It’s that time of year when our huge winter population of American Bald Eagles begins to Cluster around the open water below the dams on the Upper Mississippi River. The Iowa DNR is releasing a series of posts on their Bald Eagle Midwinter Survey which may interest many of you!
Jan 5, 2018: The Iowa Bald Eagle Midwinter Survey
Iowa is one of the most important wintering grounds for Bald Eagles with thousands of the huge raptors moving into the state from the north to join our resident breeding birds. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan all have some of the highest densities of nesting Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states and many of those eagles, especially from MN and WI move into Iowa during the winter months and frequently gather in large numbers around areas of open water to feed and roost.
Since the early 1990s, the Iowa DNR, plus a small army of volunteers has recorded this phenomenon during the Bald Eagle Midwinter Survey that takes place in the first two weeks of every year. Surveyors scope the trees, air and ice for Iowa’s largest raptor while driving snowy roads which wind along next to many of Iowa’s biggest rivers. There are 52 set routes in Iowa that cover over 1500 miles in 45 counties and along at least 13 rivers. The Des Moines and Mississippi river host the largest number of Eagles, which can usually be found concentrated below a dam or other area of open water. While Bald Eagles are very territorial during the nesting season, they are much less so in the winter though you may witness a squabble or two over a coveted fish at these congregation spots.
Bald Eagle Trends: In Iowa, the survey has revealed a steady increase in Eagle numbers since the survey began. There are big fluctuations from year to year based on weather, ice coverage, and food resource availability among other things but overall the trend has been upward. That rise in numbers has started to plateau in recent years as Eagle populations stabilize throughout the Midwest region. Bald Eagle Trends:
Another important statistic we track is the percent of Immatures versus Adults in the count. A good and steady number of immatures is a sure sign of a healthy population. About one-third of the birds counted on the survey are immatures and this trend has stayed steady for many years. (More Survey Results to be posted soon)
We are blessed to have a number of really wonderful wildlife photographers on the Upper Mississippi River. I’ve often mention Alan Stankevitz as a favorite. He has posted one of his beautiful Tundra Swan videos with his note and a link below. Alan often employs some of the more advanced photo technology, which makes his work really unique. Enjoy!
From Alan: This fall, I had the opportunity to spend some time down on Pool 8 of the Mississippi River to photograph and video the fall migration of waterfowl and of course, Tundra Swans. You can find my journal entry with a few photos here.
It really is difficult to portray the beauty of the area however in just pictures and with that I have created a video showing not only the Tundra Swans but some beautiful sunrises and sunsets. This video is on Youtube and if by chance you have a 4k monitor or TV, you can view it in its 4k full resolution. Click here to watch the video.
Enjoy and here’s to a Happy, Peaceful and Healthy New Year!
Dan Jackson has updated the Onalaska/La Crosse, Wis. area Snowy Owl sightings. Here is a beautiful image pulled from A-Z animals under a share license from Creative Commons.
Dan’s Update: On Monday morning, the refuge manager for the La Crosse District of the Upper Mississippi National Fish and Wildlife Refuge spotted an immature female Snowy Owl at the refuge Visitor Center on Brice Prairie (west of Onalaska off of County ZN. By late afternoon, 2 more had been seen.
Yesterday, three birds were perched in the parking lot of the maintenance building at dawn. When refuge employees picked up equipment for the day’s projects, the birds spooked and flew into the corn field just to the north.
At dusk, while a few of us were watching those 3 birds, we were surprised to see 2 other birds fly by making a total of 5. At least 2 were immature females and 2 were lightly barred and were either immature males or adult females.
The birds got active between 4:30 and dark and moved up from their perches on the ground to perch on signs, posts, tractors, telephone poles, and other vantage points – making them easier to see.
Someone asked if they might migrate as family groups and could these birds be related? Has anyone done genetic testing of groups of birds found at a single location before (Duluth Airport, etc.)?
A “heads up” from Dan Jackson… THANKS, Dan!
Tim Miller, the District Manager for La Crosse District of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge, found an immature female Snowy Owl at the District Visitor Center on Brice Prairie just west of Onalaska this morning. When he first saw it, it was near the staff parking lot. It then moved into the maintenance lot and was perched on a truck.
Hopefully, this bird will stick around as the prairie around the Visitor Center would be a wonderful hunting area.
