we even finished introductions. It perched low along the edge of the woods for a brief look before disappearing into the understory. We also enjoyed a pair of Eastern Bluebirds moving about among the trees and a brightly colored American Robin vocalizing in a tree right above our heads!
As we started down the first part of the trail, we stopped to appreciate the many singing birds we could hear including Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, and White-throated Sparrows. A keen-eyed participant then spotted a group of warblers high in the trees, and we were able to identify some exciting early spring migrants: two Orange-Crowned Warblers amongst a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers. Much to our delight, we were able to watch up to 12 Yellow-rumped Warblers foraging on the trail right in front of us. Unlike with many warbler species, we were able to get amazing looks at them through the scope as they picked at food among the gravel and leaves.
Hickory Hill Park is home to many breeding woodland birds, and we took a few minutes to examine the various nest holes we could see. We were amazed at how perfectly round many of the holes were and learned about the differences between primary cavity nesters (which build their own nest cavities) and secondary cavity nesters (which use holes and cavities they find, but don’t build themselves.) As we moved on from the nest cavities we were able to get fleeting glimpses of a crow-sized bird flying ahead of us along the trail; a Pileated Woodpecker, almost on cue for our discussion about nest cavities!
Shortly after, we saw a raptor soar through the trees. It was an adult Cooper’s Hawk, and we watched on while it paused for a moment in its nest before flying down and joining its mate in a nearby tree! The pair took a few moments to copulate and then sat side by side on the same limb, giving everyone an opportunity to see them close up in the scope before they relocated, providing even better looks!
As we began to head back to the parking area, we came across a flock of White-throated Sparrows that obligingly paused in the trees above us so we could admire their crisp patterns. We took this opportunity to practice our “pishing” and watched in delight as more and more sparrows emerged from the brush. Suddenly, a larger bird darted from bush to bush, pausing only briefly to reveal itself as a Hermit Thrush. As we wrapped up our trip we took some time to learn the “peter-peter-peter” and single note songs of the Tufted Titmouse. We were greeted in the parking area by the resident Eastern Bluebirds before taking a group photo and saying goodbye. Despite the not-so-spring-like conditions, we were able to see and hear many of the cornerstone species of Iowa forests and as always, enjoy the wonderful companionship of fellow birders.
We are grateful to volunteer leader Jim Kettlekamp for his keen eyes and local expertise on the trip. Thanks also to the young birders and their families who helped make this a fun morning! You can view photos from our morning here and our eBird checklist here.
On Friday, February 3, 2023, we returned to beautiful Northern Minnesota for a weekend of winter birding in the famous Sax-Zim Bog and other nearby areas. A total of 9 young birders, parents, and supporters joined us for what turned out to be a fantastic two days of learning, friendship, and great birds!
Our group at the Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center, February 4, 2023
We arrived in Duluth, Minnesota (our base camp) on Friday afternoon and, after a quick welcome and introductions, loaded our van to head north to Sax-Zim Bog. Our target - a Northern Hawk Owl that was being seen consistently along the eastern edge of the Bog. Approximately 45 minutes later, we were looking at a Northern Hawk Owl perched at the very top of a tree. Our spotting scopes provided great looks of this very cooperative bird. While admiring and photographing this bird, we learned that the Northern Hawk Owl is unique among other owls in the feather structure of their wings. Most owls, which hunt at night, have modified feathers on the front edge of their wings that alter the air flow over their wings and allow them to fly silently. The Northern Hawk Owl, however, does not have this modified feather structure because they hunt primarily during the day. After viewing the owl, we took a sunset drive through the Bog and found a Ruffed Grouse perched high in a tree eating buds at sunset. Two life birds for almost everyone in the van on the first day is not a bad start to our weekend!
