By Carl Bendorf
On June 14-15, 2014, Iowa Young Birders and Illinois Young Birders hosted a joint field trip weekend along the Mississippi River. Twenty four young birders from Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin had a great time exploring a variety of habitats. One of the highlights was spending time with special guest, Rachael Butek, 2010 ABA Young Birder of the Year. Start by watching a short video of the event, and then read on to find out about the weekend in the words of the young birders who participated.
Henry Griffin, 14, Oak Park, Illinois:
“Whoa, isn’t that a Yellow-throated Warbler?”
I immediately knew that I would have a blast at the young birder weekend from the moment I stepped out of the car and was greeted by a welcoming huddle of young birders and their parents at Mississippi Palisades State Park. This would be the beginning of what turned out to be a fantastic overnight trip with the Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin Young Birders Clubs.
Since I have been a part of the Illinois Young Birders Club for two years now, I have many friends in that particular club, but I had never met anyone else from the other two states or done an overnight birding trip with the group. It was a very memorable experience. Everyone could learn anything and everything from each other, be it someone who could mimic bird calls to someone who could identify every single bird by their calls. The two days we all spent birding together around the Mississippi River were unforgettable, and meeting new people, seeing new habitats, and learning from everyone were fantastic. As much as a birder can pore over their bird guide, iBird, or some other avian-identifying resource, I have found that the best way that I can learn and have a great time at the same time is by birding in a group. There is simply nothing like it, especially when you are meeting new people and seeing great birds, both of which happened this weekend! It is great to meet new people who share the same passion as you do.
Not only did I make new friends and learn more about the ecology of the Mississippi River Valley on this trip, but I gained four life birds: Kentucky Warbler, Grasshopper Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, and Least Bittern!
Jake Bartecki, 15, Evanston, Illinois
This past June, the Illinois Young birders & Iowa young birders collaborated for a weekend of birding along the Mississippi. The trip was extremely well done, informative, and just great fun!
When we arrived we broke into different groups, and took off to different locations. The first destination was the Mississippi Palisades State Park. The first day was extremely fun because we got to meet other birders from Iowa and hear about their birding experiences in Iowa. When arriving at the first spot in the Palisades we spotted 4 species of warblers, a Chipping Sparrow, and a Cowbird. We got an especially good look at the Blue-winged Warblers and American Redstarts. On our way back to our cars we had a few looks at a Yellow-Throated Warbler, a first-of-the-year (FOY) for me. One thing I really enjoyed about the Palisades was how wild it was. In just the fifteen minutes in the car to our next stop, we heard Ovenbirds and three more FOY birds for me, which were Kentucky and Hooded warblers and a Yellow-throated Vireo. Back by where I live, driving through the woods like that I would be lucky to hear a Red-Eyed Vireo. The Iowa birders were extremely generous and helpful. They knew this area and what kind of birds were around there. I definitely learned new techniques and skills for birding from them.
On day 2, the final day, we went into Iowa and visited the mysterious Green Island marsh. To get to the meeting point we went over a bridge that showed the vastness of the Mississippi. I think I got a slight case of vertigo on that bridge.
The first stop was a dike that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources had mowed for us to walk on. When we arrived we talked about what we might see there. One specific thing we focused in on was the Least Bittern. One member said, “So if you see a orange-gold chicken flying, it’s not a chicken. It’s a bittern.” As soon as we got out of the car, Henry Griffin and I had heard an unfamiliar call. After hearing a few times it was identified it as a Sandhill Crane. We moved on into the marsh and saw a muskrat swimming briskly through the shallows.
The weekend was no doubt an absolute success. For as long as this event had been in the works, it sure paid off! We saw over 100 species, met many new birders, and had a lot of fun birding. I would be very interested in doing another event like this with the young birders of Iowa or other nearby states.
Gabi Sebastian, 9, Carol Stream, Illinois
The Illinois/Iowa Young Birders Weekend was an amazing experience! We had never been to Mississippi Palisades State Park and I was super excited to see what it was like. I saw some really awesome birds, some of which I had never seen before. It was perfect! The only thing that would have made the weekend better was if it had been a WEEK LONG! But other than that, I thought it was really cool!
On Saturday night Rachael Butek, the 2010 ABA Young Birder of the Year, gave a presentation about how she got into birding and her experience participating in the Young Birder of the Year contest. After that, Rachael drew names from an envelope and each of us got to pick out a bird guide or similar gift. I picked Sparrows of the United States and Canada. Part of the reason I chose this is because Rachael likes sparrows, and also because I want to learn more about sparrows and how to identify all the different kinds.
