Coralee, Harmon, & I began last Saturday morning around 3:30AM. (I think Harmon actually woke up closer to 3:50AM.) Coralee was registered to attend an Iowa Young Birders event to count Sandhill Cranes with Bremer County Conservation as part of the Annual Midwest Crane Count along with over 1,000 other volunteers throughout the Midwest. Unfortunately, we got word Thursday evening the trip was cancelled due to most of the young birder registrants being either sick or cancelling for other reasons. But we are tough birders, the Bodekers, so Coralee & I decided to go anyway & emailed the Bremer County Naturalist ourselves Friday morning. She sent us directions to a fire number on the southern boundary of Sweet Marsh State Wildlife Management Area. We were to meet up with a seasoned crane-count volunteer at 5:30AM the next morning. The drive would take us over an hour & I had no idea where it was, hence the 3:30AM wake up.
I made much coffee at 3:30AM.
This is Sweet Marsh closer to 6:30AM (I think sunrise was officially a bit after 6:40AM on Saturday). The gravel on the right leads to the dike which is where Coralee was officially placed as a counter. Marsh is to the left of the dike.
We were in site 2.
The count takes place every year around this time in roughly 90 counties in an effort to survey both Sandhill & Whooping Crane numbers. Whooping Cranes are endangered, Sandhills are not, but both are equally beautiful & worthy of protection in my opinion.
Harmon slept most of the drive north from our house, woke up screaming when we arrived to the parking lot on the edge of the Marsh, in the PITCH BLACK, then fell asleep again about 10 minutes after Coralee took off to count (nursing to the rescue). The count officially took place from 5:30-7:30AM. We arrived at 5:20AM to the lot. The other volunteer arrived shortly after. It was a bit awkward to get out of the car and approach her in the dark…I worried I would spook her or she wouldn’t actually be who I thought she was…although, I figured, who else would be out here in the middle of nowhere at this hour…she turned out to be an amazing count companion for Coralee. She is a teacher (a Talented & Gifted teacher like me) and extremely personable. Coralee took off down the dike with her, binoculars & clipboard in hand, to count cranes (by sight and/or by sound) at promptly 5:30AM. I tried for a selfie with Harmon when he woke up in order to document something, apparently his nose itched. 😉
Then he looked at books.
He also ate an almond butter sandwich & spilled water all over the car. At least it wasn’t coffee.
Coralee & her count companion saw three Sandhill Cranes, heard none, which is apparently strange. We are not sure how many in total were submitted from the entire count site yet, but last year our site submitted 63. Coralee & I definitely want to visit Sweet Marsh again in the next several weeks to bird. It is amazing habitat amidst a sea of corn. I didn’t see much from the car, obviously, but upon leaving we spotted a Sandhill Crane flying low near the Marsh, so at least I added my FOY Sandhill Crane to my 2017 birding list.
Brian, Merritt, & June were at Merritt’s first soccer game of the spring season on Saturday morning. Upon arriving home later, Coralee & I ate an early lunch & then went to bed. I think Harmon & I slept for over two hours. Good napping & good birding.
Edited to add: Numbers are in–64 this year!!! One more than 2016!
There’s new birds at the Bodeker Coop this week. We bought a quartet (1 rooster + 3 hens) of chickens this past Saturday for Merritt to show as a 4H Poultry project this summer (his current chickens are not working out for various reasons). A neighbor down the road has been breeding Iowa Blue chickens for about three years in a bid to help restore the breed back to a sustainable population (along with several other breeders in and around Iowa). The Iowa Blue chicken almost went extinct by the mid-1980s, but luckily one of the founders of Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa began working to bring the breed back from just one remaining flock. The Iowa Blue dates back to the early 1920s in Northeast Iowa. It is a very hardy breed–withstands both the horrible high humidity levels of our summers & the sub-zero windchills of our winters rather easily. Iowa Blues are quite large chickens, good layers, & the hens, I’ve read, can be extremely broody. Our three hens are not quite laying yet, but should be soon. We’ve got them sequestered for now away from our other chickens for both their safety & the health of our flock.
I think they’re quite lovely. We named the hens varying forms of the color blue–we’ve got Periwinkle, Celeste, & Sapphire. Sapphire is June’s chicken & she chose the name from a list of blue color names.
