Thursday, April 30, 2015

Solo Birding, or An Easy-to-Swallow Outing to Ankeny NWR

Last weekend Maureen had to travel to San Diego for a conference, leaving me to figure what to do with myself for a few days. Saturday, I thought I'd venture out and take some macro shots, hoping the weather would cooperate. But at every point during the day, it threatened to rain. I'd been keeping myself cooped up for fear the storm clouds would break open, but at a certain point I just got tired of waiting, so late in the day I headed down to Ankeny NWR to take my chances.

A sinister-looking Brewer's Blackbird greeted me in the parking lot

Northern Flicker

Ankeny's mostly off-limits between October and March to give "Dusky" Canada Geese and other waterfowl undisturbed wintering habitat. With spotting scope you can scan a good portion of the area from the parking lots, but Pintail Marsh also has a 1.8 mile loop trail and it's been ages since we've been able to walk it. A couple of times since it's opened back up, we've taken short trips after work and checked in some of the willows along the trailhead without getting very far. I hadn't expected to get far this time either, but the birds kept drawing me in.

Red-winged Blackbird
Savannah Sparrow

By far the most active were the Yellow-rumped Warblers. Both the "Myrtle" and "Audubon's" Yellow-rumps are sporting their fancy breeding costumes and flycatching left and right. "Myrtle" seem like they're outnumbering their brighter, fancier-looking brothers and sisters right now, which is still surprising to an easterner like me who thought we were swapping Myrtles for Audubon's when we moved out here. Maureen's been waiting and hoping for a handsome male Audubon's to show off for her, but so far hasn't found any cooperative volunteers. But the minute she leaves town, this happens… and with her own camera no less.

"Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler

"Myrtle" Yellow-rumped Warbler

A gentle warbling emerged from the same willows where the Yellow-rumps were frolicking. Even if it was more shy than the warblers, it was great to see my first Warbling Vireo of the year. Other FOYs included Yellow and Wilson's Warblers, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. At around this same point in the trail as the vireo I noticed the damselflies were swarming a certain kind of grassy seed heads. One of them let me get close enough to snap a photo with my macro.

Warbling Vireo


Least Sandpiper
The other major source of activity was the swallows. From the parking lot, you can see them swirling around and around over a cluster of snags, occasionally landing on them in tight groups. Now that I was able to get farther along the trail, I came across a nesting box complex, and the Tree Swallows were getting to work.

It was mostly Tree Swallows I should say, but there was at least one Violet-green getting ready to nest, and, as you can see, we were fast friends. Cliff and Barn Swallows are also making their way to Ankeny, although the Cliffs are likely to nest in other parts of the refuge, where there are structures for them to build on.

Violet-green Swallow

While the swallows and other songbirds are preparing their nests and pairing off, the Canada Geese are already busy raising their first brood. I'm pretty sure these were the first baby birds either of us have seen so far this year. Lets home some of these little guys survive the inevitable onslaught of the eagles, harriers, red-tails, and other raptors that use the marsh as their hunting grounds. Good luck, little ones.

Canada Goose family

Red-tailed Hawk


  1. Dang, nice crushes dude.

    Living La Bachelor Loca over there!

    1. Thanks, Laurence! I may be loco, but for me birding is best as a folie à deux