Viewing the Northern Hawk Owl in Sax-Zim Bog, February 3, 2023
We had an ambitious agenda for Saturday with hopes of seeing many new species, so we arose early to head back to the Bog. We started our day shortly after sunrise at the feeders near Yellow-bellied Bog. Here, we were treated to fantastic views of several Evening Grosbeaks visiting the feeders, looking stunning in the morning sun. We also saw both Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, offering a nice opportunity to observe the size difference between these two visually-similar species. After watching for about 10 minutes, a small group of Pine Grosbeaks arrived, another target species for our day. Several American Goldfinches were also visiting the feeders, which are always a treat to see. Our next stop was the feeders along Arkola Road, where we added Canada Jay (our third target species of the day) and Black-capped Chickadee to our list along with Red Squirrel, a life mammal for most in the van.
Sunrise in Sax-Zim Bog at the Yellow-bellied Bog feeders, February 4, 2023
The Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center is usually a hub of bird activity, so we stopped there next. The highlights of this stop included a small group of Pine Siskins at the feeders behind the Welcome Center (a new species for our list) as well as a singing female Pine Grosbeak (female Pine Grosbeaks can and will sing occasionally, unlike many other songbirds). Also present at the feeders here were several Evening Grosbeaks, Canada Jays, American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees, and Red Squirrels. Next, we took a leisurely drive through the Bog, searching for owls and other birds while en route to Mary Lou’s feeders. Common Ravens were present throughout the Bog and kept us interested on our drives from one stop to the next. We arrived at Mary Lou’s feeders to find a large flock of Wild Turkeys, an unexpected bird for our day. The turkeys were very entertaining as they hopped up to grab some seed from the hanging feeders and scoured the ground for any spilled waste seed. We also had a quick glimpse of a Pileated Woodpecker at a suet feeder before it retreated to the nearby woods. We departed Mary Lou’s feeders for lunch, but stopped along the way for not one but two Northern Shrikes, one of which was very cooperative and allowed everyone great looks through our spotting scopes.
Young birder photographing one of two Northern Shrikes, February 4, 2023
After lunch, we traveled back to the Welcome Center for the opportunity to purchase some souvenirs and to search for a Boreal Chickadee that was being consistently seen along the Gray Jay Way trail. While in the Welcome Center, we were treated to a great impromptu program on raptor wings and talons from naturalists Sarah and Jake. We were super grateful for their time and for sharing their knowledge with us! We then commenced our hike along the snowy Gray Jay Way back to the feeders where the Boreal Chickadee was last seen. Upon arriving, we waited only five minutes for the bird to arrive high in the tree, later flying down to eye level for a great view. We finished our day in search of another life mammal for most, the elusive Porcupine. Thanks to some hot intel from other young birder supporters in the Bog, we finally located snoozing Porcupine high in a tree near the Arkola Road feeders.
Naturalist Sarah Wood with Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory teaches us about raptor wings and talons at the Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center, February 4, 2023
Having had such a great day in the Bog on Saturday, we decided to try our luck searching for Bohemian Waxwings and Spruce Grouse along the north shore of Lake Superior first thing Sunday morning. We ventured north towards the town of Two Harbors. Once there, we chased several large waxwing-looking flocks with no luck on Bohemian Waxwings. We did, however, find an extremely cooperative Pileated Woodpecker. We then drove north to Superior National Forest hoping for a Spruce Grouse. Although we didn’t have luck with a grouse, we did enjoy some fabulous scenery in the snowy forest and stumbled into a small flock of Common Redpolls on the drive back to Two Harbors. Once back in Duluth, we decided to try for a Snowy Owl that was being seen consistently at the Duluth airport. We had great looks of the owl (an apparent young female) and a bonus Northern Shrike. What a great way to end a great weekend!
Young birders excited about Common Redpolls! February 5, 2023
Many thanks to the young birders, parents, and supporters who joined us on this weekend adventure, especially young birder supporters Francis Moore and Tom Schilke who were great mentors to our young birders throughout the weekend. Thanks also to Associate Director Jayden Bowen for his leadership and coordination throughout the weekend. And lastly, thanks to Sarah Wood and Jake Behrens with Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory for staying late at the Welcome Center to teach us about raptor wings!
Click here to view more photos from our trip.
