Light rain and a brisk wind didn’t stop 15 young birders, parents, grandparents, and volunteers from setting out on a search for migrating wetland birds in northwest Iowa on October 6. And it certainly didn’t stop the birds either, because we ended the morning with more than 40 species!
What better way to start a birding trip? With delicious donuts of course! Many thanks to Kaitlin Anderson and Mary Barrick with Palo Alto County Conservation Board for hosting us and providing a pre-birding snack for all attendees. After our treats, we left the Lost Island Nature Center en route to the first wetland but were immediately distracted by bird activity. Several Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers were flitting about in the trees, and volunteer leaders Lee Schoenewe and Joe Jungers quickly spotted a Red-breasted Nuthatch in a nearby tree. As we worked to position ourselves for some great looks at the Red-breasted Nuthatches (yes, another appeared a short time later), we also noticed a couple Brown Creepers in the area. In the distance, we heard White-throated Sparrows calling and later were able to see one at close range. Both Orange-crowned and Palm Warblers made a quick appearance, and a cooperative Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was spotted high in nearby tree. Yes, we were supposed to be searching wetlands, but who could pass up these great birds?
Our first wetland stop was in Lost Island State Park near the beach, where 29 Great Egrets, 2 Great Blue Herons, and a single Belted Kingfisher were seeking refuge from the brisk wind. It was a quite a sight to see so many egrets in one small spot! We continued to Lost Island Lake Marsh where our hope was to locate both Le Conte’s and Nelson’s Sparrows. Hiking through the grass near the wetland, it didn’t take us long to flush a small, pale sparrow flying low and quickly diving into the grass. It was a Le Conte’s Sparrow, but unfortunately the wind discouraged this bird from remaining visible for all to see. However, we also flushed a Song Sparrow on the walk which allowed us to note the drastic differences in size, color, and flight behavior of the two species. Near the end of our walk, we heard Sandhill Cranes calling in the distance and were able to locate them in flight a short time later. We finished at this location with great looks at a couple Harris’s Sparrows and a young Northern Harrier hunting in the distance.
We made a couple quick stops at other wetlands to continue our search for the elusive Le Conte’s and Nelson’s Sparrows. Although we were unsuccessful in our search, we were not disappointed as young birders were able to see Blue-winged Teal and Pied-billed Grebe through the scope and a kettle of Turkey Vultures high above, obviously successful in their search for warm, rising air. By this time in the morning, we were all wishing they would share some warm air with us!
What a great fall birding trip this was! Many thanks to volunteer leaders Lee Schoenewe and Joe Jungers for finding us some great birds and, again, to Kaitlin Anderson and Mary Barrick with Palo Alto County Conservation Board for hosting us. And a huge thanks to our young birders and their families for braving the cold to join us for a morning of outdoor adventure! You can view photos from our trip here and our species lists below:
Lost Island Lake State Park
Lost Island Lake Marsh