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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
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
We're very excited that Iowa Young Birders is featured in the latest issue of the American Birding Association's Birder's Guide to Conservation and Community. The ABA has been very supportive of young birder programs across the country. This article: Iowa Young Birders: Story of a Start-Up is a tribute to all the organizations, volunteers, parents, grandparents, and especially the enthusiastic young birders who have made it all possible.
We're on page 10--the entire magazine is free online right here: http://bg.aba.org/i/521079-may-2015/
This year Iowa Young Birders offered our first scholarships to attend one of the American Birding Association Young Birder Camps in either Delaware or Colorado. Applications were due April 1 and we are pleased to announce our second scholarship awardee for 2015, Walt Wagner-Hecht of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Walt, age 16, is a member of Iowa Young Birders and has taken part in more than 30 of our field trips. He also volunteers to track all of our field trip checklists in eBird. He is registered to attend the ABA’s Camp Avocet in Delaware this coming August. Iowa Young Birders will make a $500 award toward Walt's camp tuition. If a scholarship winner is not able to attend their camp of choice, Iowa Young Birders will award him or her with a three-year student membership in the American Birding Association.
Each scholarship applicant is required to submit an essay describing his or her most memorable Iowa birding experience and how it has changed their thoughts, ideas, or outlook on conservation.
Here is Walt’s essay:
Last week I went birding at our family’s cabin in Washington County. As soon as we arrived at the cabin, I put on my jacket, boots, and binoculars and began my search for woodcocks. It was still a bit early for them to be displaying, but that would give me time to find an area of good habitat. I decided that the best area to see woodcocks would probably be the large central prairie bordered on one side by the riverine forest of Long Creek and on the other by a forest of white pine. As I climbed a prairie hill towards the pine forest I disturbed a flock of pheasants and noticed savannah sparrows popping in and out of the grasses.
I arrived at the prairie in time to see a gigantic flock of robins gathering before flying over to the marsh to roost. As they arrived, my presence disturbed a pair of Canada geese, who began honking continually for half an hour. I sat down to calm the birds and looked out over the prairie. As the sky darkened, the frogs began to croak and a great horned owl in the pine forest hooted. It was almost time for the woodcocks to begin displaying.
I positioned myself in an area of burnt prairie between two large grassy areas. Suddenly a highpitched twittering sound echoed down from the sky. I knew that the woodcocks had begun their dance.
A minute later, a “peent” coming from the grass below preceded another flying leap into the air. This time I had my binoculars ready, and followed the woodcock as he spiraled into the air then fell back to the ground. Soon, there were multiple birds peenting at the same time. I sat in wonder for a while before realizing that my mom would probably want me back at the cabin soon. I walked back down the prairie hill trail towards the cabin as the woodcocks continued to fly and sing. I counted seven woodcocks in total before saying goodbye and taking off my binoculars on the cabin shelf.
Coming to one of the Wagner farms is always fun and there are plenty of opportunities for birding. Whenever I come, I remember that this was only here because my family worked to restore the forests, prairies, and wetlands that were once here. I think about what I could do to help protect birds and their habitats, and how when I’m older I can help keep places like these full of amazing wildlife.
For more information about the Iowa Young Birders Camp Scholarships including how your support can helps us encourage more young birders like Walt, click here.
In 2015, Iowa Young Birders offered our first scholarships to attend one of the American Birding Association Young Birder Camps in either Delaware or Colorado. Applications were due April 1 and we are pleased to announce our first scholarship awardee, Devvin Schroeder of Decorah, Iowa.
Devvin is 18 and a member of Iowa Young Birders. She hopes to attend Camp Colorado. If there is space, Iowa Young Birders will make a $250 award toward Devvin's camp tuition. If a scholarship winner is not able to attend their camp of choice, Iowa Young Birders will award him or her with a three-year student membership in the American Birding Association. Congratulations to Devvin!
Here is Devvin’s essay:
Hi, my name is Devvin Schroeder, I have been very fortunate to grow up in a family of conservationist. Both of my parents have worked in conservation for many years, and they are teaching me how to help our birds and our other wildlife.
My most memorable Iowa birding experience is when I went birding with Larry Reis and Dennis Carter at Cardinal Marsh close to the Howard/Winneshiek county line. Both Larry and Dennis taught me how to identify different shore birds. Larry taught me to identify them with what color their legs and feathers were, and by what size of beak they had. Whereas Dennis taught me how to identify them by their size, the shape of their bodies, and their flight pattern. Larry also taught me how to identify some of the different dragonflies. Cardinal Marsh is where I actually saw my first Green Heron, Lesser and Greater Sandpipers, and some other really cool and beautiful shore birds. When I first saw these birds I was amazed at how small they were and how fast they could run. It was fascinating watching the sandpipers run along the shore looking for things to eat. Just watching them stick their beaks in the sand piping for food was amazing. Cardinal Marsh is also were I saw my first Sandhill Crane. Seeing the Sandhill Crane was really special to me because at the time I didn’t know if I would ever see another Sandhill Crane again.
