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Keeping Watch - Spring Migration Continued -  4/21/2012

By Steve Wilson | Mar 25, 2012
Photo by: Steve Wilson Eco-system engineer at work

River Bottom — 4/21/2012

Ice and frost in the lowlands. Tree swallows were lined up on the wires. Barnswallows were working the wetland yesterday. It looks like it is going to be a beautiful day.  


22 Blue-winged Teal on the Walmart Wetland.

Frost forcast for tonight. I laid over and covered-up the potted Mulberries. The Black Locust are in full bloom and...

More Canada Geese hatching.


4/17/2012 Noonhour

I was surprised today to see the Coots (20) and the Gadwalls (8) gathered once again over a bed of submerged vegetation on Joy Lake. There were also 14 Pie-billed Grebes and 1 female Bufflehead in attendance. It is a beautiful day. 59 degrees feels more like 70 in the sun. The peaches, plums, Juneberries and cherries are all looking good inspite of the freezing night time temperatures five days ago. 



This Sycamore tree shows why Pileated Woodpeckers are sometimes called ecosystems engineers. These holes are just the right size for Wood Ducks, Sparrow Hawks, Screech Owls Hooded Mergansers (a bit further north) and the like. Still further north in Canada Flickers make many of the nest cavities for the Buffleheads. It takes a big tree for the kind of excavation You see here. It appears this guy got a bit carried away. 

The Blue-winged Teal are still hanging around.

4/14/2012 Time and Space

I observed a Canada Goose who appears to be hatching her eggs this morning. Dad, standing close by, was being abnormally quiet, perhaps to avoid attracting attention to the nest, while Mom was allowing her wings to droop at her sides to make more space for the new arrivals. The calendar agrees - "Its about time." As I sat with Mom for a moment, thinking I might hear the voice of a gosling, Dad held his ground weighing his options and keeping a close eye on my every move.

Baby geese and ducks, as soon as they fluff up any way... well they are irresistable in my book and in the years that Joy and I have hauled them around to area schools there seems to be wide spread agreement on my assessment.     

The Cardinals are nesting now and in some cases their nests have been left exposed by the wilted leaves of vines that have been "fired" by the recent frosts. Fortunately Mom is of quiet colors thus allowing Dad to attract attention and lure away the hungry eyes of predators.

The borrow pits were rather quiet yesterday but there are still reports of migrating ducks to the south and Blue-winged Teal are still feeding on the hilltop wetlands.

It is time for the warblers now and so I must turn my eyes from the flowers on the forest floor to the bitsy balls of feathers flying through the trees. I am not a good warbler watcher. They move too quickly and look too much alike but I will pay attention. There are opportunities to add species of warblers to the county check list but I have yet to do so.


 4/12/2012  PM

12 Lesser Yellowlegs working the mud flats and the shallows. 1 Wilson's Snipe at the water's edge and 1 large Painted Turtle heading west across the mud. Seems too early to be looking for a place to lay eggs. Maybe the water is just getting to shallow. What ever the case, it appeared to be on a mission. 

AM River bottom Frost in the Hills and Ice in the Lowlands

Yeah there was frost in the river bottom this morning and there was frost in the New London highlands too. At 6:00 AM  as I left to take Grandma Joy to sit with sick granddaughter Keira in New London I put my hand through the ice on the water bucket sitting out in the yard. The bucket had frozen over again when I got home just after 7:00. There is more frost than yesterday but it is significantly warmer & warming in the uplands. The bank said it was 40F in New London even as the bucket was freezing over again in the lowlands at home. Time and temperature said 40F at 7:30 in Mt. Pleasant but as I looked out the window there was still frost on the back of a Canada gander sitting out on the pond. There is at least 10 degrees F difference between the hilltops the valleys this morning.

The unsettled spring weather in SE Iowa along with the extreme heat in July is why the apple growers, who paused for a few years in Salem, pulled up stakes and moved out to Oregon.


4/11/2012 PM Joy Lake

This afternoon there was a pair of Horned Grebes, 8 Pie-billed Grebes, 3 Buffleheads, 1 Blue-winged Teal, a pair of Mallards and 14 Coots on Joy Lake. The Horned Grebes spend much more time under the water than on the surface so it is very possible the female was there on the 7th as well and we just did not see her. 


