116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Eastern Iowa has about half a dozen nesting warblers species that are considered common.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous spring and summer denizen of the forests is the American redstart.
Being a Neotropical migrant, the American redstart spends our winters in the Caribbean. Islands like Jamaica offer rainforest habitat for the redstart, although the species can reside at lower elevations in lowland scrub and even at the border of mangroves. Some also overwinter in southernmost Florida, which also has a tropical climate.
In the late spring and summer in the United States and Canada, American redstart has a wide nesting range. They breed throughout the boreal forests of Canada, from northern Idaho and Montana eastward through the Upper Midwest, throughout New England and from eastern Texas throughout most of the southeast. Their breeding locations often have an affinity to nearby water.
Hearing the first redstart of the spring is always a pleasant encounter. While they make a wide range of vocalizations, their most popular utterance is the sneeze-like, “ah, ah, ah, ah-choo.” Their wide variation of songs and calls, unlike many of the migrant warblers that may only have one song, can make identification by sound alone tricky.
The adult male American redstart is unmistakable. Look for a mostly black bird with splashes of orange on the side of the breast, wing bars and from the base to the middle of the outer tail feathers. The belly, vent and undertail coverts are white. The female has a gray head and white throat with a splash of yellowish-orange on the sides of the breast. The backside is grayish on the mantle (shoulders), with dark flight feathers having a yellowish wing bar and dark tail feathers with yellowish bases out to about the middle.
First summer males can be tricky. They appear fairly similar to adult females, although possessing black smudges between the bill and the eye and also at the base of the neck. Males obtain adult plumage after their first breeding season, which is roughly at age one.
Aside from song and plumage, another great way to help identify them is by their foraging behavior. Both sexes like to fan their tail feathers out while foraging, quickly flicking the tail from side to side. When the tail is spread the orange to yellowish bases can really pop out.
None of the other warblers that either nest or migrate through Iowa act like this. It is thought this particular movement flushes insects.
Look for the American redstart in deciduous forests. They prefer an understory of smaller trees, hunting on both open twigs and leaves at mid-levels. They also are found at forest edges. Anyone with a yard near or adjacent to woods has a good chance of seeing or hearing one.
OTHER BIRDS OF JULY:
- The Pleasant Creek prairie "bowl" off Strawn Road is a nice place for summer birding. Notable nesters include: Henslow's sparrow, yellow-breasted chat, Bell's vireo, and sometimes white-eyed vireo and blue-winged warbler. Other nesters in the prairie include dickcissel and bobolink. Listen for chats and vireos on the shrubby margins of the prairie to the north. Parking can be located at a horse stable, which is the last right turn off Strawn Road when heading north toward the boat launch access by the lake.
- Shorebirds will start to trickle back in July. Hawkeye WMA in Johnson County offers several great spots to scope from or walk down to the water. These include: 1. The DNR headquarters area, with parking about a half-mile west of the Amana Road NW/Highway 965 intersection. A spotting scope can be used at the parking lot or down by the shoreline. Sometimes shorebirds are close enough to the shoreline to see well with binoculars. 2. The northern terminus of James Ave NW on the east side of Hawkeye WMA, accessed from Swan Lake Road. Scoping to the west is possible from the parking lot and there is usually a mowed path down to the shoreline. 3. Sand Point is a mile hike from the parking lot off Swan Lake Road, which is just northeast of Swan Lake at Hawkeye WMA. Hike the access road about a mile north to Sand Point. The waters both east and west of Sand Point sometimes have excellent shorebird habitat. Gulls, pelicans, cormorants, and other types of waterfowl can also be seen at certain times the year at all of these locations.
- Mature woodlands will still harbor breeding species, such as summer and scarlet tanager, yellow-billed cuckoo, Acadian flycatcher, yellow-throated vireo and wood thrush. In mature woods with large ravines listen for the sounds of the Acadian flycatcher. Look for this species at Palisades-Kepler State Park in Linn County as well as at Squire Point Trail, Hanging Rock Woods and Hickory Hill Park in Johnson County.
For those thinking about that next big camera upgrade, consider switching to the newest technology format: mirrorless.
Mirrorless cameras are said to be the future of professional photography, where eventually the digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras will most likely phase out. Mirrorless cameras do not have a reflex mirror or optical viewfinder like the DSLR. They are simpler mechanically and are smaller, lighter and quieter. Some have an electronic shutter, making them completely silent.
Of course, a lighter and silent camera is a boon for those doing wildlife photography. Most of the new, higher end mirrorless cameras come with a large number of megapixels, which is good if you want to make really large prints (e.g. poster-size or larger). Another amazing feature on some is the “eye autofocus.” This special autofocus locks on to the eyes of something like a person, mammal or bird, resulting in amazing focus and clarity on the eyes and face.
Brandon Caswell has a keen interest in natural and social sciences. He enjoys bird-watching and nature photography in his spare time. He resides with his wife and two young children in Marion.