Thanks to an Education Grant from Iowa's Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) fund, Iowa Young Birders is seeking applications for an Education Program Intern based in Ames, Iowa. This position will coordinate the organization’s at-home summer birding program, which will include distributing materials and prizes to program participants, developing educational materials for the program, and outreach about the program with potential participants. The position will also be an integral part of the IAYB staff, assisting with planning and leading field trips and other special events, contributing to our social media calendar, and developing other educational materials as needed.
Preferred qualifications for this internship include:
Work towards a Bachelor’s degree in outdoor education, recreation, natural resources interpretation, or other related field.
Excellent communication (both written and verbal) and organizational skills.
Ability to manage multiple tasks.
Experience with Microsoft Office programs (e.g., Excel, Word) and Google Suite (e.g., Docs, Forms).
Knowledge of and experience with various social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)
Passion for and ability to work with youth (ages 5-18).
Passion for the outdoors.
Knowledge of and ability to identify Iowa birds are preferred but not required.
A valid driver’s license and ability to to pass a State of Iowa background check are required for this position. This position will be remote but the preferred location is Ames, Iowa to facilitate coordination of the at-home summer birding program.
This position will be 20 hours per week starting as early as May 15, 2023 and finishing August 31, 2023. The hourly rate is $15.00 / hour. There is a possibility of extending this position into the academic year with a smaller hourly commitment (5-10 hours per week) depending on performance and available funding.
To apply, please submit a resume, cover letter outlining your experience and skills relevant to this position, and contact information for three references by email to Tyler Harms (tyler AT iowayoungbirders.org). The deadline to apply is February 28, 2023.
Anticipated Skill Development
Nature education and outreach, field trip leadership
Youth education and outreach
Scientific communication with a lay audience in person, by virtual presentation, and via social media
Nonprofit leadership and administration
Education programming development, coordination, and logistics
Data collection and outcome analysis
Team based planning and cooperation
Presentation skills (optional)
Twenty-seven young birders, parents, grandparents, and friends joined us at Kent Park on June 4, 2022 for a morning searching for lingering migrants and summer residents among the diverse habitats at this premier birding location. Though the skies suggested earlier rain would continue, they held back long enough to allow for a pleasant hike and a flurry of bird activity.
Our morning started only a few steps from the parking lot, where we paused to view a Mourning Dove perched atop the Conservation Education Center and a male Indigo Bunting perched and singing in a nearby tree. Also singing in our midst was a male Common Yellowthroat, though his skulky behavior typical of this species prevented us from getting a good look. We continued down the trail but were quickly distracted by a dark bird flying low across the trail. Some brief searching in the underbrush produced a Gray Catbird, confirmed by its characteristic “mew” calls.
Further along the trail, we emerged from the woods into an opening near the pond. Here, we were treated to great views of a trio of Red-headed Woodpeckers chasing each other around a tall snag likely hosting a nest in one of the many cavities. We also saw a trio (two males and one female) of Baltimore Orioles foraging in a tall cottonwood tree. We searched the nearby pond for some loafing waterfowl or a sneaky Green Heron came up empty-handed. And we can’t forget the Question Mark butterfly captured by volunteer leader Jayden Bowen, offering an up-close inspection of the wing markings for which this pretty critter gets its name.
From the pond, we hiked up to a prairie area with hopes of seeing some grassland birds. We were quickly rewarded with a singing male Eastern Meadowlark and Dickcissel, both species that rely exclusively on prairies during the nesting season. Also singing from a nearby shrubby edge was a Field Sparrow, its song a series of short whistles resembling a bouncing metal ball. From within the nearby woods we heard a Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing but it, too, eluded the spotting scope. A short time later, young birder Zita spotted an Orchard Oriole perched in a small tree along a field edge.
Our search for grassland birds continued along the property boundary where prairie and lightly-grazed pasture met to produce a nice mix of grassland structure. It was along this boundary that we found a pair of male Bobolinks. They put on quite a show for us, perching in a tree long enough to allow everyone great looks through the spotting scope and later showing off their skills as aerial vocalists. We also heard a Grasshopper Sparrow singing in the pasture and saw an Eastern Kingbird overhead assessing the threat of our presence. What a great list of birds utilizing this unique area of the park!
