April 30, 2009

Hudsonian Godwit-No Longer a Nemisis

Last night my friend called me to report that four Hudsonian Godwits were at a place called New Lake. It wasn't too far from my home so my dad and I headed out to find my no. 1 nemesis Iowa (and life) bird. When we got to the lake I had trouble finding them in the low light but with some effort I was able to find them feeding on the far shore. They all took off and I counted at least six in the group before they were all gone. The Hudsonian Godwit was life bird 306 and Iowa bird 263. Two nemesis Iowa birds down so far this year, one to go.

April 29, 2009

Birding in the Rain

Today my mom and I went out birding for a couple hours after a dentist appointment. It was rainy but warm and there were a few birds out and about. Some of the first birds we saw were around 40 Franklin's Gulls that flew over the road.

More gulls were seen shortly after that a cattle farm but they were not Franklin's but Ring-billed instead. We had five of them as well as Snow Geese and Double-crested Cormorants. After that we decided to check for the Snowy Plover at another farm pond but we had no luck finding it or any other shorebird there.
The best birding of the short trip was at Owego Wetlands. I dusted off my waders that have been sitting unused for just under a year now at my house and took off into the wetlands to search for Soras, Virginia Rails, American Bitterns, etc. One of the first "highlight" birds was a foy Marsh Wren that popped out of the cattails to come check me out. After that I saw three more of them as I worked my way through the tangles of weeds. I began to doubt that I was going to see any of my target birds but I was wrong. About halfway through my journey I flushed a foy Sora. On the way back to the car I flushed up two more Soras (heard another) and a foy American Bittern.

On the way back home I stopped by the Luton WMA North and came across Paul. After we talked for a minute he started to head off and as he did a Black-crowned Night-Heron flew into the area and sat at the side of the pond we were overlooking. It was the best look I had ever had of a night-heron and it was another foy. Of course I called Paul and he turned around and saw it as well.

Also seen on the way back was a Canada Goose family with six young ones. The "runt" (the bird with the red circle around it) in the group kept falling behind the rest. His future doesn't seem very bright. I had a nice day of birding and got to go wading which I always enjoy doing. I had four year birds on the trip as well as a foy Swainson's Thrush in my yard the same morning which put my year list up to 159. Almost forgot to add that I saw a Red-headed Woodpecker, the first one I have seen in Iowa this year.

The thrashers are back....

...and are making a lot of noise. The only species of thrasher that lives in my area is the Brown Thrasher. They are the easternmost of all of the thrashers in North America and are related to mockingbirds. They mimic other birds like mockingbirds do and are always fun to listen to. I got one on video singing in my backyard from the top of a tree.

Mr and Mrs Muscovy

I found this pair of deomestic Muscovy Ducks taking up refuge in a drainage ditch the other day. They have been hanging outr there since the 23rd. I have seen some interesting (uncountable)waterfowl in the same area, such as a pair of domestic Graylag Goose.

April 25, 2009

More on the Snowy Plover

The Snowy Plover found by my friend Paul was seen again today but not by me. Paul got a photo of the bird which he gave me permission to use on the blog. Thanks Paul!

April 24, 2009

Snowy Plover!

At 5:30 this afternoon my birding friend called me with great news that a Snowy Plover, an casual bird in Iowa and a first for Woodbury County, was at the Dairy Ponds. I was ecstatic to hear that and I stopped what I was doing right away and my dad and I went down to see it. We were stuck behind a very slow truck going about 20mph for about 2 miles which made me very stressed. As soon as we got to the Dairy Ponds and I saw the plover however, the stress went away and I was back to normal, just more excited than usual. It was life bird 305 for me and a lifer for Paul! I will post pictures and more later on, time permitting.

