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Thoughts of an Iowa Birdwatcher

These will be random thoughts about birds, birders, birdwatching, feeders, reptiles, wildflowers and nature in general. I will specifically discuss conservation interests, and other things as the mood hits me. The topics will probably lean a bit towards of interest to Iowa, as that is where I live.

  • © 2004 by An Iowa Birder.
  • Monday, October 13, 2008

    12 October 2008: Little Known Local Preserves

    Today’s trip was to 5 under-appreciated gems in the northern and eastern Johnson County. Every place we visited was north of I-80 and E of the Iowa R. As the sparrow flies they range from ten mile N of Iowa City to 5.5 mile ENE of town. To get to all of them took 60-70 road miles. We did not visit any place for very long, but spent enough time at each to get an idea of what they are like.

    N.B. Rather than wrestle w blogger, I wil now post most of my photos at
    This blog's photos are at
    We started at two small postage-stamp prairie preserves, above Lake Macbride.

    Solon Prairie [3 acre, Johnson County Conservation Commission] has become practically surrounded by Solon. When you look at the sign, you can look across the prairie and see houses. With just walking on the perimeter path, we saw a number of interesting things both. Red-winged Blackbirds were still singing at Solon, and the first warbler of the day, Palm Warbler, was working over some saplings. Prairies this small and ones this close to residential areas are very difficult to manage.

    Our next stop was Strub Prairie [1.5 acre, Johnson County Heritage Trust]. Strub was formerly known as Propane Pr as it was by a propane storage tank. We did not see as many birds here, but more interesting plants and butterflies.

    The next two places we visited were larger JCHT Preserves that touch the Corps of Engineers lands bordering the Coralville Reservoir. The Big Grove Preserve [40 ac] is one of the remaining portions of the Big Grove described by the first land surveyors in Johnson County. We did not get into the part of this preserve with the more mature trees, still we spent time trying to get good looks at a Winter Wren that was playing mouse in some piles of cut branches. We spent so much time trying unsuccessfully to get a good look at this bird that we decided to move on.
    Just short distance away, we visited Turkey Creek Preserve [110 ac]. Although Turkey Creek is mostly woods, we spend our time on the edge of some prairies and some creeks. Many Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Robins and one Hermit Thrush were enjoying some of the berries [Poison Ivy, Virginia Creeper, and others]. A Belted Kingfisher rattled in Turkey Creek.

    We finished at Hora Woods [20 ac], a small woodland. We caught the day’s second Hermit Thrush and a few other birds as we dodged the falling walnuts and hickories. A member of the bird club was cutting wood nearby, saw us go past and stopped to visit. He told us that Mrs. Mabel Hora, who donated the property and for whom it is named was his seventh grade math teacher. Preserves so small as this make it almost impossible to avoid seeing the ubiquitous corn or beans.

    As we were looking more at the place and less at the birds, our bird list is short -- thirty plus all told.

    Solon Prairie: Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, Field Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, House Finch, and American Goldfinch.

    Strub Prairie: Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren, Palm Warbler, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, and American Goldfinch.

    Big Woods: Am White Pelican †, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, and Eastern Towhee.

    Turkey Creek: Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk †, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird †, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrow, Harris's Sparrow, and American Goldfinch.

    Hora Woods: Northern Harrier †, American Kestrel †, Peregrine Falcon †, Killdeer †, Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Hermit Thrush, and American Robin.

    Monday, October 06, 2008

    Lake Macbride Pelagic Trip, Saturday 4 October 2008

    Saturday morning dawned clear and cool, a beautiful mist rising off the still waters of Lake Macbride as I crossed the causeway and headed towards Knight’s Marina. About ten people boarded the Guppy, cast off and headed out onto the lake.

    There were a few gulls and possibly a tern flying over the lake but the first birds we got good looks at were a Great Blue Heron perched on a snag coming out of the water and an immature Turkey Vulture sitting on a power line pole, waiting for sunshine and warmer air. Pulling closer to shore we had a few Am. Goldfinches and a couple of birds whose identity was left as Confusing Fall Warbler or Kinglet sp. as they spent most of their time bouncing around in a tree that still had most of its leaves. We also heard Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals and Black-capped Chickadees.

    About the time we were finally able to identify one of the gulls as a Ring-billed, the wind picked up a little, and we crossed a small wake and water started to splash over the front of the platform. Water started pouring in and soon a veritable tidal surge swept towards Ed in the back of our brave ship. A minor tussle broke out when lifejackets were ordered for those who could not swim, ‘Where’s my lifejacket?’ Decisive actions by Our Heroic Cap’n soon had the situation under control. By the time we limped into the sailboat dock on the North Arm, water had emptied off the back of the boat. We tied on and exited the boat. It was clear that the boat was floating high and dry although there were some wet feet and one camera was wet.

    A number of the group chose not too get back on the our ship and retuned via the White Pine Trail, back to the Cottage Reserve and Our Hosts’ House. We must have looked a little bedraggled as we came out of the woods as several people offered us rides back, ‘Do any of the Titanic Survivors need a lift?’

    Our ship’s crew beat the hikers back to the dock. Upon repairing onto Our Hosts’ Four Seasons Room we found that the late arrivals and crew had not even dented the hot coffee and tea, fresh fruit salad, homemade pear bread, egg casserole, and other goodies. Our Heroic Cap’n explained what happened as Simple Physics. Personally I never found Physics as Simple,

    On the hike and at Our Hosts’ we added Pileated, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers and a Brown Creeper performed its Anti-Nuthatch Act just off the porch. A junco was seen at Our Hosts’ while we were hiking.