2016 Fall Meeting in Okoboji Lakeside Lab


Another successful IOU meeting wrapped up the last weekend of August on the shores of beautiful Lake Okoboji.  Lakeshore Lab was a great spot for the 81 attendees to base their exploration of the Iowa Great Lakes region.  It was a treat to have eleven first-time attendees, including eight from the Great Lakes region.  The meeting kicked off on Friday evening with check-in and social time.  Interest was high for field trip signups, and the leaders highlighted their areas and the species possibilities.

Field Trips

Field TripSaturday morning started off rainy and gloomy, which hampered birding efforts early on.  Sunday was sunny, warm, and a bit windy.  Unfortunately, one of the top shorebird spots in the state had a poor combination for shorebird numbers.  The sheetwater areas had recently dried up, but the marshes were full with no edge habitat.  In spite of that It was one of the top counts for recent IOU fall meetings with 155 species!  Here are a few highlights:

Thirteen species of waterfowl
Gray Partridge
Red-necked, Eared & Western Grebes
American & Least Bittern, Black-crowned Night-Heron
Virginia & King Rail
Common Gallinule
Buff-breasted Sandpiper (at least five)
Common Tern
Black-billed Cuckoo
Olive-sided Flycatcher (several)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Philadelphia Vireo
Warblers – small numbers, but nineteen species (incl. Cape May, Bay-breasted & Pine) is pretty darn good
Blue Grosbeak

Brown Thrasher was the biggest miss.
View from Lakeside Lab
Here a few details on the field trips.

Lakeside Lab/Gull Point SP

Mark Proescholdt led this trip both days.  The focus was on woodland species along with a visit to the north jetty on Spirit Lake.  A nice warbler list included Northern Waterthrush (one was high up in a dead tree!), Golden-winged, Pine and Blackburnian.  Green Heron, five Olive-sided Flycatchers, Swainson's Thrush, Carolina Wren and two Blue Grosbeaks were other highlights.  A large number of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at a jewelweed patch was a fun experience.

Wildwood Nature Center, Kettleson Hogsback WMA, Marble Beach Park, Grover’s Lake & the Welch Lake Complex

Here is Doug Harr's report:

We came up a bit short on expected findings, mainly warblers and sparrows.  Only five relatively common warbler species and a couple of sparrows were tallied.  Wetland birds, however, were the best finds on either day.  At West Hottes Lake (Part of the KH WMA), we observed an American Bittern flying back and forth (in good light) above a Black-crowned Night Heron sitting on the edge of cattails--a great 2-for-1 find! Sunday morning produced an Osprey circling Hottes Lake in beautiful light for great photo ops.  On the North grade at Big Spirit Lake we observed some of the same gulls and terns that other field trips also saw there: Ring-billed & Franklin’s Gulls, plus Forster’s & Common Terns. On Saturday morning a Sora was foraging along a cattail edge on the grade's north side, about 15 feet from us.  We observed it for nearly five minutes and the bird paid no attention to our close presence. 

Dewey's Pasture BCA Complex #1

Here is Joe Jungers' report:

I led the yellow field trip from Lakeside Labs. Our first stop was Dan Green Slough where we saw Northern Harrier, Trumpeter Swans and Green Heron.  On our way to Dewey's Pasture Kevin Karlson spotted three Great-tailed Grackles and at the wetlands we were treated to great looks at Sora and Virginia Rails along with Marsh Wrens, Common Yellowthroats and Yellow-headed Blackbirds.  Our next stop was Huston Park on the east shore of Lost Island Lake, a great warbler migration trap.  It was early in the migration season but we had Canada, Magnolia, Blackburnian, Nashville, Orange-crowned, Black-and-white, Bay-breasted, Tennessee and American Redstart. In addition; five of the six regular woodpeckers (no Pileated), Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.  We then made our way to Trumbull Lake, the 2016 grebe nesting site and found both Western and Red-necked Grebes. We heard and saw several Common Gallinule as well as Black-crowned Night Heron, Ruddy Ducks, 

Great Egret, Cooper's Hawk, Franklin's Gulls and Black, Forster's and Caspian Terns. Not only did we see great birds but it was an absolute pleasure visiting with friends who joined me for the field trips as well as all of the people who attended the meeting.

