Iowa ABA Update October 8, 2013

eurasian tree sparrow

Cedar Rapids Iowa

I think I may have broken some sort of record.  No it really has nothing to do with nude birding.  I needed a bird, it wasn’t a sexy bird, just an Eurasian Tree Sparrow, an exotic, its nearest reported spot to my home was 485 miles away and that report was nearly a month old, so it was not a guaranteed spot and the spot was a place I had never been to before.  I get up, drive 7 hours, pull onto this road on the south side of Cedar Rapids, see the roller dam, look at the first tree while still in my car and bingo, there are six Eurasian Tree Sparrows looking at me in a tree. Bird #607…A surprise….no, as you may realize, I am the luckiest birder.  This is how it works for me, but at ten seconds birding time, that is quick, even for me.

I’m never sure why the big birders don’t invite me with.  I proved my “lucky birder” designation with Laurens Halsey, in Arizona, with the plain capped starthroat, it hadn’t been seen all day?  Oh it arrives, a minute after we set up at a feeder?  Same thing with the Violet-crowned hummer, no worries, Olaf is here… doesn’t happen with everything….woodpeckers and grouse seem to avoid my attraction, and it is better that I don’t think about this gift and it works better or so it seems, but if you want to see rare birds….bring me with.  I know Jim, who birded with me much this year believes.

I did refuse to go looking for a swallow-tailed kite in Florida, it took a few hours but one came to me and flew over the pool, as you will note in an earlier blog….it just the way it is.

I’m sure I don’t impress those that I go birding with, though and maybe that is the problem, why I don’t get invited.  I have a tendency when I’m birding, especially with better birders than me, guides etc. To not say much, I follow along right behind them and gleen birds and information.  It is not always because I don’t know what we are seeing, or I don’t know anything (well maybe).  It is the way I learn.  I only rarely asked questions in class, be it high school, college or medical school, I sat in the front of the room, always on the right side and usually I could by the end of class repeated 100% of the material, even a whole lecture back if needed, including jokes.

Before exams, I would come with large sheets of art paper, have the professor sign them blank..and rewrite the entire three weeks of material in the first hour before I took the test the last two hours.  It is what I call being the sponge.  Besides, I pay guides to guide.   So I’m a birding sponge, but when I have to, I can pull my own weight in the woods or the marsh, I stumble along, I find stuff.  I have the gift or curse to never forget a bird I see, (I don’t get lost either using this ability) I know where I was and what I was doing…and that helps me to identify things I have never seen before, later.   Sometimes I see odd parts of the bird, which doesn’t always help me out.  Besides, I have my luck.

I contacted a guy named Cory about some Iowa hotspots, because at first I was going the UP in Michigan, and this guy Cory is counting migration at Whitefish Point, it sounds like a forelorn existence.  I decided that was just too far, 965 miles in a day was enough for me.  He also gave me an interesting technique to flush rails in the grass, which really needs two people (two people walking with a long rope and a rock filled jug or two in between.  One can cover a large area more thoroughly.  You see what you flush, then maybe reflush interesting stuff.  I was alone and unfortunately armed with just my snake boots and persistence.  I also forgot the fall habitat of yellow rails which didn’t help me any as I had doubts of their presence due to the dryness of Iowa right now.  So I walked through the razor grass (got a little cut up) and worked on sparrows and even though I didn’t remember it, I was trudging through rail habitat, but alas no rails.

Now I didn’t flush a rail, but I flushed something odd, my luck again?  I spotted a Henslow’s Sparrow.  Now, again, not sure any one will believe me, it was a different bird, and if it was June, nobody would have any problem but not sure anyone has seen one this year in Iowa in October.  It perfectly matched the picture on my Ibirdpro program, I looked over every alternative bird and well, if it was June, I’d unquestionably call it a Henslow’s, so I will today, bird #608.  I had told my contact that I wasn’t going to post it on the Ebird registry but I’m confident, enough, I will take the expected abuse, because like I said, nobody is going to believe me.

Then I went to another spot, looked for longspurs, and found another problem.  A bird flew out of a tree in the edge of a field directly over my head, maybe ten feet to my left and twenty up.  It glided to a point behind me and then flew off into the sun, where it went I couldn’t see it.  It looked like a raptor, but didn’t look like a sharp-shinned hawk, the only expected to be found that size in Iowa, I bet I’ve seen 40 this year.  They chase birds in my back yard, one even chased my cat, well that was until he figured it wasn’t a really big hawk and he jumped at it.