My favorite field trip was probably the Lost Mound on Sunday morning. I was looking for Prothonotary Warblers. We didn’t see any, but we saw lots of other birds like Turkey Vultures, lots of Dickcissels, Baltimore Orioles, Woodpeckers, and much more. My favorite birds that we saw were the Loggerhead Shrikes. I’d never seen one of those before. We also saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched on a branch and someone found it with their spotting scope so we could all take a closer look at it. That was super!!!
If there is a Young Birder’s weekend again next year, we are DEFINITELY DOING IT!!!! I had a great time!
Benjamin Sebastian, 11, Carol Stream, Illinois
I went on the Illinois/Iowa Young Birder’s trip on the weekend of June 14-15, 2014 in northwest Illinois and eastern Iowa at the Mississippi Palisades State Park. I had a lot of fun enjoying the wonderful scenery and seeing some neat birds. We drove up late in the afternoon on Friday and saw Turkey Vultures, Canada Geese, Red-tailed Hawks, Sandhill Cranes, American White Pelicans, and Cedar Waxwings. We spent the night in a hotel in Elizabeth and the next morning we drove back to the Mississippi Palisades Park and went on a morning hike of our own before the Young Birder’s weekend officially started at 12:00. After a brief introduction and meeting, we took short hikes and drives around the Palisades Park. We saw White Pelicans, Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, a Pileated Woodpecker, Broad Winged, Red-tailed, and Red-shouldered hawks, Baltimore Orioles, American Robins, White-breasted Nuthatches, Northern Rough-winged and Barn swallows, Song Sparrows, and Acadian Flycatchers. I think the most numerous birds were Turkey Vultures. One almost landed in a tree thirty feet above my head!
Later that night, we went to Lost Mound for an owl prowl. Our guide, Bob Walton, gave a presentation on owls and showed us mounted Barred, Snowy, Great- Horned, and screech owls. Turkey Vultures circled over us the entire time. We saw an Eastern Bluebird on a power line and a deer came out of the woods on the other side of the road. I could hear the sounds of Whip-poor-wills calling.
Then we drove to Lost Mound, got out of our cars and heard numerous Whip-poor-wills and saw more Turkey Vultures. We didn’t hear any owls until, finally, just before we were leaving, we heard a pair of Barred Owls. It is only the second time I have heard a Barred Owl. Exhausted, we drove back to our hotel and completely collapsed.
We woke up early on Sunday morning and went back to Lost Mound and drove around looking to find more amazing birds. On the drive there we saw Double-crested Cormorants, American White Pelicans, Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, several Great Blue Herons, Turkey Vultures, and lots of Great Egrets that had just landed in a field as we drove by. When we got to Lost Mound we drove around and saw all the huge mounds where bombs and other weapons were stored a long time ago. We even got to go inside one of the mounds and I noticed that there were thousands of dead ladybugs just inside the doorway. On this field trip we saw Henslow’s, Grasshopper, Song, and Lark sparrows, lots of Dickcissels, Western and Eastern meadowlarks, several Bald Eagles, and, a special treat, a rarely seen male Blue Grosbeak fluttering in the prairie grass. We also saw more pelicans and Great Egrets, Loggerhead Shrikes, Northern Mockingbirds, Brown Thrashers, Horned Larks, and an Eastern Towhee.
We met everyone back at the park to have lunch and a closing meeting before the drive. All in all, this was the best weekend of birding I have ever had!
Coralee Bodeker, 12, Vinton, Iowa
I love to bird and I was lucky enough to find myself a part of the first ever Iowa-Illinois Young Birder Mega Weekend this year from June 14-15. I have been attending birding trips with Iowa Young Birders for going on a year now; my first trip (and favorite) with the group was to the Broken Kettle Grasslands Preserve in the Loess Hills of Iowa in July 2013. Attending the joint birder weekend was both exciting and informative. I thoroughly enjoyed birding with such a diverse group that included over twenty young birders from three states—Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
During the course of the weekend, we visited two separate birding hotspots—Mississippi Palisades State Park (Illinois on Saturday) and Green Island Wildlife Management Area (Iowa on Sunday). Both places showcased interesting and varied habitats that made for great birding. The weekend was windy, but my group did still manage to see quite a few birds including multiple flocks of American White Pelicans and Great Blue Herons, a pair of Sandhill Cranes, a Blue-winged Warbler, and a Blue Grosbeak. Our group on Sunday was even fortunate enough to hear a Prothonotary Warbler during the last moments of the trip at Green Island.
Perhaps the best part of the weekend, however, for me, was speaking with Rachel Butek, the ABA’s 2010 Young Birder of the Year contest winner. Rachel’s story of how she became interested in birding was really inspiring. I specifically related to her belief that birding is not just about pursuing the rare birds and maintaining a huge, evolving life list. True birding, at its heart, is admiration for all the intricate details of the fantastic birds that surround you, down to the last Song Sparrow (which is Rachel’s “spark bird” as she put it during her after-dinner talk with our group.)