Dewey's Pasture BCA Complex #2

Lee Schoenewe led trips both days.  King (Saturday) and Virginia Rails (both days) were great finds.  Grebes put on quite a show at Trumbull on Sunday, with at least five Western and a Red-necked showing well.  A Common Gallinule was calling at the boat ramp.  Several warblers were noted, including an early Orange-crowned.  A few folks saw Gray Partridge and Black-billed Cuckoo.  Five Buff-breasted Sandpipers on Sunday at the sod farm were a nice surprise.

Spring Run Wildlife BCA #1

Here are the highlights from Paul Roisen's trip on Saturday:

Kevin Karlson teaching all of us about using shape and behavior to help us ID birds at a distance or backlit.

Eared Grebe 2 (Sandbar Slough)
Forster's Tern 17
Common Tern 1
Caspian Tern 1

Incredible looks at an American Bittern flying around back and forth before landing. Wonderful views of crossed feet and wing pattern as it moved about.  Usually you only get a rear end view.
Olive-sided Flycatcher 2 some of the relatively new birders were able to spot several on a wire quite some distance away due to the explanation the Kevin had given early about stance, etc.
Clay-colored Sparrow 9. Long and good looks at them perched and flying at about 30 feet away.

Spring Run Wildlife BCA #2

Here is Ed Thelen's report on his trip to Spring Run on Sunday morning:

Had a great morning viewing the wetlands and prairies of Dickinson county.  A couple of the highlights were watching a Forster's Tern catch a fish , then drop it and catch it again - this sequence was repeated three times before the tern swallowed the fish.  Also had great looks watching a family of dickcissels begging for food.  A good time in the field!

Afternoon sessions

Mark Gulich from the DNR gave a very informative presentation on their ongoing efforts to restore the shallow lake environments that are the backbone of the Prairie Pothole Region.  Iowa DNR defines shallow lakes as being less than four feet deep.  Due to many factors (including runoff and undesirable vegetation growth), these areas become rough fish factories and lose their native species components.  Even though dredging is a popular public solution, it's very expensive.  Mark spoke to the process used to restore these lakes without dredging.  They are drained and left in that state for two years to facilitate native vegetation growth.  Water control structures tailored to the site are installed along with fish barriers to keep out carp and other undesirable fish.  The lake is then allowed to refill.  The result is a prairie pothole in a more natural state.  Surveys taken during the process show how dramatically the number of species using the area increases.  This is especially true for birds during the drawdown, as it becomes a shorebird haven.  Diamond and Trumbull Lakes are just two examples of how well this process works.  Funding is available to continue this initiative, with Little Swan Lake one of the next on the restoration list.

Kevin Karlson's presentation on shorebird ID was awesome.  His focus on non-plumage ID points for many species was a real eye-opener.  He especially focused differentiating between the dowitchers and sorting out Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers.  I think attendees from every experience level learned some valuable ID tips from Kevin’s session.

Evening Banquet

The food and setup at the Village West Resort were disappointing.  Fortunately, the camaraderie and keynote address carried the evening.  Lee Schoenewe mentioned how much fun he had birding with 80 others on his birthday, so we serenaded him with a (mostly on-key) rendition of "Happy Birthday".  Kevin Karlson had randomly marked a chair early in the evening for the occupant to receive a copy of his "Birding By Impression" book.  The lucky winner was Jim Murdock.

Kevin KarlsonKevin Karlson's presentation continued his theme of learning to bird by impression.  It's an approach to birding that uses both right- and left-brain skills.  Combining an assessment of a bird's unchangeable features (size, shape, structure) with the traditional method of looking at plumage details can greatly enhance the task of separating similar birds.  Kevin provided several examples, but the general theme was on the joy of birding.  Great photographs and music turned a potentially dry topic into a very enjoyable presentation.

Thanks to the speakers, field trip leaders and especially the attendees for making this another fun and informative IOU meeting.  The field trip leaders (especially Paul and Lee) put in a lot of effort to ensure the trips were organized and efficient.  I think everyone agreed that they were successful.

The 2017 spring meeting will be held in Chariton, May 5-7.  Our keynote speaker will be Laura Erickson from Duluth, MN.  Laura is the 2014 recipient of the American Birding Association's prestigious Roger Tory Peterson Award.  She's a noted scientist, teacher, writer, photographer and speaker.  This meeting will be a little different.  IOU will be partnering with several other groups for the inaugural Lucas County Birding Festival.  Details are still being worked out, but it promises to be a lot of fun.