It was a brisk Iowa morning on February 10, 2018 when 10 young birders, parents, and friends embarked on a winter birding adventure at George Wyth State Park near Waterloo. Despite the cold, the sun was shining and the birds were active. We were excited to begin the search for our target birds, the Northern Saw-whet Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Pileated Woodpecker!
We started the morning listening to some of the early singers such as Northern Cardinals, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Black-capped Chickadees near the park entrance. While listening to these birds, we noticed a large bird flush from a nearby pine tree. After a few more views of the bird, we surmised it was a Barred Owl. Shortly thereafter, volunteer leader Connor Langan spotted a flock of 25 Common Redpolls overhead. An exciting and unexpected sight only 30 minutes into the trip!
We then headed towards the bird blind to search for Northern Saw-whet Owls. We learned about Northern Saw-whet Owl winter habitat from volunteer leader Tom Schilke as we hiked back toward the owl location. We stopped off at the bird blind to watch the feeders for a few moments, and enjoyed close-up views of Red-bellied, Downy, and Hairy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, and other winter songbirds. We continued our hike, excitement building as we grew closer to a stand of Eastern Red Cedars known to host saw-whet owls in winter. After about 5 minutes of searching, volunteer leader Connor Langan located a single Northern Saw-whet Owl! We carefully snuck back to enjoy fantastic views of the tiny bird, conducting what we all termed the “saw-whet shuffle”. As we hiked back towards the parking lot, we heard and saw a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks overhead. Two of our target birds in in five minutes!
Our last stop was a series of bird feeders in the center of the park, near where we saw a flock of Wild Turkeys earlier in the morning. Most numerous at the bird feeders were House Finches and American Goldfinches, and we also spotted another Red-shouldered Hawk nearby. It was a fun end to a great morning!We’re grateful for the leadership of volunteers Tom Schilke and Connor Langan. Their expertise and local knowledge made this trip a huge success. You can view photos from our trip here as well as a species list, compiled by Connor Langan, here.