We finished our hike looping back to the parking lot, observing more of the same birds as well as more butterflies and dragonflies along the way. We’re extremely grateful to volunteer leader Jayden Bowen for his enthusiasm and for planning a fun morning for us! Thanks also to Kristen Morrow with Johnson County Conservation for helping us spread the word about this trip and allowing us some time in the Conservation Education Center after our hike (we highly recommend a visit). And, as always, thanks to the young birders and their families for attending! You can view photos from our morning here as well as a list of birds we saw here.
Excited to welcome some spring migrants, 16 young birders, parents, and friends gathered at Hartman Reserve in Cedar Falls on April 30, 2022. After planning to spend the morning indoors due to forecasted thunderstorms, we were surprised to find fairly pleasant conditions at Hartman when we arrived, thus allowing us to spend the entire morning outdoors!
Our luck continued throughout the morning with some great birds. We hiked from the Nature Center down to the bottomlands near the Cedar River in search of migratory songbirds and waterbirds. Descending towards the river, we stopped briefly to listen to a singing White-breasted Nuthatch that eventually flew into the tree directly above us for a great look. While listening to the nuthatch, an Eastern Phoebe lit on a cable along the trail for a brief look before flying back into the woods. We continued down the trail, admiring the many spring ephemerals in bloom such as Anemone, Dutchman’s Breeches, and Bloodroot, and stopped at the bottom to observe three male Mallards loafing on a nearby pond.
It became obvious very quickly that the bottomlands was where the birds wanted to be. A bit further down the trail we briefly heard and saw an Ovenbird low in the bushes along with a couple Ruby-crowned Kinglets bouncing in the canopy. A bit later in the morning, a few young birders were lucky to see a Ruby-crowned Kinglet on the ground not more than 10 feet in front of them! Other birds along this section of the trail included a flyover Broad-winged Hawk, White-throated Sparrows, a singing House Wren, and singing Northern Cardinals.
Continuing down the trail, we stopped briefly at a woodland pond to watch a very cooperative Green Heron stroll along the water’s edge. A handful of Wood Ducks erupted from the water as we walked closer, and a Louisiana Waterthrush was singing from somewhere near the water (unfortunately, we never did see it). A non-bird highlight from near the pond and throughout the hike were the many land snails out and about, capitalizing on the moist ground. Before moving on from the pond, we noticed a Gray Catbird darting low in the forest understory and heard a distant Pileated Woodpecker calling.
We continued through the bottomlands, adding species such as Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadee, and Brown-headed Cowbird to our list. We paused for a few minutes near a stream, where many of the young birders saw two White-tailed Deer farther up the trail. We took a group photo near a small branch fort and met a Bernese Mountain Dog named Murphy.
The remainder of our 1.5-mile hike went rather quickly due to sporadic rain showers, but not before stopping at a pond to see a pair of Canada Geese and adding Northern Flicker, Eastern Bluebird, Swainson’s Thrush, and Yellow-rumped Warbler to our species list. A huge thanks to Katie Klus, Naturalist at Hartman Reserve Nature Center, for leading us on a super fun hike! And thanks to all the young birders, parents, and friends who joined us! You can view some photos from our morning here and our species list here.
On April 9, 2022, 20 young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered at Sweet Marsh Wildlife Management Area to assist with the annual Sandhill Crane count organized by Bremer County Conservation Board. Our very knowledgeable local guide for the morning was Heather Gamm, Naturalist for Bremer County Conservation Board. Before heading out to the marsh, Heather first shared with us some information about the area and about Sandhill Cranes, whose populations have been increasing in and around Sweet Marsh for the past several years according to their count data. We were excited to contribute to this important effort!
Arriving at the marsh, we were greeted with a cacophony of bird sounds. After only a few minutes, we already heard Sandhill Cranes calling from a distance and had a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese fly over. While looking at Northern Shovelers, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, and American Coots at our first stop, 5 Trumpeter Swans stole the show by flying directly in front of us. Some even saw a single Ruddy Duck at this stop and a handful of Green-winged Teal, which ended up being our most numerous duck species of the morning.