June & Sapphire. She’s very excited to have another chicken to call her own.
I thought these seeds were pretty hanging in our woods. The pods almost sparkled.
Prairie the cat snoozing in the garage.
On our walk back from the bus stop yesterday we found another blue bird…an Eastern Bluebird! There are actually quite a few bluebirds wintering in Iowa every year, but this is the first one in our yard this year.
For more information on the Iowa Blue chicken, check out this pdf book by Curt Burroughs & courtesy of the Iowa Blue Chicken Club.
I think I’ve knit this pattern out of my system now, at long last. Maybe it’s the heatwave we’ve been experiencing these past few days here in Iowa, but I’m ready to move on-finally!!!-from woolly baby pants. Harmon wore his new stripey version all day yesterday. We were out & about a lot running many errands, buying a Speed Queen washing machine, chauffeuring Coralee to & from homeschool co-op classes & Band, hanging at two different coffee shops (yikes!), running down the sidewalks in town screaming (Harmon did that!), shrieking very shrilly at the library when it was time to put books away (again, Harmon, but I can see how you may have thought that was me-ha!), & then falling asleep in the car on the way home at 2PM because that’s a long day (I reiterate, that was Harmon falling asleep…I had a Venti-sized coffee at noon so I was wide-awake). The Balloon Baby Pants held up great all day & did not sag out like the first pair so I’m glad I knit the smaller size with smaller needles this go. Harmon is just such a peanut! He is 14.75 months and this is the 5-8 MONTH size on US 2 needles with sportweight yarns. Babies/toddlers definitely come in all sizes!
Harmon sure does LOVE books as of late. Especially books about chickens or cats or peek-a-boo.
Joining in with Ginny.
This is a “guest” blog post from my eldest, Coralee. She writes a semi-monthly essay/column titled “A Prairie Girl’s Notebook” for both our local county conservation newsletter & for her email list of readers. She’s been writing/illustrating the column since the fall of 2013 (when she began her homeschooling). This particular essay is about a North American bird species–the American Kestrel, one of her [& my] favorites. If you’d like to own a high-quality canvas print of the above drawing of an American Kestrel [with his second foot tucked up into his feathers–she gets asked about his “one foot” a lot], be sure to read to the very end of the post today! Thank you!
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A Prairie Girl’s Notebook, Issue 23
January 5, 2017
Kestrels, An Iowa Legacy
A few years ago, a short drive down my gravel road would yield at least one, if not two, American Kestrels perched on a power line or hovering mid-air above the grassy ditch. These vibrantly colored, miniature falcons peppered the roadsides, diving into ditches whenever a car passed. Today, Iowa still hosts a breeding and wintering population of American Kestrels, but I have begun to count myself lucky to drive past a mere one kestrel per week rather than the daily sightings. This same scarcity has been occurring across the state; anecdotally, many birders are noticing fewer and fewer American Kestrels in their local areas, while hard data from formal Hawkwatch sites illustrates a steady decline. Scientists and raptor counters at Hitchcock Nature Center in Pottawattamie County (Iowa’s only full-time Hawkwatch site) have recorded an overall downward trend in migrating American Kestrel populations for the past decade. In our neighboring state, the Illinois Beach State Park Hawkwatch has recorded similar data trends. To put this in perspective, despite a considerable rise in contributing datasets, Bird Studies Canada also shows a downward drift in American Kestrel numbers since the 1950s and a recent nosedive spanning the past decade—Bird Studies Canada draws these numbers from a bank of over 7.6 million North American bird surveys including Hawkwatch counts, annual Christmas Bird Counts, FeederWatch reports, eBird surveys, and breeding bird surveys, to name a few. The decline in the American Kestrel population has been slowly looming, but it wasn’t until last fall that I truly noticed the scarcity in my own area. No breeding pairs nested near my neighbor’s prairie last summer for the first time in at least eight years.
Possibly the biggest hazard for American Kestrels to overcome today is the loss of their precious habitat. The once large expanses of pastures and prairies sufficient to sustain hunting American Kestrels have been crammed into roadside ditches as more and more land in Iowa is converted to farming. More importantly, however, their nesting sites are being diminished. American Kestrels normally nest in dead trees on the edges of open grassland, but these trees are being removed (for a variety of reasons) and local American Kestrels are scattering to the wind. This species has more recently tried moving into towns and out of the rural areas in an effort to overcome habitat loss, but in towns American Kestrels face the threat of larger birds of prey, specifically the Cooper’s Hawk which will eat a kestrel.
