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Another great essay and illustration by Iowa Young Birders member Coralee Bodeker!
A Mink in the January Thaw.pdf
On March 4, 2017, young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered in the Science Building on Iowa State University campus to learn tips for identifying Iowa shorebirds. Young birders were excited to peruse the various teaching specimens on the tables and were enthusiastic to master the skills to distinguish species within this challenging group of birds.
We started the morning by examining the various teaching specimens, taking time to observe and record the unique characteristics of each. It didn’t take us long to develop a list of characteristics for each species, and pick out those similar characteristics listed for all species (e.g., long legs, longer bill, etc.). Next, we learned how to lump the various species into different groups based on overall size and shape, the first step in helping us to identify a given species. We finished this exercise with an activity in which we placed shorebird silhouettes in the appropriate group based only on size and shape.
Next, we talked about how to group the various species based on their foraging methods, “pickers”, “probers”, and “waters”. We discussed these different methods of foraging and how they might affect the bird’s behavior and the location where they are foraging within a specific habitat. We finished with another activity, “Feeding Time”, in which young birders drew a species from a jar and had to forage for a candy bar in the appropriate habitat using the appropriate method. It was quite fun!
We finished the morning learning about colors of shorebirds. Not just color patterns in plumage, but colors of bills, legs, and other markings that are identifying characteristics of some species. For example, we compared leg and bill color of the Least Sandpiper (yellow legs and black bill) to that of the Semipalmated Sandpiper (black legs and black bill), characteristics that can help in identifying these very similar species. Our last activity of the day was to learn the colors of different shorebird species using coloring sheets. Each young birder could color a shorebird species of their choice, helping them observe and learn the different colors of that species.
It was a fun morning, and we’re grateful to the parents and grandparents for allowing their young birders to join us! You can view photos from the workshop here.
Eagles and gulls were numerous at Credit Island Park on February 18, 2017 where 32 young birders, parents, and grandparents enjoyed a beautiful and unseasonably warm morning of birding. As flocks migrating geese (Snow Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Canada Geese) streamed overhead, we set off to explore this unique park nestled in the Mississippi River. We were quickly greeted by numerous Ring-billed Gulls foraging on shore and over the water, all of which offered the opportunity to study characteristics of these birds at close range. Target bird number 1, check!
As we moved toward the other side of the island in search of more gulls and Bald Eagles, we were greeted by three species of songbirds singing. We heard both a Song Sparrow and Mourning Dove in the distance, and stopped to listen to the melodious song of the Eastern Bluebird. A bit more walking and searching turned up the singing male bluebird and everyone enjoyed close-range looks of this beautiful bird.
On the other side of the island, Ring-billed Gulls were again numerous foraging over the water and roosting on the ice. Also present were Bald Eagles, both adults and immatures, and young birders were able to compare plumage differences of eagles of different ages. We also observed an immature Ring-billed Gull among the adults, offering the chance to compare plumage differences in different ages of Ring-billed Gulls as well. To top things off, an immature Herring Gull joined the roosting Ring-billed Gulls on the ice.
We finished the morning looking for other birds on the interior of the island. We found a cooperative Red-tailed Hawk, a Cooper’s Hawk flying overhead, various woodpeckers, a Northern Cardinal, and several Dark-eyed Juncos. Lastly, we stopped and examine feathers of a Canada Goose, learning about the differences between primary, secondary, and down feathers.
We are grateful to Walt Wagner-Hecht for his leadership on this trip, to local guide Jim Nordquist for joining us, and to all the parents, grandparents, and young birders for enjoying a morning of birding with us! You can view photos from our trip here and a list of species here.
Our February Members and Friends Newsletter is here for your reading enjoyment!
We had an exciting year at Iowa Young Birders - several fun and educational field trips, an extended birding experience to Colorado, several partnerships, and much more! Our full impact can be seen in our year-end report below.
2016 Impact Iowa Young Birders.pdf
Iowa Young Birders member Coralee Bodeker is using her artistic talents to raise funds for raptor conservation! Coralee recently composed an article to raise awareness about the decline of American Kestrel populations as part of her regular series, "A Prairie Girl's Notebook". She also sketched an American Kestrel on canvas that she is auctioning on Ebay to raise funds for raptor conservation. View the links below to read Coralee's article and bid on her one-and-only canvas print of the American Kestrel. Bid now to help Coralee contribute to raptor conservation!
Kestrels, An Iowa Legacy.pdf
You can also view Coralee's print for auction here.
On January 21, 2017, 11 young birders, parents, and grandparents joined us for a visit to Dale Maffitt Reservoir, a popular waterfowl wintering location south of Des Moines. It was foggy, but temperatures hovered around 40 degrees making it a pleasant morning for birding.