Despite the fantastic waterfowl show, we were anxious to find those calling Sandhill Cranes. As we hiked farther into the marsh, it didn’t take long to find them. It’s amazing how well such a large bird can conceal itself in marsh vegetation! What started as 5 heads peeking above the cattails grew to approximately 12. After a short time, the birds decided to venture into the open allowing us some great views through the spotting scope. From this location, we also saw some Canada Geese, Blue-winged Teal, and American Coots as well as Red-winged Blackbirds perched on cattails throughout the marsh.
We continued into the marsh, stopping at locally-known Martin Lake to watch a large flock of American White Pelicans loafing at a distance. We talked briefly about the nuptial tubercle, an ornamental bump atop the pelican’s beak which is used for display during the breeding season. Also on Martin Lake were Lesser Scaup and more Trumpeter Swans as well as a Horned Grebe, a new species for many on the trip.
The remainder of our hike through the marsh yielded a single Great Egret, several migratory Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Wilson’s Snipe, and a pair of Northern Pintail. We finished the morning with a total of 30 Sandhill Cranes along with 25 additional species which included 13 species of waterfowl. Spring is obviously a great time to visit your local marsh!
Many thanks to Heather Gamm with Bremer County Conservation Board for leading us on an extremely fun hike and for sharing the local Sandhill Cranes with us! And as always, thanks to those who attended! You can view photos of our morning adventure here and a species list here.
On a cool and breezy spring morning, twelve young birders, parents, and friends gathered at Swan Lake State Park near Carroll to look for migrating waterfowl. Many were already commenting about the many ducks seen on the lake within the park. We also had a visit planned from Savanna and a raptor companion from Saving Our Avian Resources (SOAR). Needless to say, we were excited for the morning!
We quickly noticed that American Robins were obviously migrating that morning. They were everywhere! We stopped to observe a few perched in a nearby tree along with a Red-bellied Woodpecker. As we walked down the road towards the lake, we stopped to look at an American Kestrel through the spotting scope, who found an Osprey nest platform to be a convenient location to survey the surrounding area for small-mammal snack. Farther down the road, we saw a White-breasted Nuthatch perched on a fencepost while listening to a Mourning Dove singing from a nearby tree. And, of course, more American Robins running around.
We finally arrived at the lake and quickly noticed a Common Loon gracefully floating on the surface. We were able to locate it in the spotting scope for a quality look before it started diving. This bird was likely en route to breeding lakes farther north but, lucky for us, stopped to take a break at Swan Lake. Also present on the lake were Canada Geese, Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal, and Lesser Scaup. A pair of Common Mergansers also flew by while we watched the waterfowl and a mysterious songbird (later identified as a Fox Sparrow) was singing from the nearby shrubs.
Once finished at the lake, we ventured to the Bald Eagle enclosure to meet Savanna with SOAR. Savanna was accompanied by Ginger, a gorgeous female Red-tailed Hawk who helps educate about raptor rehabilitation and conservation. Savanna shared with us Ginger’s story and also talked with us about the important work that SOAR does to help advance raptor conservation. We learned a ton from Savanna and Ginger was a favorite of all attendees.
Once the presentation was finished, we paused briefly to look for another singing Fox Sparrow before completing our morning with one more stop at the lake. A trio of Red-breasted Mergansers swimming by was a new species for many and both a pair of Bufflehead and a single Great Blue Heron flew by. It was a great finish to an exciting morning!
We are extremely grateful to Savanna Judson and Ginger with SOAR for sharing their time and knowledge with us, and for the great work they do to conserve our raptors! Thanks also to Ms. Tina Newman for helping organize this fun field trip and to the young birders and friends for attending. You can view photos from our morning here as well as a species list here.
To learn more about SOAR, click here.
On Saturday, March 26, 2022, 23 young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered at Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center near Sioux City to kick off the spring migration season. At 28℉, it didn’t quite feel like spring! But the sun was shining beautifully through the forest and we were excited for our first field trip of 2022.
