Among the remote bluffs and ravines dotted along the Upper Mississippi River in northeast Iowa is a very special bird conservation area situated in Effigy Mounds - Yellow River State Forest.
Thanks to the efforts of McGregor researcher, Jon Stravers, the state has been awarded its first Globally Important Bird Area. Stravers has spent many hours over the last seven years observing and recording the movements of the rare cerulean warbler and it is this work that led to the successful application for recognition. There are 91 areas in northeast Iowa which are designated as important bird areas, but this is the only area to gain international recognition much to the delight of the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Diversity Program.
The honour was announced by the National Audubon Society and Bird Conservation International. The conservation area comprises over 14,000 acres of publicly accessible land including Pikes Peak State Park, Effigy Mounds National Monument, Yellow River State Forest and the state wildlife management areas in Sny Magill-North Cedar and Bloody Run as well as several thousand acres of privately owned land surrounding the unit.
One hundred and ninety two cerulean warbler territories were recorded within the designated area between May and June. This is a remarkable statistic considering that in 2000 the Audubon Society suggested that the US Fish and Wildlife Service list the bird as a threatened species because of the destruction and fragmentation of its habitat. Their request was denied. Then in 2006 it was estimated that the population of birds was declining at an alarming 3 per cent every year; a total of 70 per cent having been lost over the last 40 years.
Stravers ventured deeper into the remotest areas he could reach in search of more birds and was both surprised and delighted by the numbers he found.
The cerulean warbler is named because of the colour of its plumage. It’s actually a neotropical migrant, stopping off in northeast Iowa to breed. The birds are shy and secretive choosing the very highest areas in the canopy in which to nest and even when in flight, their colour makes them pretty much invisible against a backdrop of blue sky. The birds have a distinctive call and it’s this that identifies them. Stravers describes the song as, “a buzzy trill … a series of zee sounds.” The cerulean warbler winters down in the warmer climes of South America where it’s found in mixed-species flocks containing other resident species. The formal recognition ceremony took place during the Hawk Watch event which was held earlier in the fall at Effigy Mounds National Monument.
If you’re in the area next spring, take your binoculars and you might just get lucky. Here’s what to look out for:
Photo courtesy of Flikr Commons Video clip: American Bird Conservancy