Pelicans – in Iowa?

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American Lotus seedCorn or beef are probably what comes to mind when you think of Iowa, right?  But wildlife?  Not so much.  Well, that was the pleasant surprise I got during our stay in Amana, Iowa.  But allow me to digress for a moment…

Our only stay in Iowa was at the town of Amana, to learn about the colony that was settled here by Germans in the early 1900’s.  They came here to escape religious persecution in their homeland. To us, the Amana Village was just a small touristy town of quaint shops, and we didn’t find much there that spoke of their communal heritage.  After a bit of perusing the shops we left empty-handed, agreeing it was kind of a dud. Folks there didn’t seems to smile much.

Amana Colonies

Amana Village

Even though Amana Village was a bit of a letdown, the weather was nice so we focused our attention on one of our favorite outdoor activities – walking.  wpid30531-2014-09-20-IA-1590126-.jpgAfter walking around the acres of corn surrounding our home base at Amana Colonies RV Park (Steve’s review here), we went in search of other nearby walking trails.

Lily Lake, Iowa

Lily Lake

Fortunately, Lily Lake was only 3/4 mile away, so we could walk to it and then continue on its 3.1-mile paved recreational trail.  Called the Kolonieweg (colony path) Trail, it connects the villages of Amana and Middle Amana.  Although it wasn’t a very long trail, we enjoyed the fresh air as we walked around the lake and saw the occasional turtle or bird.

The lake derives its name from the thousands of yellow American Lotus which bloom every summer across its 170 acres.  But the blooms had already passed and the seeds were drying out by the time we arrived.

American Lily

Once the seeds dry, the empty pods remain and are used in floral arrangements

American Lotus leaves

The large round bluish-green leaves of American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)

Having found the trail, we walked there one day to discover that the lake is a year-round haven for various wildlife, and a rest spot for migrating birds.  And was I ever glad I had my camera when we came upon hundreds of resting birds during our walk.  It looked like everybody was stopping for a rest on this day!

Lily Lake, Iowa

A few geese secured their spots on the lake

Trumpeter swan

Iowa began a reintroduction program for Trumpeter Swans in the 1990’s

Great Blue Heron

Even a Great Blue Heron made an appearance!

American Coots

American Coots

Ducks

Not sure what kind of ducks belong to these butts

We caught a glimmer of white specs flying overhead as we walked along.  They seemed to be just gliding and circling around, and we waited with anticipation for them to land.  There were hundreds of them wheeling overhead, swirling in the air and eyeing the lake below. Steve said they were waiting for a landing clearance from Air Traffic Control 🙂

At first I thought they must be the Whooping Cranes from Wisconsin, but I was wrong.

As they finally glided down onto the lake, I was surprised to discover they were White Pelicans!

White Pelicans

They came in, landing by the dozens.  Eventually they literally crowded large areas of the lake…

White Pelicans

 

Once they had touched down, a feeding frenzy began.  Even Steve stopped in his tracks to watch in fascination.  These birds literally teamed up in formations to herd fish into shallow areas of the water.  Then they simply dipped their heads below the surface to gobble up mouthfuls (or is it billfulls?) of gizzard shad, using their feet and wings to keep the hapless fish corralled.  Amazing!

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Then they moved in unison, heading in another direction.  Fun to watch!

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White Pelicans

Look at that big bill!

I learned later the American white pelican, has increasingly become a frequent Iowa summer resident and a recently established breeder in the state.  At this time of the year they are packing up and heading to their southern wintering grounds.  Watching them glide in the air was a beautiful sight, especially when the sun hit their glimmering white feathers at just the right angle.  And seeing them corral and gobble up the fish was a treat.  They put on a good show, and we were delighted to be at the lake at just the right time.  This event is repeated daily until late October, by which time they have all left for warmer territory.

Not to be outdone, thousands of Red-winged Blackbirds were also busy swooping and circling around the cornfields as we headed home.  What a sight to see!

Red winged black birds

On our last day in Iowa, we drove a few miles to F.W. Kent County Park to do some hiking on their trails.  I thought my posts about mushrooms were over, but look at these giant puffballs!

