Unusual birds stop by for a visit

Every so often, an unusual sighting of a bird is made by ardent ornithologists. The word gets out out to fellow birders and soon the byways may be getting more attention than usual as other folks try to add these wayward birds to a life list. This could be the case now but it was a very brief encounter, a one in a million chance of being in the right place at the right time. Critical to any of these observations are sharp-eyed conservationists, birders, or just plain curious folks asking the question … what is it?

Case No. 1: The WHITE-WINGED DOVE sighting fits the category of being lucky. Last Monday was just the start of another work week for this retired scribe. Work for me is doing what I wish to do when I wish to do it. At this time of year, my bird feeder station on my patio deck serves as a greeting point for lots of birds. The list includes a compilation of normal migrating birds returning from wintering habitats. Just a few include catbirds, wrens, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Red-winged blackbirds, Brown thrashers, robins, hummingbirds, orioles, grackles and a smattering of others.

My eye then happened to catch a dove alighting at the feeder. It was not an Eurasian collared dove, Nor was it a Mourning dove. Its distinctive while leading edge wing bar and black stripe, plus a small dark spot on the side of its head made this an unusual bird to see. While the white-winged dove was poking around the feeders, I had time to procure my 35 mm camera and its long lens. A slow but steady set up from within my home allowed me to shoot through the window to capture a good number of images. I now had documentation and confirmation in hand in the form of photographs. The bird was indeed a White-winged dove. After about a ten minute stay, it flew into a nearby tree before it took off for places unknown. It has not returned for a repeat showing.

White-winged doves have a Latin name of Zenaida asiatica. Normal places to see this species are in the deserts of southwest United States and Mexico. It would be more common to see it perched on top of a saguaro cactus as it probed for nectar, pollen, small seeds or fruit. Some bird sources tell of the expansion of its range with a few documented observations in places far away such as Alaska, Ontario, Newfoundland, Maine and most places in between. The species seems to be adaptable to urban living conditions. Maybe that is why it may have shown up in an Albion backyard.

Doves drink water. But they do it in their own unique way. Doves just put their bill into the water, and like a straw we may use to drink lemonade, soda or ice tea, suck up the water into their throat. Most other birds have to dip their bills into the water, then lift their head high and let gravity do its part to let the water trickle down. Doves also produce a special secretion from the esophagus, known as crop milk, to feed nestlings.

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Case No. 2: A WHITE-FACED IBIS was plying the shallow flood waters of the Iowa River along highway 14, half way between the river bridge and Garwin Road corner. This happened also last Monday. A tip that the bird was there was given to me by Mike Stegmann, Director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. I had just finished processing images of the white-winged dove when the call came to me. Since I had to do some errands in Marshalltown anyway, I planned my route to go the Ibis area.

When I arrived, a single ibis was standing off the roadway about 150 feet away. Again my long lens had to do its magic, if I could lock down the camera to hold it rock steady. It took a while as I watched and positioned by truck to work as the “photo blind” and camera support. Along with this single Ibis were lots of small shorebirds called Yellowlegs. But the reason for being there was to focus on a White-faced Ibis. I got the job done. It was fun to capture images of this unique bird

White-faces Ibis, Plegadis chihi, is a medium-sized wading bird with dark maroon, chestnut or brown plumage, a long neck and legs and a decurved bill. It has as wingspan of about three feet and may weigh about one pound. Its bill is curved downward as a adaptation for probing under wetland vegetation for tidbits of food. The bill is about 7 inches long. A thin white arch of feathers surrounds the bill base and behind its red eye.

Foods are likely to be those critters living in freshwater marshes. While the temporary flooding of river bottom land near highway 14 qualifies, it is ephemeral. But while it lasts, an Ibis can search for frogs, crayfish, insects, earthworms or other crustaceans. This species may live as long as 14 years. It does not breed until it is at least two years of age. They are colony nesters in trees overlooking shallow but permanent fresh water marshes, swamps, ponds, rivers or even irrigated agricultural lands. Some nests are also possible in well hidden reed beds or on floating vegetation. Three to four eggs are laid with incubation taking twenty-one days. Fledging takes place in five to six weeks. Water level stability is critical to nesting success.

A normal range for this species of Ibis is in western states, the areas around the great basin, and the Rocky Mountain front ranges of central Montana. But this species seems to be adaptable to other wetland environments of central, southeast United States and portions of southern Canada.

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A HUNTER SAFETY class for 12 year old kids, and their parents if they so choose, is coming up later this week. May 17 is the date. Time is 6-9 pm. Place is the Izaak Walton League grounds located two miles south of Iowa Avenue on Smith Avenue. The Thursday night session is followed by an all day session on Saturday the 19th from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Attendance at both sessions is required. Register on-line at the DNR website for the Marshalltown class. A second class for the year will be held Aug. 16 and 18.

The above mentioned hunter safety class is a hands on exercise with leadership by qualified instructors. It involves classroom instruction, in the field trap shooting, rifle shooting, archery demonstration and tree stand safety tips, plus informative videos of real life situations. The advantages of this two day course are its hands-on aspects and interaction with questions and answers. Its disadvantages are time that perhaps do not fit a students schedule. For sure it is a requirement to set aside the allotted time to take this one-time only class. When passed, the certificate is valid in all fifty states. Alternative hunter safety classes can be conducted on-line via a dedicated computer and for times that fit a hectic schedule. Disadvantages are the lack of eye-to-eye and hands on activities of a class held outdoors on various target ranges. Either option will work. The ultimate goal is to introduce young folks to hunter safety practices so they can enjoy any of the shooting sports with confidence.

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Recently, in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, a hiker on a trail rounded a corner and met a bison coming the other way. This quick meeting of the two at close range was not what the bison considered a good thing. The bison rammed the 72-year-old woman in the thigh and tossed her off the trail. She was not able to move off the trail fast enough on her own. Later, at treatment in a hospital for minor injuries and bruises, she reported on the encounter near Old Faithful area.

Visitors to Yellowstone are cautioned to stay well away from wildlife if possible at all times. However, some uninformed tourists each year are lulled into thinking a grazing bison will accommodate a photo opportunity while standing close to the animal. Each year serious injuries take place when a bison whips its heavy head into the tourist and sends them on a parabolic ride through the air. It hurts when the bison bumps, and it hurts when the person crashes into the ground. Park officials say that there were five incidents of bison/person in 2015. And it is inevitable that each year a new incident will take place. Be careful out there.

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A GRAND OPENING for an AMPITHEATER at the Grimes Farm is set for May 24 from 6:30-8 p.m. It will be an evening of celebration to acknowledge the late Leonard Grimes. A special program featuring Don the “Snake Man” Becker will follow the dedication. Becker will bring his 10-foot long python and other critters for a natural history encounter and educational opportunity. Bring your camera. Sweet treats will be served. You all come.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.