AM Skunk River Bottom - Ice on the water pans,

The early morning sky is blue, the air is calm and dry with the light frost lingering now (9:00 am) only in the shadows. It is the ice on the water pans and the heads of the Small-flowered Buttercups hanging low on limp stems that tells the story of temperatures falling below the freezing mark in the low lands for several hours during the night . As the days and weeks go by the impact of the freeze on the mullberrys, oaks and walnuts will become apparent.

The elms were among those able to take full advantage of the early spring by producing a bumper crop of seeds for the goldfinches to enjoy. Yesterday the wind stripped the bulk of the the seeds remaining on the stems of the elms and scattered them so effectively across the meadow that it seemed every square foot had at least one.

The bloom buds of the raspberries also hang on wilted stems but their color remains good and so too, we hope, their chances of recovery.

PM River The Small Flowered Buttercups and the Raspberries look great. The Juneberries look good too.  The Mulberries, Hackberries, Black Walnut and Locust trees took a hit with damage ranging from a few leaves to total wilt. This is beginning to look like a good year to identify frost/freeze resistant trees among the sensitive species. It sounds like tonight is going to be more of the same. The last average killing frost date is "only" thirty days away. We laid potted Mulberries down and covered them with a plastic tarp and they still suffered some frost damage. Tonight we will put a couple of buckets of water under the tarp with them and see how that works.  So far it looks like the raspberries, elderberries, blackberries and Juneberries are ok. The raccoons and the birds will miss the mulberries.


4/10/2012 Big Cedar Bottoms

I stopped by the Great Blue Heron rookery . The wind shook the tri-pod so that it was hard to focus but there were definitly herons sitting on at least some of the nests. The leaves are closing quickly so in a few days they will disappear into the billowing safety of green cloud.  


4/8/2012, Easter, Light frost , clear breezy, 64F at 5:00 pmFirst Common Loon

We spotted this guy on a 34 by-pass borrow pit, the first one from the east(Brent Pond). This is a first on my Henry County life list and the first one on the Henry County Iowa Ornithologist Union Checklist. These guys usually show up on big water bodies. I have seen them on the lakes in northern Minnesota where their yodel is the classic Call of the Northwoods. Those who remember the movie "On Golden Pond" will remember the Call of the Loon. There were also 4 female Buffleheads sharing the rest stop.

Joy Lake: 1 Cormorant, 3 Green-winged Teal, 1 Blue-winged Teal, 26 Coots, 11 Shovelers, 4 Pie-billed Grebes, 1 Ruddy Duck, 1 pair of Tree Swallows and 1 Drake Mallard. My guess, his lady is on the nest.

East of the Rome Sand Pit: 2 Dragonflys. There is a shallow wetland going dry across the road and east of the Old Rome Sandpit. The fish (mostly carp?) are dying out. No eagles, no gulls, no egrets, no herons, what is wrong here? If the mud was not knee deep and I had a good seine and ...

The borrow pits and the Walmart stormwater wetland and the Old Rome sand pit are by accident doing a better job of conservation than many projects do on purpose. Gulls, terns, stilts, snipe, cormorants, pelicans, swans, loons, herons, eagles, geese, ...

I hope some day to be able to add some improvements to Joy Lake, like a wetland and nesting islands in the northeast corner to make it a better nursery for Wood Ducks and Swans but I am not sure doing so will add much to the visitor list. We will just have to wait and see.


Joy Lake:4/7/2012 Light frost, light showers, cool and cloudy 50 Ruddy Ducks set a record on Joy Lake.  

In a hurry to get home we blew by the first two borrow pits on the way home, just to make a quick check, as we were thinking the migration was pretty much over. But then came Joy Lake and we had to stop and get out the scope to identify the raft of small brown ducks sitting well over half way across the lake. We were guessing they might be Ruddys but there were just too many. I got out the scope and sure enough blue bills, stiff upright tails and bright white cheek patches on the rusty males left no question I was looking at the largest flock of Ruddys I have ever seen - at least to know what I was looking at.

