2018 Fall Meeting in Ventura


Field Trip with Noah Strycker - photo by Fawn Bowden

The fall IOU meeting was held Sep. 28-30 at the Ventura Community Center and hosted by members of the Mason City Bird Club. The meeting began on Friday evening with a lot of socializing with old and new friends, a perusal of the many items available in the Silent Auction, and of course signing up for the next morning's field trips.

After an overcast, yet productive, Saturday morning of birding field trips, IOU meeting attendees enjoyed 3 interesting presentations during the afternoon.  

Local bird photographer Bruce McKee gave a talk about Better Backyard Bird Photography, filled with many very useful tips and tricks that anyone can use, such as:

  • Remove  window screens and open windows for sharper images
  • Use a tripod or a bean bag/pillow to steady camera whenever possible
  • Mount tree limbs and branches in your backyard for a more natural-looking photo
  • Visit your local nature center or bird blind if you can’t have bird feeders or are seeking to photograph different birds than what you have at home.
  • Consider mounting a GoPro camera for taking video of birds at your feeders
  • Purchase or construct a bird blind at home to get up close to birds in your backyard.  This can be as simple as a camouflage screen draped over your body with a hole for your camera lens.
  • Always aim to keep the eyes of the bird in focus

The next presentation was given by Emilee Novak, a student of professor Paul Skrade and a Senior at Upper Iowa University.  Emilee presented her research project which studied Song Variations of Cerulean Warblers in Northeast Iowa. Emilee studied previously recorded songs, as well as recording male Cerulean Warblers herself in the Yellow River State Forest.  Although the Yellow River SF is an area in the far western edge of the Cerulean’s range, there is an unusually high concentration of Cerulean Warblers breeding there, so was an ideal place to study singing males on their territories.  Emilee studied the birds in the morning as well as afternoon times, from May until late June and found that as the breeding season wound down, the song length as well as variation decreased. In the future, Emilee hopes another student will continue to study individual Cerulean Warblers in the Yellow River SF.  Part of the funding for Emilee’s study was provided by the IOU, in an effort to support youth studying bird related topics, as well as increase overall knowledge of this declining species.

T.J. Herrick, IDNR Wildlife Biologist gave an informative account about the history and management of the Union Hills WPA (Waterfowl Production Area) in Cerro Gordo County, which is the largest WPA in all of Iowa.  Union Hills WPA encompases over 2200 acres, with the first pieces of land acquired in 1991. Of that 2200 acres, 450 acres are a waterfowl refuge, with more than 40 distinct wetlands. Grassland bird species such as Henslow’s Sparrow, Bobolink and Upland Sandpipers breed in the WPA, and in the wetlands, species like Northern Pintails, Redheads, American Bitterns and Sandhill Cranes may be found nesting.  Plants like the Small White Lady’ Slipper, a species of special concern in Iowa, can be found blooming along wet prairie edges there in May and June. T.J. stated that WPA’s such as Union Hills are bought almost exclusively by funds raised through the purchase of Waterfowl/Duck stamps (keep buying those stamps!).

The keynote speaker of the weekend was author, editor, researcher and self-appointed “Bird Man” Noah Strycker.  Many in the birding community are familiar with Noah for his global “Big Year” which he completed in 2015, seeing more than half of the known species of birds in the world, 6042, and visiting all 7 continents and 41 countries.  He is also a best-selling author of four books, The Thing with Feathers, Among Penguins, Birding Without Borders and his latest book, Birds of the Photo Ark.

Noah described getting some of his inspiration for doing a global big year from icons such as Roger Tory Peterson and the British birding couple Ruth Miller and Alan Davies, who had completed a global big year in 2008, seeing 4341 species of bird.  Noah’s rules for his big year were simple. Each bird he saw, had to be seen by at least 1 other local birder, no hired guides.  He simplified his traveling by scanning ALL of the bird ID guides he would need into his phone.  He also made a point to start his journey in Antarctica, not a place commonly thought of as particularly “birdy”, because he wanted to experience not just the birds of a place, but also the people, landscapes and cultures. Noah also wanted to see common birds where they’re supposed to be seen, not necessarily vagrants.  When his big year had come to an end, Noah said that what he remembers more than all the birds, were the people he met and the experiences he had shared.

Sunday morning arrived with cold moisture but that did not deter the intrepid birders who continued adding to the weekend list. An incredible 152 species were recorded including eighteen lingering warblers. Scope views of Nelson's Sparrow was a highlight for many and at least 10 birders added life birds to their lists over the weekend.

We would like to acknowledge the numerous people who made the 2018 Fall IOU meeting such an outstanding success. The number of participants and species was excellent for a fall meeting but that is only part of the story. Five field trip leaders, five assistant leaders, and 8 “sweeps” allowed for the second largest number of fall species since 2005. The people behind the scenes who organized the meeting, the “Mason City 7” who handled the field trips, the Friday night food and beverages as well as tons of set up and clean-up hours, and the seventeen “weekend buddies” who guided the twenty 1st time attendees through the weekend. Many commented on the camaraderie that they felt from the entire group this weekend.