It was a cool and misty morning on June 13, 2015 as 11 young birders, parents, grandparents, and volunteers gathered at Yellow River Forest in Allamakee County for our Advanced Breeding Bird Workshop. Families drove up to 300 miles round trip for this exciting day. Dr. Paul Skrade, avian ecologist and our local guide, was tasked with showing our group a Cerulean Warbler, and he did not disappoint. In the words of one of our regular young birder attendees (who has attended 33 of our 41 trips), this was one of Iowa Young Birders' best trips!
Enjoy a photo slideshow from our trip. Click on the lower right "View original image" to see a larger version of the photo and caption.
We started the day with Dr. Skrade introducing us to the Cerulean Warbler, sharing with us information about its biology and habitat requirements. The Cerulean Warbler is a species of conservation concern in Iowa and he is currently working with other researchers to estimate breeding population numbers and habitat associations of this species in northeast Iowa. Attendees asked great questions of our local expert, and as if it was a signal to start birding, a Pileated Woodpecker called from a nearby stand of pines.
We started by hiking a wooded trail from the forest headquarters. The habitat was great, and we immediately heard singing Acadian Flycatchers and, after a bit of hiking, a singing Cerulean Warbler. Despite our efforts in searching and waiting for a good look of this little blue-and-white beauty, this Cerulean would not oblige. However, a few Eastern Towhees and a Wood Thrush provided good looks to many attendees, and a young Barred Owl posed on a snag near the trail to allow us to examine characteristics that suggested this bird was a young of the year. As we returned to the parking lot, we searched for (but never saw) a singing Scarlet Tanager.
Excitement abounding from hearing a Cerulean Warbler, we next headed up to the Cedar Ridge Overlook in hopes of getting a good view of a Cerulean Warbler. Almost immediately, a male Cerulean that was singing in the area appeared. This bird was pretty cooperative, and after about 20 minutes of waiting all attendees got great views of the bird. Often times, Cerulean Warblers stay high in the treetops. However, this particular spot had trees growing up from below the overlook and brought the Cerulean down to our level for some great views. Ovenbirds were also singing in the area, and the view from the overlook topped off this amazing experience.
After taking a break to eat our lunches, we started down a trail just down the road from the forest headquarters. We immediately paused to listen to a Cerulean singing from high in a cottonwood tree. Suddenly, Dr. Skrade was scanning the canopy when he observed a warbler-sized bird dive into a small nest. Everyone studied the nest trying to determine the proud owner. Was it a Cerulean Warbler? Maybe an American Redstart? Tyler returned to the vehicles to retrieve the scope, and after a few minutes of waiting all young birders were rewarded with a scope view of a male Cerulean Warbler returning with a caterpillar to feed the nest inhabitants. We found a Cerulean Warbler nest! Even the local researchers had yet to find a Cerulean nest, so needless to say we were all very excited.
An exciting atmosphere with great friends and great birds made this trip a memorable experience for all attendees. Many thanks to Dr. Paul Skrade for teaching us about and getting us great looks at Cerulean Warblers and to volunteer leader Bill Scheible for his knowledge and enthusiasm. Also thanks to Walt Wagner-Hecht for compiling our trip list which can be seen here: http://ebird.org/ebird/ybn/view/checklist?subID=S23903431