A further danger facing American Kestrels is a decline in flying insect populations, which kestrels depend on to feed their young. A few years ago, when Iowans filled their cars up with gas they routinely wiped down their windshields to clean off the copious amounts of smashed bugs, but today many Iowans are finding the need for a Casey’s squeegee quite unnecessary. I hadn’t given this conundrum much thought until rather recently when I obtained my learner’s permit to drive. A disturbing example of how an often-overlooked animal can disappear literally before our eyes.
With fewer Kestrels around my home, I wonder what has happened to their daring aerial displays, their hunting chases and jaw-dropping turns and dives I’m so used to watching? What has happened to the American Kestrels that once lined the roads and swooped out over the fields as cars passed? Did these birds simply disappear over the horizon to some distant state? Will the same thing happen to the American Kestrel that has already happened to so many other North American raptors, suddenly plummeting off the population charts like the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and Osprey did so many years ago (albeit for other reasons)? Or will insightful, smart, compassionate people step in to save the American Kestrel before that last-hour collapse? My hope is we can help the American Kestrel in time. Iowa needs American Kestrels like we need the prairies and clean water. This is Iowa. This is our legacy.
‘A Prairie Girl’s Notebook’ is inspired by ‘A Naturalist’s Notebook’ penned by John Schmitt & found in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird journal.
If you would like to own a high-quality 12-inchX16-inch canvas print of the American Kestrel I drew for this essay and support American Kestrel conservation and research at the same time, PLEASE consider participating in my eBay auction (an eBay account is required in order to bid). All proceeds from the auction will be split evenly between the Pottawattamie Conservation Foundation (funds earmarked for the Hitchcock Hawkwatch) and also The Peregrine Fund’s American Kestrel Partnership which works to advance conservation of the American Kestrel. The auction runs for seven days and can be found using this web address: https://tinyurl.com/jfkf42c
Chi, Dora. “Tracking Kestrels One Feather at a Time.” Audubon. National Audubon Society, 18 Aug. 2016, http://www.audubon.org/news/tracking-kestrels-one-feather-time. 5 Jan. 2017.
Davis, Kate. American Kestrel: Pint-Sized Predator. Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2014.
HawkCount. Hawk Migration Association of North America, www.hawkcount.org. Accessed 5 Jan 2017.
NatureCounts. Bird Studies Canada, http://www.bsc-eoc.org/birdmon/default/main.jsp3. Accessed 5 Jan. 2017.
Toll, Jerry. Iowa Young Birders Trip to Hitchcock Hawk Watch/Hitchcock Nature Area, 24 Sept. 2016, Hitchcock Nature Center, IA. Address.
I woke up this morning fairly early & Harmon kept sleeping which is not like him–he seems to “know” when I wake up & bolt awake, too. I was at the kitchen sink & realized I had a load of wet laundry waiting since yesterday afternoon that needed moving to the dryer. But before I could head toward the laundry room it dawned on me–Harmon loves to help move wet laundry to the dryer, so I better wait until he wakes up.Babies really stay babies for a crazy short period of time, don’t they? Kind of hurts your heart when you dwell on it.
Merritt planted a dill bed in our garden about three years ago using Seed Savers Exchange Grandma Einck’s Dill seed & we’ve never had to replant since that summer. Dill is an annual herb, but it is very good at self-propagating! The kids have found Black Swallowtail caterpillars on the plants the last two summers–these caterpillars eat almost exclusively from the carrot family of plants. Finding the first Black Swallowtail caterpillar is a source of immense joy for all three of the older kids. Merritt completed his 4H project this year on the importance of pollinators & focused specifically on including pollinators in your garden plantings using dill, so it was quite important to the kids to be successful in their butterfly rearing this past month. The last of our Black Swallowtail butterflies flew away a few days ago & now the kids are patiently waiting for this first adult batch of the summer to lay their eggs so they can raise another brood. From our research it seems three broods per season in the Midwest is a good year for Black Swallowtails. I wouldn’t be surprised if Coralee, Merritt, & even June all became scientists, but June does still occasionally tell us she also wants to fly planes. Time will tell all too soon!