A couple of grebes were mixed in with the Ruddys and I spotted several more grebes mixed in with a group of maybe 25 Coots and some ducks sitting in the northeast corner. I asked Joy to tally 8 Pie-billed Grebes and a dozen Mallards along with the Coots. I then took a close look at the 3 Cormorants sitting out in the middle to be sure they were the Double Creasted sort and not the Neo-tropicals some folks have been reporting on larger water bodies. Yep, bold orange at the base of the bill left no question.

I then worked my way back to the Ruddys to see if I had missed any. South of the Ruddys I noticed a lone grebe surface with a sunfish. This bird was not what I expected. It had some light coloration on its head, a slender bill and what appeared to be budding "ears". Joy got the book out and we determined it was a  male Horned Grebe. This is the first one either of us have ever seen on Joy Lake.

Joy noticed a male Bufflehead take off leaving his diving mate behind. A pair of Canada Geese and a flock of (Tree) swallows finished the list for today.


4/6/2012 Clear, frost 28F over night, 53F at noon.

O'Laughlin Woods

Grandson Riggs and I went to visit O'Laughlin Woods this morning.  A Northern Bobwhite Quail whistled a welcome to us on our arrival. Riggs struck up a conversation with a Pee Wee. At least that is what he told me. I can no longer hear the high pitched call of these little guys.

We went to do a preliminary inventory of the grove of Kentucky Coffee trees growing there and located 26. It continues to be the nicest grove growing in Henry County that I know of. The largest one measured was 72 inches in circumference. Riggs found some of the seed pods scattered on the ground beneath the trees. We saw a Cormorant in the air and jumped Mallards and Woodies off the river. While only the seed pods of the Bloodroot are visible now, there had to have been quite a show earlier. Yellow Bellworts and Purple Phlox ( even some white ones) were plentiful.

Joy spotted a Clay-colored Sparrow.

4/4/2012 PC 64F

One Woody hen has commenced the incubation of her eggs. Such early nesting is not unheard of and it is customary to the south but this the earliest, by nearly two weeks, that we have observed it in the years that we have been raising and releasing Woodies. This hen has been wrestling with a Starling over the nest box so we will be keeping watch to see that everything is going well with her now that she is incubating her clutch of a dozen eggs.

Walmart Wetland: 12 Blue-winged Teal, 10 Shovelers, 1 Pie-billed Grebe, 3 Coots, 3 Gadwalls, 2 Mallards, 2 Swallows (Rough-winged?) 15 Canada Geese. This postage stamp of a wetland is certainly a magnet. Remember the Black-necked Stilts? I wonder if they will stop back this summer?

Joy Lake: 14 Cormorants, 4 Ruddy Ducks, 15 Coots.

Faulkner's Access:  Wild Geraniums are soon to dominate. 

The walnut trees have started to bloom. The weather forecast is toying with frosty temperatures for tomorrow night.



Joy Lake:

10 Cormorants (from Rome?) 1 Ring-billed Gull, 1 Green-winged Teal, a mix of Widgeon, Gadwalls, Grebes, Ruddy Ducks and Shovelers, less than 10 of each. Maybe twenty + Coots and Mallards and a dozen geese.



Old Rome Sand Pit: 10 Double Crested Cormorants and a nice bunch of Canada Geese.

Joy Lake: 50 Shovelers and counting, 8 American Widgeon, 10 Coots 12 Blue-winged Teal, 4 Green-winged Teal, 8 Ruddy Ducks, 5 Grebes along with some geese and a few Mallards.  

Walmart Wetland: 3 Swallows, Cliff Swallows I think but maybe they were Rough-winged. Anyway, the flying bug eaters are back.

The River is up a bit. Someone must have gotten what our wildflowers needed. I am sure they did too.

The Black Locust tree bloom buds are out. Dare I dream of a honey flow from the locust like we have had from the Red Buds? It seems to happen every 20 years or so. At this point we might as well go for broke and dare to hope this warm weather holds but with a nice shower before the blossoms open. And when the Black Locust bloom, that's when the Ruby-throated Hummers usually show up.  Let me know if and when You see one.


4/1/2012 84F in La La Land

Joy Lake:

10 Grebes, 12 Ruddys, 8 Scaup, 42 Shovelers (peak?) 8 Coots, 8 Mallards, 12 American Widgeon, 4 Blue-winged Teal, 4 Gadwalls, 6 Green-winged Teal and 1 Pintail along with several Canada Geese. (The Red-breasted Mergansers are gone).