Our target bird for the day was the Trumpeter Swan. Upwards of 200 swans had been reported at this location this winter and we were excited to see how many were around that morning. Upon arrival and a short hike, we quickly counted 81 swans on the water! We discussed the differences in appearance between adult and juvenile swans, and enjoyed close looks at these fabulous birds on the water and flying overhead.
After studying the swans, we continued hiking along a nature trail around the lake. We were unsuccessful in our search for roosting owls in the pines along the trail, but enjoyed the usual winter songbirds including Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, and various woodpecker species. We were even treated with a small flock of Eastern Bluebirds.
While observing the bluebirds, we were surprised to hear a Greater White-fronted Goose calling overhead. We moved quickly to the edge of the water to locate two Greater White-fronted Geese mingling among the Canada Geese and Trumpeter Swans. We also saw two drake Redheads and a female Ruddy Duck, and were treated with the opportunity carefully compare three Cackling Geese with the nearby Canada Geese while learning about the differences in these two species. It was certainly a fun and educational morning!
See what we've been up to this fall in our November Member and Friends Newsletter!
Twenty-seven young birders, parents, grandparents, and volunteers met at Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) on November 12, 2016 for our first Waterfowl Migration and Conservation Day. Although a bit chilly in the morning, the sun was shining and it looked to be a fabulous day for this unique opportunity to tour the Refuge during the peak of waterfowl migration. The latest report said 25,000 ducks on the Refuge! Needless to say, we were all excited and quickly loaded the vehicles to begin the tour.
The Louisa Division of Port Louisa NWR, the area we visited, is closed each year from September 15 – December 31 to minimize disturbance to migrating waterbirds as they rest on their southward journey. Therefore, we were very lucky to be visiting this area as part of their annual fall migration bus tours. Cathy Nigg (Refuge Manager) and Jessica Bolser (Refuge Biologist) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were our tour leaders, providing a wealth of information about the unique habitats on the Refuge and their significance. The importance of this area to migrating waterbirds was quickly evident to us as hundreds of ducks were in view upon entering the Refuge. Among the many ducks, we identified Wood Ducks, Mallards, Northern Pintail, and Northern Shovelers. A group of eight Trumpeter Swans was also a nice surprise!
As we continued our tour of the Refuge, several Ring-billed Gulls and Double-crested Comorants were seen flying overhead. An extra special treat for one of the vehicles was an extremely cooperative American Bittern standing less than five feet from the road. We stopped briefly at the viewing platform overlooking Fox Pond, where we added Red-winged Blackbird, Swamp Sparrow, and American Goldfinch to our list. We also had great looks at a Bald Eagle nest on the east side of the Refuge. We finished our drive along the east side of the Refuge, where thousands of ducks were lifting off offering an amazing spectacle described as a “duck-nado” by our group.
Unfortunately, we were unable to plant trees due to high water levels. However, we had an enjoyable afternoon hiking trails around the Port Louisa Visitor’s Center. Exciting birds included a Tufted Titmouse, several White-throated Sparrows, and a small group of Cedar Waxwings.
We’re extremely grateful to Cathy Nigg, Jessica Bolser, and the staff and friends of Port Louisa NWR for hosting us. Many thanks also to volunteer Kevin Murphy for his leadership. And as always, we’re thankful to the parents and grandparents for providing the transportation means for the young birders to join us! You can view photos from our trip here and a list of species here.
Seven young birders and parents joined us at Ada Hayden Heritage Park in central Iowa for a pleasant fall morning searching for sparrows and other fall migrants. Ada Hayden Heritage Park has a diversity of habitats and we were anxious to see what we could find on our walk!
Starting off on the paved trail around the north lake, we were quickly greeted by a large flock of Cedar Waxwings with a couple Eastern Bluebirds mixed in. It’s always enjoyable to see these two species (even though the Cedar Waxwings were looking a bit drab) and we took the opportunity to carefully study them at close range. We continued our walk along the paved trail, observing Red-winged Blackbirds overhead and a small group of American Coots on the main lake.
We next ventured onto the upland trail for hopes of spotting some fall sparrows. As if on cue, a Ring-necked Pheasant flushed started on the upland trail, one of several we would see on the trip. Then, one of the young birders spotted an Eastern Phoebe perched on a prairie plant in the distance, a bird that will not likely be sticking around Iowa for much longer. We continued along the upland trail, flushing a few unidentified sparrows before finally getting close looks at a cooperative Song Sparrow. We also learned the call note of the White-throated Sparrow, hearing several as we continued our venture. We arrived at Jensen Pond along the trail, where we quietly observed a group of Canada Geese and tried hard to get looks at a chattering Belted Kingfisher.
As we returned to the parking lot, the birding slowed a bit and we had a great time studying various caterpillars found by the young birders along the upland trail. While doing so, we heard more White-throated Sparrows and observed both a Red-tailed and Broad-winged Hawk soar overhead.
You can view photos of our adventure here and a full list of species observed here. Many thanks to the parents and young birders for joining us on this fine fall morning!
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