I was actually really looking forward to going to Nebraska to see the Sandhill Crane migration with the Iowa Young Birders. Instead I’m going to southern Texas with my mom to pick up my grandparents. We took them to Texas over Thanksgiving and we were able to go birding for a week. I’m so excited to go back to Texas because we may be able to see some of the Whopping Cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. That is if they haven’t migrated yet.
I find bird watching very relaxing, because all you really have to do is find a beautiful spot to find birds and hike because the birds are all around you. You just have to take the time to listen and to look at what’s around you. If you’re not careful you may miss them.
After being at Cardinal Marsh it showed me that we have to keep our water ways and our wetlands clean from pollution. Because if we don’t the future generations may not be able to see a Green Heron or a Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs. If it wasn’t for conservation and the effort of many wildlife groups like the DNR, the future generations would not be able to see a Prairie Chicken.
Many of our bird species are disappearing because of the habitat loss. With so many birds being threatened it pushes the birds that are on the brink even closer to being gone, for good. With people working hard on preserving these wild places many of our rare bird species could make a comeback. Unless we do something, like get more children, young adults or even older adults interested in birding that could make a big impact on the future of our birds.
By not cutting that dead tree down in your yard that your wife/husband really dislikes you are helping a bird. You may wonder how not cutting that awful tree down can help? Well it helps by providing a place for some birds to nest in, and many insect and different bugs will slowly start to decay the tree. Many of the insect and different bugs help feed a variety of birds, like woodpeckers and nuthatches.
When I graduate from high school, I’m going to go to college at Iowa State University and major in Natural Resource Ecology and Management. So that I can use my knowledge to help educate people on the growing need to protect our disappearing wildlife. We are not going to solve this problem in one day or in a year; but with so many more people starting to understand that we have to do something before birds and other wildlife go extinct.
If you would like to help us encourage young birders like Devvin, please consider making a contribution to Iowa Young Birders.
We received very nice coverage in the Ames Tribune courtesy of Todd Burras. It was great to have Todd and his daughter, Elizabeth, join us on our field trip. http://amestrib.com/sports/outdoors/iowa-young-birders-explore-inspire-conserve
Click below to start a slide show or on the thumbnails to view any image or click on this
After crossing the creek several times, we stopped to study the Cliff Swallows nesting in their mud nests built, appropriately, on the face of the cliff. A couple of Rough-winged Swallows were also feeding in the area.
Several Indigo Buntings perched for our spotting scope and we pursued and glimpsed a Common Yellowthroat.
After returning to the parking lot, we talked about birding etiquette and how we respect the birds and their environment AND also each other as we bird and learn as a team.
Every young birder received a copy of the new Iowa Ornithologists' Union Yellow Book which helps us to know about the seasonal occurences of Iowa's birds.
Overall, we found 23 species of birds and a complete checklist can be viewed at http://ebird.org/ebird/ybn/view/checklist?subID=S23487357
The 2016 American Birding Association's Young Birder of the Year contest is now open!. We encourage all young birders ages 10-18 to take a look and consider entering. It's a great experience for all those who enter. Young birders from Iowa, if we can be of any assistance, don't hesitate to ask us for help! Here are all the details (http://youngbirders.aba.org/young-birder-of-the-year-contest).
Sixteen young birders, parents, and grandparents enjoyed great looks of Greater Prairie-chickens through spotting scopes at the Kellerton Grasslands on April 11, 2015. We observed up to 28 prairie-chickens on the lek at one time! When we arrived, we were lucky to occasionally hear the males “booming”. This is the loud, low-pitched sound made by the males by inflating air sacs on the side of their necks while displaying. It was fun to see the males and females dancing with one another! Shortly after we arrived, we had a surprise visit by Bruce Ehresman, Non-game Avian Biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (Iowa DNR). Bruce was just finishing up his lek survey for Greater Prairie-chickens and shared with us his vast knowledge on the Iowa DNR’s reintroduction of the Greater Prairie-chicken as well as current efforts to conserve this species and its habitat. Bruce also shared his knowledge and experience with other grassland birds such as Henslow’s Sparrows, Northern Harriers, and Short-eared Owls. After about 45 minutes viewing the prairie-chickens, we walked down the gravel road through the Kellerton Grasslands. The chorus of Eastern Meadowlarks was spectacular, and we observed Northern Harriers and other raptors soaring and hunting the grasslands. We even found a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes that were cooperative and offered many good looks through the spotting scope! When we returned to the viewing platform, we greeted a migratory flock of American Golden-plovers that landed in a harvest soybean field near the parking lot. These birds are often spring visitors to Iowa on their long trip from their wintering grounds in South America to their breeding grounds in the high Arctic. This was a life bird for many of the young birders! Many were disappointed that we were unable to locate an Upland Sandpiper, one of our targets for the day. However, as we were all leaving in our vehicles, we stopped on the gravel road to viewing two Upland Sandpipers right beside the road. Many thanks to Bruce Ehresman for taking some time to share with us his knowledge about Greater Prairie-chickens and other grassland birds. Overall, we observed 19 species. Thank you to Walt for keeping our eBird checklist that can be viewed here: http://ebird.org/ebird/ybn/view/checklist?subID=S22804755
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