April 23, 2009

Waterfowl Up Close

Yesterday my family spent the day in Yankton, SD and Sioux Falls, SD. We stopped by a duck pond in Yankton that had a number of ducks, many of which appear to be wild. All of the pictures will get bigger if you click on them if you would like to see the finer details on the birds.
The first picture here is of a Snow Goose. It is not often that you see them up close because they are usually out in the fields during migration. The duck pond provided safe haven for injured geese who loved the food we brought them.
A couple Ross's Goose were there. They were so small and cute and had the brightest white feathers I have ever seen on a bird.
Wood Ducks were also there in numbers. I got great shots of both males and females. They are one of my favorite ducks to photograph since they are such pretty birds.A Mallard (possibly domestic) provided great photo opportunities as well. The lighting was perfect and made the green feathers on it's head shine.
Canada Geese were also there and came in with the other birds to check out what we brought for them to eat.

Nemesis No More!

For the past couple of years when I thought of nemesis Iowa state birds Marbled and Hudsonian Godwits and the Black-billed Magpie came to mind. These three birds always seemed to somehow escape my view no matter how many times I tried to find them.
This past Tuesday I tried to find two of the three nemesis birds-the Hudsonian Godwit and the Black-billed Magpie.

The godwit I tried to find was reported from a place called New Lake. It had been seen a couple of times in the past few days. I went out there early in the morning and didn't see it even though it was there the night before :( Now it is an even bigger nemesis bird. The trip wasn't wasted however, we did see a foy Osprey on it's nest atop a large tower.

After that it was onto the magpies. I spent a leisurely day with my sister and her boyfriend from Seattle as well as my sister that lives in town. We hiked Stone State Park and saw a few birds including a foy Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. After the hike we decided to go up to see the Broken Kettle Grasslands, the largest remnants in Iowa and the American Bison that live there. We were not really birdwatching, in fact I forgot my binoculars, but I still tried to find some birds without them. As we were driving around I noticed my birding friend Jerry parked on the side of the road. He was birdwatching and to my surprise he said that there were four magpies sitting in the bushes about 350 ft away from the road. I didn't see the birds at first but I easily located the nest. A couple minutes later I saw two birds out in the open and snapped a few pictures before they dove back into the bushes.

The Black-billed Magpie was my 261st Iowa state bird. It can only be seen at the Broken Kettle Grasslands where it nests. I never expected to see them, it sort of came as a surprise. One nemesis down, two more to go!

April 22, 2009

I'm an Eagle

Tonight I went in to do a board of review for my Eagle Scout rank in Boyscouts. All went well and so now I am officially an Eagle Scout. I started back in spring 2005 and am amazed at how quickly those four years went.

April 20, 2009

April 15, 2009

Mammal Invasion

Mammals are taking over this post!

I had a few photos I got earlier this year and I wanted to share them since I somehow forgot to. I am not just into birds, I also am into amphibians, butterflies and other insects, mammals, and reptiles, although birds generally come first.
The animals in the photo below are American Bison. I got this photo at Broken Kettle Grasslands in Iowa back in January. A small herd was reintroduced to this large prairie area, the largest in the state. In this photo they are only in a small trap pasture to help them get settled into their surroundings. The preserve manager said that they usually sit on the side of the hill that the wind is hitting for some reason or another. They are expected to have babies before long here, in fact I think some have already been born.

This photo of a Red Squirrel was taken on Valentine's Day weekend at Gooseberry Falls SP near the feeders in northern Minnesota. They were around in good numbers there and around many of the feeders elsewhere in the north woods.
The last photo is of a White-tailed Deer. These common deer that have a wide distribution across North America are numerous in some parts of Iowa. This individual was underneath a feeder at a nature center looking for food. It is funny what you can find at feeders besides birds. When I get a photo of a Black Bear at a feeder I will make sure to post it!

That's all the mammal photos I have to share. Watch out for the next mammal invasion on Birding with Tucker.

Backyard Hermit

No I do not have Hermit Crabs living in my backyard, what I am talking about is a Hermit Thrush that stopped by on it's way up north to it's breeding grounds in the boreal forest this afternoon. It was wet and dreary but I managed to get an identifiable photo of it before it flew off. This is the first one I've seen in my yard and the first one of the year for me. I don't see them often during migration so this was a treat (and so was that twix bar I just ate). It is just another sign that spring is here at last.