Just ahead of our first major COLD spell of the season, a few dozen Tundra Swans are visible along Wisconsin Hwy 35, just south of Goose Island and La Crosse. There will also be naturalist/Interpreters on hand at the new wayside south of Goose Island. Bring your binocs and learn not only about the swans, but also an assortments of ducks! No doubt there are also Swans visible just south of Brownsville, MN.
Over the course of the next 4 weeks, numbers of Swans and migrating ducks will increase exponentially!! Have fun!!
Bellevue State Park Butterfly Sanctuary
Bellevue State Park, near Bellevue, Iowa, just south of Dubuque, is located atop a 300-foot high limestone bluff with panoramic views of the Mississippi River valley and Lock & Dam 12. It also shelters the largest Butterfly Garden in Iowa.
The Garden Sanctuary for Butterflies near the in the Nelson Unit contains a variety of interesting displays on the plants, animals and geology of Bellevue State Park.
. This unique area contains over one hundred separate plots, each featuring plants which provide food and habitat for butterflies. A network of pathways allows visitors to walk through the garden and see a wide variety of butterflies as well as enjoy the beautiful array of flowers and the pond in the center. For more information visit the website at Butterfly Garden.
According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, butterflies found in Iowa are either in the process of migration or are completing one of the various stages of their life cycle. Approximately 60 species of butterfly can be expected to make their appearance at the Butterfly Garden each year. Host plants for butterflies include wild aster, ragweed, goldenrod, lamb’s-quarters, daisy fleabane, milkweed, cottonwoods, wild cherry, hackberry and willows.
Brief note, now is an excellent time to be observing waterfowl passing through Pool 8. We saw a pair of TRUMPETER SWANS hanging about all last week in the sloughs and just south of Goose Island (normally in twos, rather than a large group, and note the very large black bill. Wing spread can approach 10 feet!). The Audubon group confirms that indeed there are many more TRUMPETERS than normal on the Upper Missisippi this year. A small mob of PELICANS is clustering forlornly in the Bay just above Stoddard.
- Very large swan with all-black bill
- Long, sloping forehead
- © Laura Erickson, St. Louis, Missouri, February 2008
Similar Species: Tundra Swan
From the Cornell Bird Lab: “Trumpeter Swans demand superlatives: they’re our biggest native waterfowl, stretching to 6 feet in length and weighing more than 25 pounds—almost twice as massive as a Tundra Swan. Getting airborne requires a lumbering takeoff along a 100-yard runway. Despite their size, this once-endangered, now recovering species is as elegant as any swan, with a graceful neck and snowy-white plumage. They breed on wetlands in remote Alaska, Canada, and the northwestern U.S., and winter on ice-free coastal and inland waters.”
(Trumpeter Swans are also found from St. Louis to N. Wisconsin! – Pat)
Additionally, among the many ducks seen between Goose Island and Genoa, are Lesser Scaup, Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Canvas Backs, Bufflehead, and American Widgeon. Bring your bird book! My goal this spring has to get some of these sorted out with my binoculars and a little help from the Audubon Club. These are strikingly beautiful ducks!
Eagles continue to be prolific from the Twin cities south. Not unusual to see as many as 11 adults in sight on the ice. I’m also noting many juveniles still hanging about. They become dispersed once the ice melts, so enjoy them while you can. See an eagle nest? Look for the “balde” head of the adult sitting in it!
During our brief early February “summer” our Mississippi River big birds made their move to the North.
Sandhill Cranes, in.
Tundra Swans migrating north overhead in huge flocks… check.
Bald Eagles are currently everywhere… 17 on the edge of the river ice, 4 circling up ahead, 3 in a dead tree. And more on the nests! It is a great moment to be out observing the transformation to spring!
How early are the cranes this year? Several days earlier than my historic “early date” of Feb 23, 2005! Here are some more arrival dates:
Feb 18, 2017
Feb 23, 2005 (a good two weeks earlier than normal!)
March 15, 2003
March 13, 2002
March 13, 2001
March 16, 1999
March 1, 1998
March 10, 1997
March 13, 1996
March 18, 1993
April 4, 1992
March 9, 1988
March 17, 1987
Finally, check out this river snapshot! Could that be an adult Golden Eagle confronting an adult Bald Eagle? And what about the immature on lower right? Is it Bald or Golden? I’d love your opinion!
Get out there and enjoy before the next storm hits!