Well, Steve saw his tractors and engines, and I was able to enjoy the birds and wildlife of the area.  Given hints by the migratory birds and the changing colors of the leaves,  we have to continue our southward pilgrimage in order to avoid the upcoming bleak midwest weather.

Amana, Iowa

 

Next up:  Moving on to Quincy, Illinois



 

Dauphin Island is for the birds!

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I know what you must be thinking – I just completed four months of gawking at birds while we were in Florida, and here I am talking about birds again.  Lucky for me, we arrived at Dauphin Island, AL where neotropical migratory birds make their first landfall at the beginning of the spring season.  Migration begins in March and peaks in mid-April. If you’re not a “bird fan”, then you probably won’t be interested in the rest of this post. Even my hubby gave me an agonized look when I asked him to edit yet another bird story!

Dauphin Island

But first, what the heck is a neotropical bird?

A neotropical migratory bird is one that breeds in Canada or the United States during our summer, then spends our winter in Mexico, Central America, South America or the Caribbean islands.  The majority of neotropical migratory birds are songbirds, such as warblers, thrushes, tanagers, and vireos.

Dauphin Island is the first landfall for many neotropical migratory birds after their long flight across the Gulf from Central and South America each spring.

Map of Dauphin Island Alabama

Map of Dauphin Island, Alabama

After a recent storm here I ventured out to the Audubon Bird Sanctuary and the Indian Shell Mound Park, where I was amazed by the abundance of “fall out”, a term used to describe these large groups of arriving migrants.  The cute little colorful birds were all over the place, hopping and foraging.  And it seemed like their stopover lasted only a single day, for when I went back the following morning the area was already quiet.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary

Audubon Bird Sanctuary

The Dauphin Island Audubon Bird Sanctuary Center lists 347 species that have been sighted on the island.  The Center distributes a migration calendar which lists each bird species expected to arrive, and on what dates.  This year, it’s estimated that the peak spring migration will be around April 15-25 – depending on the weather – but I’ve already seen lots of birders and photographers swarming the island.  Although we’ll be at Gulf Shores in late April, I might just hop on the ferry to come back here for another look!

Dauphin Island Shell Island Park

Some of the many birders and photographers at Shell Island Park

Here are a few snaps that I managed to capture that day.  These tiny birds are skittish and move around a lot.  To make it more interesting, I added some fun facts that I learned about these particular neotropical migratory birds:

  • Migrating birds cross the 600 miles of the Gulf of Mexico without resting.
Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler – these cuties were literally all over the place that day.

  • For most long-distance migrants, the birds are born genetically programmed to fly in a certain direction for a certain amount of time.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The most challenging bird for me to capture – Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

  • The time it takes a single bird to complete a full one-way migration can range from a few weeks to up to four months, depending on the total distance, weather, flight speed, route and stopovers.
Yellow-throated Warbler

I froze when this Yellow-throated Warbler posed right in front of me.

  • Ninety percent of migrating birds fly at airspeeds between 15 and 45 miles per hour.
White-eyed Vireo

The White-eyed Vireo was checking me out as well.

  • Many songbirds migrate at night, in part to avoid the attention of predators that are also migrating, such as raptors.
Prothonotary Warbler

Four of these Prothonotary Warblers were competing for seeds.

  • Migrants have an internal clock that controls the onset of migration and their pre-migration preparations.
Scarlet Tanager

The Scarlet Tanagers were way up there in the trees

  • Migrating birds use the stars and sounds from the earth below to find their way at night.  Buntings specifically use the pattern of stars around the North Star for navigation.  Amazing!
Indido Bunting

Steve was even excited when an Indigo Bunting visited our site (blue is his favorite color)

And that’s just a few of the gorgeous specimens I’ve seen the last few days!  In addition to all of the migrants passing through, we’re also being entertained daily at our campground (Steve’s review here) by the constant sounds and visits from the locals – Cardinals, Finches, Mockingbirds, Grackles, Doves and Blue Jays, who seem to rule the island.  These guys are eating us out of house and home, as we’ve been refilling our feeder every day.  But there’s nothing like waking up every morning to the sounds of all these wonderful birds singing to us!

Next up:  We go our separate ways