On August 29, 2015, two young birders and their parents joined us for a morning of birding in a southeast Iowa migrant hotspot, Shimek State Forest. Shimek State Forest is named after Iowa botanist and conservationist Bohumil Shimek and is one of Iowa's largest state forests. After a brief history lesson, we noticed a relatively large, sparrow-like bird on the power line. We quickly reached for binoculars and noticed a distinct facial pattern - a Lark Sparrow! This was life bird for one of the young birders. Excitement abounding, we started down a logging road in the Donnellson Unit known as a good spot for migrant songbirds.
Despite the rather warm and balmy temperatures, we were quickly greeted with bird activity. The chickadees were announcing their presence, and with them was a small flock of migrant warblers. Young birders were able to get great looks at a Canada Warbler foraging low in the trees, a unique experience. Shortly after, we heard a sharp "chip" from the other side of the trail. The bird was low in the underbrush and no quicker than we could all wonder what it was, a vibrant yellow bird appeared close. "Kentucky Warber!", exclaimed Carl and Tyler, only to be corrected by the keen eyes and sharp skills of the young birders. The bird was actually a Hooded Warbler, the young birders quickly spotting the black "hood". This was a great experience not only because this was a life bird for both young birders, but because the young birders corrected the "old guys"! We continued down the road but bird activity quickly slowed. However, we were able to add Black-and-white Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and American Redstart to our list as well as a Scarlet Tanager.
After about an hour of birding at Shimek State Forest, we were joined by Paul Skrade, a regular volunteer trip leader. Paul asked about the regular Bewick's Wren at the nearby Argyle junkyard, so we all decided to head over and attempt to locate the bird. Standing on the side of the road, we looked and listened carefully for the bird but could not find it. However, a flyover Red-shouldered Hawk was a nice consolation.
We finished the trip in the Croton Unit of Shimek State Forest, another known location for migrant songbirds and breeding White-eyed Vireos. At this point, the birding had slowed considerably but we did hear two singing Carolina Wrens in the distance. We encountered birders on a field trip as part of the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union Fall Meeting and exchanged sightings before calling it a day.
Many thanks to the two young birders (and their Moms) who made the trip to southeast Iowa, to Carl Bendorf and Paul Skrade for assisting with the trip, and to Walt Wagner-Hecht for compiling our trip list. Links to lists at each location are provided below:
Donnellson Unit, Shimek State Forest
Croton Unit, Shimek State Forest