Iowa – Really Good Help Really, Really Helps!

I have met so many wonderful people around the United States while trying for my fifty species in each of them.  And I have had tremendous help from many wonderful folks as well.  Some of that help has been organizational or logistical including planning, providing information and providing contacts, and some of the help has been in the field, accompanying me and helping me find and identify birds.  In Iowa, I had extraordinary help from a pretty awesome guy — Paul Roisen.

I think it is how Paul is all the time rather than a particular interest in my undertaking, but he jumped in with both feet and was critical in hooking me up with birding resources in North and South Dakota and essentially fully taking care of Iowa.  He joined me with Dave Swanson in South Dakota and then was my guide in Iowa having another great birder, Bill Huser join us in the morning.  Despite a later than most start, Paul has the number 2 Ebird list for Iowa.  He is also number 10 in neighboring Nebraska and oh yeah, also number 12 in South Dakota.  I have not researched it but believe he is near the top for a lot of counties in those states as well.  He does a LOT of birding!!  And just for the record, Bill Huser is no slouch being number 5 in North Dakota.  They were great company and superb birders.  I would have missed many species without them.

When we birded together in South Dakota, we decided to move our birding day up from the 19th to the 18th because Paul’s research suggested that there was a chance of bad weather on the 19th.  It worked perfectly.  When he met me at my motel in the Sioux City area in the morning, he was excited because he had already been out and had found a “special bird”.  We headed to Graceland Cemetery and went to “the spot”.  There they were – Red Crossbills – not a great rarity but not common and a great start for the day.

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill Female

In the same area we first heard and then saw some Pine Siskins, another good species.  During our 45 minutes at the cemetery we had 15 species including numerous Chipping Sparrows and many Eastern Bluebirds.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird1

This was clearly a great start and Paul was pumped.  We then met Bill Huser at Bacon Creek Park.  We added a few species but it was much slower than expected.  One added species was a Red Bellied Woodpecker which has to be one of the most misnamed species as there is hardly a red belly.  It was species number 21 for the day.

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied Woodpecker

For the next hour or so we birded non-specific habitats in the area and added species here and there including Wild Turkeys, Gray Catbird and a Hairy Woodpecker.  There was no doubt about the ID of the latter but there is some doubt whether the picture below is of the bird initially seen as there were Downy Woodpeckers in the area as well.  It can be challenging to distinguish between Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers.  Usually the bill length is a key factor with that of the Downy being significantly smaller.  What do you think?

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker1

A flyover Cooper’s Hawk was our 30th species and it was only 10 a.m.  But there was definitely a feeling of things being slow – or as Paul and Bill called it, “as slow as we have ever seen it.”  At Stone State Park, we added Yellow Throated and Red Eyed Vireo and had a brief look at a Red Headed Woodpecker.  I was not able to get a photo of any and this was particularly disappointing for the Yellow Throated Vireo as my only photo of this species was very poor.  [Later I would get a great photo in Nebraska.]  Still slow though.  This is where local expertise is so valuable – knowing specific habitat areas and even some private areas where more species may be found.  It was a little like pulling teeth but mostly one at a time, we reached 40 species a bit after noon.

I was confident we would get to 50 but I could sense that Paul was unhappy about the slow day, but he was at least as committed as I was.  Bill had to leave soon so we would be on our own.  We visited some lakes and added a few new species at each including a Virginia Rail and surprisingly one of the only Song Sparrows I had on the entire 5 state trip – our 48th species for the day.

American White Pelicans at Sandhill Lake

White Pelicans

As a birding spot “Square 280th” does not sound like much but it proved an important stop for us as we had 16 species there including 6 new ones for the day getting us past the “magical 50” for the day.  We only had a single Sedge Wren but it was the most cooperative bird and I was able to get some very nice photos.  I had worked so hard to get my first photo of this guy last year in Alabama and it was not much of a picture.  These were very pleasing.

Sedge Wren

Sedge Wren2

Sedge Wren3

Eureka!! We had more than 50 species.  There were no more spots that were likely to produce tons of new species, but Paul had ideas of places to try.  We continued on with the plan being to try a few places as we worked back to my motel and an early conclusion enabling me to move on to Nebraska.  Paul took us to the Owego Wetland Complex where we had two surprises, an Eastern Kingbird and a Blue Grosbeak, both a little late.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

Just as Paul noted surprise that we had not seen any Cedar Waxwings, he spied one near Elk Creek Pond, then another and another and eventually we had 40.  Immediately after that I saw a bird perched on a lone branch that turned out to be a very surprising Lark Sparrow.

Cedar Waxwings

Cedar Waxwings

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow1

And then a bit down the road an Eastern Towhee flashed across the road.  I went for a photo and Paul went back to the car to get his camera.  The Towhee did not cooperate and we could not find it again.  It would be the last new species for the day – number 59.

So Paul had now played a direct role in my 50 species day in both South Dakota and his own Iowa as well as helping me getting together with Dave Lambeth in North Dakota.  Before writing this blog post, I asked Paul if it was ok to mention a very impressive part of his history.  His answer was yes.  I wanted to share that Paul had determined he needed to lose some weight for health reasons and completely changed his diet and with great personal strength, commitment and dedication, he lost and has kept off more than 40 pounds.  He looks great.  He brings that same dedication and commitment to his birding and is a large part of his success and was evident in our journey this day.  I was a beneficiary of it.

His approval of my request to share that information included the following:  “I am the birder I am due to the very many people who have given me of their time and knowledge.  I will never be able to repay all the help and friendship that has been extended to me.  It is only right to pass it on“.  This is exactly who Paul is and his words certainly apply to me and probably to all who read this blog.  We had succeeded in making Iowa state number 46 completed in my 50/50/50 Adventure.  I want to close by repeating and somewhat modifying part of Paul’s words:  We are the birders we are due to the very many people in our wonderful birding community who have given of their time and knowledge.  We are all fortunate and should all be grateful and should all pass it on…

Thank you Paul.


3 thoughts on “Iowa – Really Good Help Really, Really Helps!

  1. You are so right about how cool to bird with local experts. When I go home to visit my family in Maine it is always a treat to get out with local birders like Don Mairs and Louis Bevier. At your suggestion another of your “helpers” Mike Resch recorded a podcast with me this week and I published it yesterday. He is the state lister of all state listers, and seems like a super nice guy too.


  2. What empty lives we would have if we do not share our joys and interact with others. Thanks to Blair for including me in his adventures. I am the richer for it.


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