This iowa bird had a striking long black tail folded in and had pointy wings and was free of any brown streaks on its breast/belly and although the head was not clearly seen by me, the  beak was dark.  Initially, I looked confused because it looked like a Mississippi Kite, which I thought are not in Des Moines but it turns out they are, just not in the fall, never in the fall.  The only other bird I came up with that even had the size or shape was of all things, a black-billed cuckoo.  This seemed preposterous to me, that I’d confuse the two…a cuckoo?  There hasn’t ever been a ebird registered cuckoo in Iowa this time of year either, but there was one in Manitoba last week, and drawing a line from Winnipeg to their wintering grounds goes right over my head, literally.

I’m sure my new birding contact in Michigan now thinks I’m an idiot, but I don’t know what else it was…..but thanks, Cory.  The tail was not marked like a cuckoo’s tail, but do I have enough guts to say I saw a Mississippi Kite…..?  The short answer is, no.  Again, a June bird…no issues.  Yesterday….idiot, stupid birder, amateur, novice, moron…yea, not listing this bird ever, anywhere….no way!

I wanted to go see a Sabine’s Gull in Nebraska yesterday but my lucky birding curse was wearing me out.  I know, I don’t know everything and Henslow’s, LeConte’s Grasshopper, Nelson’s sparrows are like telling my twins apart….but a Mississippi Kite?  What if I found I really rare gull?  I could.  I’m sure I spotted a Skua off of the California coast last week but I wasn’t reporting it, I wasn’t even listing it.  But another deal like this, and then I would really hate all of this.

The worst and shows why I feel this way….I spotted a Boreal Owl on Christmas Eve in Wisconsin last year, I had more doubt about what we were eating on Christmas Eve dinner that the identity of that owl, and we have had the same Christmas eve dinner since I’ve been around.  It turns out that was the southernmost reported boreal owl  that early in forever.  I got raked over the coals, I retorted that it was probably a harbinger of the worst vole year in ages in Canada, the expert scoffed at my idiocy, last year was the worst vole year in Canada….and three weeks later Boreals, Great Grays were all over the place and by spring many were starving near Duluth.  I was right, but it was not like anyone emailed me back and said, yup probably was a boreal owl, sorry…..they were too busy seeing boreal owls.

Crap, I sent the man a picture of a Great Gray owl, he was giving me crap about it too, here it is perched on an obvious sign only found in Wisconsin, and “nope, you can’t prove to me either that bird was seen that far south in Wisconsin.” even after I offered to show him the sign, it had identifying marks as you can see!! How many highway O signs are there?…obviously the birding world is complete and everything is known and nothing new fits with what is believed.  Even with the picture, it was never accepted on Ebird.  So I don’t commonly list rare birds.


Yesterday, I couldn’t take it anymore and just went home.  Tomorrow, I fly to Sacramento and my ABA year on Monday, its over…….birding finis, enough is enough.

house sparrow

Here is a House sparrow, so you can see the difference…..note it is not the Eurasian Tree Sparrow above, this bird is also known as the “English” Sparrow, and the Eurasian Tree is the “German” Sparrow, introduced in St Louis in 1870 to diversify our birds….They have enlarged range to follow the Illinois, Cedar, and Iowa rivers, and go from Cedar Rapids to bottom of Missouri.  I have seen a naked Eurasian Tree Sparrow before in Austria.

A little birding history for today, a little rant about yesterday, and mental healing that has to be done for tomorrow




5 thoughts on “Iowa ABA Update October 8, 2013

  1. Well I might have seen a skua in California, I could have seen a buff breasted flycatcher in Arizona, I might have seen bigfoot ten years ago, or a UFO. I might have seen or could have done a lot in my life, as such in retrospect, I’m thinking, that sparrow might, should, be probably is, but I’m not counting it.

    I was going to find a Sabine’s Gull in Nebraska, and I got greedy and stopped in Des Moines, nothing good ever happens to me in Des Moines (Car got stolen there in the spring)….this was just a subtle reminder at that ABA # 607, the birds from Des Moines, I’m chalking up much like my bigfoot and UFO stories, definitely something happened and quite probably it is in my interest to not really know for sure. I am going to Sacramento and I am going to have a good time despite the government and Yosemite being closed

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