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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!

1 comment:

The Early Birder said...

Now that was an excellent day out. Lots of good sightings & photos.