Siouxland’s Audubon Christmas Bird Count, Sioux City

25 Dec

I spent a recent Saturday morning, Dec. 22, 2012, and early afternoon hiking in local areas as I followed two members of the Loess Hills Audubon Society during their annual Christmas bird count in Siouxland. The members fan out throughout the local area and look for as many different types of bird species as they can see. Relying on their eyes and ears to spot various birds chattering away amongst a tangle of tree branches and shrubs.

Helen Harvey became interested in birding after becoming unemployed for a short period. “I used my husband’s bird book and looked up these birds I saw while eating breakfast and realized, “Wow! That thing’s (bird) is going up to the Artic. It’s kind of an insight into a world of wildlife you don’t experience any other way”, that is, getting out and birding. Harvey said she saw another bird at a feeder in her backyard but after several attempts could never find it in a bird book. Then one day she did find this bird in a book and saw there is only one spot in the entire U.S. where this particular species lives, and it was in the same area she lived in at the time. “So I started realizing there is a whole world of interesting things. I basically started as a backyard birder and over the years it kind of snowballed and has become a bit of an odd obsession.”

Harvey said a recent odd and unexpected sighting occurred when she was out chasing starlings in an industrial area of Sioux City and saw a whooping crane in this same industrial area in town. “There are only 300 of these in the western wild of the U.S. and to catch a glimpse of one in an industrial park in Sioux City…….” Harvey said as she started laughing. She said she trembled the rest of the day from witnessing that.

Randy Williams attended an ornithology class in 1974 while in college and later worked as a seasonal interpreter at Wind Cave National Park in western South Dakota. Williams moved to Sioux City, Iowa, in 1981 and found the local Audubon Society and became involved with the group, although he says he is a more casual birder than some other locals.

Williams says he has attended some regional birding trips and get togethers but nothing as exotic as going to Ecuador where some other locals have traveled to look for birds. Williams said he’s enjoyed seeing a Bean goose and the Sandhill cranes as well as thousands of snow geese at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge near Missouri Valley, Iowa.

Most times on bird count outings Williams said they usually scare up smaller birds like juncos, woodpeckers and generally also see turkeys that are somewhat wild as well as seeing pigeons and add them to the count, although these birds are not in any kind of danger as some others that migrate through or whose habitats have been affected over the years. Williams said the local Audubon society’s objective is to break 50 species during the counting but it is challenging because there is not as wide a variety of habitat as say on a coastline where there are even more birds that would include gulls, shore birds and such, because this area is landlocked without a large lake or other bodies of water.

The day ended for Williams and Harvey with some satisfaction and some disappoint in what they saw. Besides the birds, they also encountered a number of deer and one coyote. The report Williams filed for the local society included: six red-tailed hawks, three bald eagles, 70 wild turkeys, 10 rock doves, 18 red-bellied woodpeckers, four northern flickers, 15 downy woodpeckers, six hairy woodpeckers, eight blue jays, 17 American crows, 25 black-capped chickadees, 16 white-breasted nuthatches, six eastern bludbirds, one American robin, 60 European starlings, two cedar waxwings, 15 dark-eyed juncos, six northern cardinals and 4 house sparrows. They traveled two miles on foot and 52 miles by car covering areas that included Logan Cemetery and Stone State Park.

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