My first of the season Brown Thresher.

The weather holds and spring continues to unfold at a break-necked pace. The flowers on the forest floor dare not wait for the calender lest the leaves of the more conservative trees spread to rob the light and energy the little beauties need to set seed. And so they brave the risk of frost and do not pause to consider the cost.

The Jack-in-the-Pulpits are blooming today as is the Wild Ginger. The ginger can be seen along the road but may need a gentle prod to expose its rich maroon blossoms to the light as these cups are placed face down in the forest fluff to attract the pollinators who prefer to work under cover. 

Jack is holding Sunday services for April's Fools up the ravine from Faulkner's Access and to the right - on the north facing slope above the pictured pool. The stream bed of tumbled stones allows a pilgrim to respectfully approach without crushing flowers under foot but not without the complaint of creeking knees and twisted ankles. Joy and I sat down on the jagged rocks scattered 'round a level slab to trade in the pain in our knees for some dents in our buttocks. 

The regulars, to include a Gray Squirrel, a Chipmunk and a Tufted Titmouse, each in turn, questioned our intrusion with suspicious glances. They demanded that we sit quite still in quiet reverence on our chosen seats of stone as if to test our worthiness for sharing the moment with them. With a trickle of running water falling in silver beads over the mossy ledges and good cover spreading overhead I could hardly imagine a better haunt for passing warblers later on and so I plan to stop and test this assessment in coming weeks.

Jack, his pulpit perched percariously on the steep bank, did not preach to us this day of comfort but of holding on when the way is steep, assuring us that a promise worth making is a promise to keep. Clinging to patches of dry soil high across the ravine the Bluebells and the loftly Eastern Red Cedars were touched by a gentle breeze and nodded in agreement.

How I hope Spring too is listening and will make offerings of gentle showers and not sharp frost to the inhabitants of this hide-away.


3/31/2012 Cloudy in AM clearing PM 7:15 -66F Joy Lake. Wow! 5 Red-breasted Mergansers, these are the big ones and the first either of us have seen for several years, 2 Cormorants, 1 Pintail, 40 Coots, 60 Mallards, 6 Woodies, 7 Pie-billed Grebes, 10 Ruddy Ducks, 6 Canada Geese, 14 Widgeon, 6 Gadwalls, 10 Blue-winged Teal, 3 Ring-necked Ducks and 3 Buffleheads. One of the grebes got hold of a sunfish that was too big to swallow and so we watched him swimming around with it, refusing to let go but maybe at a loss as to  just what to do with it. When we first stopped today the Mallards, Gadwalls, Coots and Widgeon were all tightly tucked in along the south shore and thus out of sight. When I got out to scope the Mergansers they all flushed and I was afraid they were going to leave before we got a good look at them. Fortunately they settled down again out in the middle and gave us one of our best birding days of the season.

Winfield Ave Borrow Pit: 10 Blue-winged Teal, 2 Grebes, 8 Shovelers, 2 Gadwalls and 2 Green-winged Teal. 

Flowers Blooming at Faulkner's Access: Jacobs Ladders, Red Trillium, Purple Flox and Wild Geraniums all starting to build-up momentum as the Bluebells, Yellow Bellworts and False Rue Anemones and Fawn Lillies pause at their peak while the beautiful Bloodroot blooms are now pleasant memories. I have never seen a more beautiful bloom than this one. It begs for water but still the flowers benefit from the stable weather.



3/30/20127 Wood Duck eggs in a nest box. New record for this date at our house. Previous record, one egg on April 1. If this is not a dump nest, meaning only one hen is laying in the box, she would have needed to begin on or before the 24th of March. I remember bringing the April 1st clutch in on a couple of cold nights to protect the eggs from freezing before the hen began setting.


3/29/2012 Nice day, breezy, 55F at 7:11 pm with an east wind.

Walmart Wetland: 8 Shovelers, 2 Gadwalls, 1 Piebilled Grebe, 4 Blue-winged Teal, and the resident Canada Geese.

Winfield Ave. Borrow pit: 4 Blue-winged Teal, 1 Canvasback, 1 Scaup, 1 Great Blue Heron (they are laying now) 7 Ruddy Ducks, 9 Shovelers.