We were joined by Kari Sandage with Woodbury County Conservation who introduced us to the area. Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center is nestled in the heart of the Loess Hills landform region, a landform consisting of wind-blown soil deposits for which only one other example exists in the world (the Loess Plateau in China). After some fun facts from Kari, she led us first down to the bird feeders where we enjoyed views of some very cooperative Black-capped Chickadees and Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers. Later down the trail, we heard a White-breasted Nuthatch laughing at us from a nearby tree and stopped to admire a large cavity in a tree, a possible home for Pileated Woodpeckers which have been seen in the area.
We turned the corner on the trail to head up to an observation platform where we enjoyed gorgeous views overlooking the area. We heard a Wild Turkey gobble in the distance and saw a distant Red-tailed Hawk soaring overhead. After leaving the platform and heading back down the trail, we caught a quick glimpse of a pair of Cooper’s Hawks in a flighted courtship overhead. We continued our hike up to a hilltop prairie, but not before stopping to look for a calling Brown Creeper in the woods (unfortunately, its camouflage worked well) and watch a Barred Owl flushed from the treetops. Once at the hilltop prairie, Kari showed us Yucca, a native Iowa plant that is unique to the Loess Hills area of Iowa. It’s always fun to see other unique critters and plants!
We ventured back towards the Nature Center to finish our hike, enjoying the many American Robins along the way and stopping to see a Barred Owl and Red-tailed Hawk in the live raptor display. Our morning was not complete, however, without some time exploring the amazing Nature Center!
We are extremely grateful to Kari Sandage for leading us on a fun hike and to volunteer Jemmie Dyk for her leadership on the trip. And as always, thanks to the young birders and their families for joining us! You can view some photos from our trip here and our species list here.
During the summer of 2021, Iowa Young Birders hosted the second Summer of Birds summer birding program thanks to funding from the Warren B. and Juanita E. Reynolds Fund and Iowa Audubon, Wild Birds Unlimited in Ames, and our many members and supporters. Click the link below to read about the huge success of this program for the second year running!
Summer Birding Program report_2022.pdf
On October 9, 2021, a lively group of young birders met at Great Western Park in Manning, Iowa to search for fall-migrating waterfowl and other birds. After brief introductions, sharing of our favorite birds (always one of the most fun aspects of the morning), and discussion of what we might see that morning, we started off down the trail with binoculars in hand. The crisp fall air was full of excitement and anticipation.
It wasn’t long before we encountered our first birds of the morning, flying circles above us and landing near the top of a nearby tree. American Goldfinches! We took a few minutes to learn about molt in American Goldfinches, as well as other birds, and learned a couple identification tricks for our state bird in flight: an undulating flight pattern and a flight call that sounds like “potato chip”. A bit further down the trail, a small group of American Robins flew over, a few of the more than 60 American Robins we would see throughout the morning.
While walking down the trail, we noticed a collection of nest boxes on fence posts. We took a few moments to learn about these boxes, built for Eastern Bluebirds and used by other species such as Tree Swallows, and admired the careful architecture of a nest in one of the boxes. Suddenly, young birder Noah spotted a Peregrine Falcon flying low and directly overhead, offering everyone great views of its long, pointed wings and falcon-like body shape. While definitely not on our list of expected birds, we were pleasantly surprised to see our fastest bird in North America!
We continued to add to our list of fall migrants along the far side of the pond. A Yellow-rumped Warbler, one of the last warbler species to migrate through Iowa, perched in a tree over the trail voicing its characteristic “chupp” all along, and we were able to patiently entice a duo of Marsh Wrens from the cattails and into view. A small flock of six Blue-winged Teal burst into flight from a shallow part of the wetland and a group of 13 Canada Geese decide to spend some time loafing on the pond. As we started back towards the parking lot, we paused several times for Northern Flickers, Blue Jays, and American Robins that were bopping among the treetops, and a Bald Eagle and Turkey Vulture soaring in tandem was a nice end to a great morning of fall birding in Iowa.
Many thanks to all those who attend and to Ms. Tina Newman for helping organize this trip. You can view our complete species list here and some photos from our morning here.
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