April 14, 2009

From Injured to Dead

The injured grackle I posted about the other day appears to be dead. I came upon a grackle that appeared to be the same one. It looks like he made it up a hill before finally dying. The iridescent color of the feathers really stands out in this picture. Goodby grackle, rest in peace.

The First Leaves of Spring

April 13, 2009

Up and Down the Big Sioux

Today I went out with Paul, a birder friend on a day long trip up the Big Sioux River Valley on Iowa's northwestern border. We had a great time and found some nice birds and some good places to go birding.

The day started out at eight in the morning. The weather was dreary and some light rain started falling. Even though the weather was bad at first the sun did come out and so did the birds. One of the first stops we made was the Broken Kettle Grasslands. This area has the largest prairie remnants in Iowa making for some interesting birding. We headed up a windy road that went up to the tops of the hills. On the hillside some dams were constructed to make small farm ponds. We found a Great Egret in no time as well as an assortment of the usual birds. We had a singing Swamp Sparrow in the cattails near the ponds which was a year bird for me. The songs of Field Sparrows could also be heard there on the scenic prairie. In some trees near the road we were surprised to find a Brown Creeper making it's way up a tree. Another year bird came in the form of an Eastern Towhee. There were a few of these in the brush on the hillside singing away. One bird we hoped to see was a Black-billed Magpie but there were none there. These are my largest nemesis state bird. I can never seem to find them there even though other people can. Below is a picture of the Black-billed Magpie habitat that is so prevalent there.
On the way to a good magpie site we found a couple shorebirds on a pond including a Wilson's Snipe which was a year bird for both of us.On the way over to the magpie site we heard a Chipping Sparrow (yb). While looking for magpies we heard an Eastern Meadowlark, another year bird.

After we were done at the grasslands we headed to the Higman's Quarry in Westfield, IA and found some intersting birds there. On the way in we found a Loggerhead Shrikethat was hunting from the power lines near the road. He was a challenge to photograph as he kept flushing when we tried to get close enough for a nice picture.The best shot I could manage is below. A Savannah Sparrow was also seen on the way in.When we got into the quarry we didn't see much at first but did eventually find some ducks and four Eared Grebes (year bird) on the ponds there. We moved onward and found some more Eared Grebes which brought our total to 13 of them which is a good number for our area. More ducks were there but not much else so we moved on. We birded a little in some towns in the area but didn't see much. One pond we came across was productive however and had some shovelers and other waterfowl in it.We came across a good birding spot along the river. It was another sand and gravel quarry but the ponds there were bigger and deeper than those at the other one. We saw lots of bird when we got in there including Pied-billed Grebe (yb), Double-crested Cormorant (yb), Bald Eagle, and the more common birds. It appeared to have a lot of potential and we will be back there soon. We went back in a wooded area and flushed a Great Horned Owl there. Unbelievably we found more Eared Grebes putting us at 18 individuals for the day! An American White Pelican posed nicely for a picture at the quarry on the way out.
We headed further north but saw few birds but we kept going. We saw some year bird including Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Vesper Sparrow but there was not much else besides the common birds. Of the few bird species we found far up north this pair of Wood Ducks were one of them.
The count for the day was 71 species with a number of year birds and a lot of fun!

April 12, 2009

Up in Flames!

On a nice spring day in Iowa many farmers are out burning their fields. Today, like the farmers, my dad, mom, and me did some burning on our property which is a couple acres in size. I got a neat photo (left) of the flames as they flared up. Fires are one of my favorite things to photograph because they make for interesting photos.

It comes as no surprise that spring is the time when more 911 calls come in about fires than any other season. Springtime in Iowa wouldn't be the same without prairie fires and lots of 911 calls.

The Yellow Easter-Peep

Look, it's the Yellow Easter-Peep over there on the tree stump!
Have a great Easter and enjoy the peeps (if you can stand how they taste).