Joy Lake: 100 Mallards, 3 Ruddy Ducks, 3 pr. American Widgeons, 5 Coots, 1 pr. Blue-winged Teal.

Folks are talking about Eastern (Rufus Breasted)Tohees but I have not seen one yet.

First blooming Jacobs Ladder of the season on the Faulkners Access river road along with the third blooming Red Trillium I have noted. There appears to be some Jack-in-the-Pulpits pushing their up across the road from Faulkner's Access and up the draw on the right hand slope about where the draw branches. Walking in the bottom of those draws You could be in the Smokey Mountains. At least I imagine there might be places as beautiful there. First walk the broken slab steam bed and then drive up over the hill and notice how magical these hidden ravines are.

3/28/2012 Beautiful Day 69F

 Beautiful Day 69Fhe Walmart Wetland still holds Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal and Canadas. Joy Lake had a few Shovelers and a couple of Wilson's Snipe.

The bluff along the river above Falkner's Access became irresistable as You can see. The Yellow Bellworts and the Bluebells are at their peak and I saw my first Wild Geranium of the season blooming today.

Henry County 3/27/2012 Cloudy and Cooler

I am watching for swallows. I have heard reports of Purple Martins.

A pair of Pileated Woodpeckers were being exceptionally noisy today down along the river. I think they must have been discussing Spring. I have seen them occassionally through out the winter but they were always alone and pretty quiet. There was no mistaking their call for anything else today. They are about the size of a crow.

There were two Common Merganser males along with the Coots, Gadwalls, Ruddy Ducks and Grebes on Joy Lake yesterday.

There is a field of what appears to be common purple henbit across the river at the curve below Oakland. It would be land directly SE of the park on the south side of the river. The field is beautiful and I stand ready to be corrected on the identification of the bloom. There is another bloom across the road from the Walmart Wetland.(make that "was")

My First Morels, 3/26/12, Cool, Cloudy, East Wind, 48F I found my first four morel mushrooms this morning, just gray buttons and in the yard no less. I left them hoping they will grow.

3/25/12 69 F Mostly sunny

Morning: Hilltop Wetlands: Blue-winged Teal and Woodies are regulars on the wetlands now. Canadas are nesting and a pair of Trumpeter Swans are staking out their claim. No Wood Duck eggs yet. Usually the first Woody egg is about 4/1 and they often get frozen. The Bullfrogs and Painted Turtles are enjoying basking in the sun today.

I forgot to mention the Toothworts, the Dutchman's Breetches, the Redbuds... (O, my yes the Redbuds. You can strip off a handful and fix 'em like fried morels. Like mushroom crumbs they are rich, even too rich, but one batch is good and Redbud Blossoms are easier to find than morels.) and don't miss seeing the Fawn Lillies (mottled leaves) - these are striking dainty white lillies whose long slender drooping white petals led them to also be called Dog-toothed Violets. As the flowers open the petals curl upward.

I am such a sucker for Bluebells, Spring Beauties and Yellow Bellworts on the high ground I almost missed the Swamp Buttercups blooming in the river bottom. Their bright shiny yellow blossoms look artificial as if they have been shellacked.

I have to go get Grandma Joy, she has been babysitting Keira. We will check out Joy Lake on the way home.

Evening: I heard my first Tree Frog today. Instead of sleeping in the mud he was up in a tree rapping some kind of a incomprehensible weather forcast. He apparently is not ready yet to go down to the marsh and start singing some classical love songs.

First borrow pit held 10 Shovelers (6 males), 1 pair of Buffleheads, and 24 Scaup.

On the Winfield Ave borrow pit there were 2 pair of Blue-winged Teal, 3 Shovelers, 1 pr. of Mallards, 14 Scaup and the resident bunch of Canadas.

On Joy Lake we observed 40 Coots, 15 mooching Gadwalls, 6 Piebilled Grebes, 10 Ruddy Ducks, 1 pr. Canada Geese, 20 Scaup, 110+ Mallards (it is hard to see the females sitting across the lake in the grass), 7 Ring-necked Ducks and 1 pair of American Widgeon.

Rome had the locals plus a visiting goose.

There are some particularly beautiful wine colored Spring Beauties on the river side of the road (265th) down at the curve on the Oakland Road at the intersection with 253rd.

The Yellow Bellworts at Oakland now number over 100. Drive over half the way to Faulkners Access past the last cabin on 265th and watch for an old hard Maple snap on the river side of the road. Then look to the bluff and You will witness one of the best natural arrangement of Yellow Bellworts and Bluebells that I think I have ever seen. There is also some Wild Ginger coming out.

Droppin' tro for tick pickin' while writin' is business as usual now.


3/24/12 66F

Yesterday a couple of Yellow Bellworts and now a couple of dozen. By Sunday the combination of the white blankets of the False Rue Anemones spread among the trees and the lush cover of the Bluebells cascading down the bluff accented by the bellworts down near the road should all come together to offer a spring flower extravaganza complete with Spring Beauties boasting their bright pink anters and fine stripped petals. Grab a wildflower book and take a slow Sunday drive from Oakland Mills to Faulkner's Access to view the glory of Creation spread on the floor of the oak/hickory forest at its spring time best.

Joy Lake still holds a bunch of Mallards along with a few Grebes, Coots, Gadwalls, Widgeon, divers, etc. We will take a closer look on Sunday. The Mallards, lined up along the west and north bank are almost invisible from the road without some optical assistance.


What will it be, birds or blooms? Seems the wildflowers are on fast forward, not only are they blooming early but they are also dropping flowers quickly. The Snow Trilliums and Hepaticas at Oakland have all but disappeared on the north slope of cemetery hill while Bluebells now paint the bluff along the river road where just today we spotted our first Yellow Bellwort. A lonely Juneberry has exploded in white blossoms clinging to the bluff below the dam. Taking a slow drive from Oakland to Faulkner's Access and back again is a real treat this time of year.


Our birding started with the Winfield Ave borrow pit where we watched the Canada Geese grazing or just sitting in the sun of the peninsula. A group of 60 diving ducks comprised of Scaup and Ringnecks were on the water. Joy spotted 1 Pie-Billed Grebe and 1 Great Blue Heron.

We then moved on to the Walmart Wetland and once again it was a special treat. 3 species of shore birds made their appearance to include 1 Wilson's Snipe, 1 Lesser Yellowlegs and 1 Greater Yellowlegs. There was a pair of Mallards, 1 Piebilled Grebe, 10 pairs of Shovelers, 1 female Gadwall, 1 Coot and 1 pair of Blue-winged Teal along with the Canada Geese regulars.

From there we ventured to Joy Lake where we were greeted by the largest flock of Piebilled grebes we have seen this spring, all of 5. It seems they like to be alone a lot as seeing one here and there is a common occurence. 20 Coots were feeding a mix of puddle ducks today to include Gadwalls (10), Widgeon (7) and a few Mallards. Mallards were closely spaced around the edge of the lake with there being well over 200 birds. We also observed 4 pair of Ruddy Ducks, 1 pair of Redheads, 1 pair of Shovelers, and 1 pair of Ringnecks. I am a bit surprised at all of the Mallards hanging around.

I listened to a trilling American Toad singing his heart out yesterday. I have yet to hear my first Tree Frog. It is like spring is going to be over this years before it even gets off to a good start many years. I see blossom buds on the black Locust Trees and wonder what chance they will have to escape a "late" freeze. At this point the only thing to do is to hope this freaky spring will just keep being freaky all the way into May as any return to normal is going to be messy.

 3/20/12 The local grandsons got out of school after lunch so they joined me on a birding adventure. Then at 3:00 I picked up my youngest grand daughter at day care and all of us went out north of New London to watch the windmill and to estimate the tip speed. None of us could remember exactly how long each blade is so we timed the revolutions and put our final calculations on hold. 20 rpms.

Five cormorants at the Old Rome sand pit were the news for today along with 5 blue-winged teal at the Winfield Ave borrow pit. Otherwise duck and goose populations were steady to declining.

We stopped at a bridge to see if the swallows were back yet but we did not see any.

I saw what appeared to be a badger hit along side of the bypass. Too much traffic and not enough time to stop. I rarely see badgers and when I do they are generally dead along the road somewhere. What's with that?

The numbers of Coots and Gadwalls Joy reported on Joy Lake yesterday were down to less than 100 about 50/50 Coots and Gadwalls.

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