April 11, 2009

Injured Grackle

I came across an injured grackle this morning while going down to get the newspaper. It appeared to have a broken wing, although in the picture it is hard to see. I got a few photos of him but decided to leave him alone since he apparently didn't like my company. Grackles more than any other birds around my place have hit windows. They usually don't die but are so stunned it takes them a minute to leave. The other day we had two grackles hit windows on our house at the same time!

Bird Photo Quiz 3 Answer

John G from California identified every bird in the photo correctly. I would give an explanation on how to identify them, but that's time I could be outside birding in the nice spring weather instead of sitting on the computer.

From Right to Left: Black-legged Kittiwake (ad), Ring-billed Gull (1st winter), Franklin's Gull (ad), Ring-billed Gull (ad)

If you would like to learn how to identify gulls of North America I suggest buying the Gulls of the Americas by Howell and Dunn. It can be purchased at

April 10, 2009

A Good Friday for Birding

My dad and I got up early today (Good Friday) in order to go visit a Greater Prairie Chicken Lek out in the fine state of Nebraska. When we showed up to the site it didn't take long to find displaying birds. We could see and hear them from the road but as you can tell from the picture below we couldn't manage to get a great photo. It was neat to see them inflate their neck sacs with air and dance around. One female in particular had three crazy male birds booming around her.
I have been out to these Leks before to see the chickens but the other two times I have been out there the winds were very strong, the birds were fewer in number, and you couldn't hear them. It was nice to view them on a nice calm morning when I could take it all in. We easily saw close to twenty birds on two Lek sites within an hour.

After we observed the prairie chickens for a while we decided to head out to Yankton to see what birds were around the lake and dam. I had a couple year birds including Pied-billed Grebe and Great Egret. There was a lot there just not much variety. I had some fun photographing the birds there and I got a very nice shot of a Ring-billed Gull that came down to check out our cinnamon rolls. The Bonaparte's Gulls however were not interested in what we had to offer.
The most common bird there was the American Coot. They were all over the place in the thousands. Some birds were out of the water feeding on the grass. During the summer there is one particular location where they are all over the road and it is like the parting of the Red Sea as they run to get out of the way of your car.
I really liked this picture. It is not the prettiest or the sharpest but I loved that the coots were side by side, one with the wings up and one with the wings down as they took off.
After our birdwatching around the lake we had to head home. We did howeverdo a little birdwatching when we stopped at a small city pond. It had a few "wild waterfowl" there including Wood Duck and Ross's Goose (pictured).It was a good Friday for birding indeed with three new year birds and nice weather!

April 9, 2009

Creeping Creepers

This morning while I was out in my yard I came across a Brown Creeper. This is the first one I've seen so far this year. This past winter creepers were very scarce and I only saw one and it was not in my yard. In most years I have a couple that come to my feeders almost everyday during the winter but none were there this year. These are one of my favorite birds so hopefully I have some more that show up next year.

Bird Photo Quiz 3

As you can clearly see this photo quiz has gulls in it. But can you identify them all? Since the picture is small in the post, click on it to make it larger to help you see field marks. It was taken in Iowa in late October. Post a comment to answer. All birds are on the ABA checklist which can be accessed by going to:

April 8, 2009

More Robin Photos

I went out and photographed the American Robins again today since they were being so cooperative. Common they may be, but I usually never have a chance to get so close to them and to get photos in good light. Here are the best photos I could get in the couple hours I was out there.This is the same photo as the one above but I cropped it to show some finer details.The lighting in this one was interesting.
These shots turned out nice as well. I was glad to be able to get the eye to show in so many of them.

So, have I bored you with all these robin shots yet?

April 7, 2009

New Look and Robins!

As you can see Birding with Tucker looks different. I changed it to match the photo at the top of the page, the one of the American Robin just up the page from this post. I got lots of great photos of robins today as the feasted on crab apples in our front yard. Here are some of my favorite picture I got as well as a commentary on each one. Enjoy!
This one says hi.
This one is giving me the "evil eye".
I got this this one eating. And this one is just doing....nothing.
This one says goodbye.