Everyone talks about Robins and Red-Winged Blackbirds being the harbingers of spring in Iowa, but there's a much more colorful migration of birds that occurs each May throughout the Northeast region. Living at the periphery of the bluffs that frame the Mississippi River that was left untouched by the glaciers that flattened much of the rest of the state, we're in prime migratory area.
With each year that goes by, my husband and I have discovered more and more birds will frequent our yard. This happens with just the addition of a small pond through which the water is recycled, along side numerous feeders and birdhouses. The availability of water encourages migrating birds to make at least a temporary stop through your yard, as they return to breeding grounds farther north.
Orioles, Indigo Buntings, Grosbeaks, Goldfinch, Purple Finch, Bluebirds and Hummingbirds are common in our yard on any given day from May through August. But now that I spend some of my days working from home, I have become fascinated with discovering how many birds actually migrate through the area as well.
A bird field guide in one hand, and my 35mm camera in the other, I can spend hours on the deck overlooking the pond, just waiting to observe what flying guests will visit around mid-May.
Today, it was a Cape May Warbler and a Yellow Warbler that were first to make appearances. Shortly thereafter, a small black-capped bird with orange-red bars on it's wings and at the base of it's tail, flitted nervously from the rocks around the pond. He anxiously hopped to the trellis, over to the bridge, and then to the fence where a still-dormant Bittersweet vine offered a place of respite, just seconds before he was again on the move.
A quick search on the internet revealed that the beautiful little bird of just 4-1/2 inches in length, was an American Redstart. Wintering in Central America, the bird often makes it's home in coffee plantations. During the summer months when breeding takes place, the Redstart is often found in Southern Canada. I had fun visualizing that this tiny little bird had spent our awful, cold winter in a coffee plantation like those I had once toured while in Panama on vacation with friends.
It led me to investigate the habitat of the Cape May Warbler, which is known to feed on berry juice and nectar while in it's Southern Climate, and uniquely for a Warbler, has a tubular tongue, similar to that of a Hummingbird. Knowing these brief glimpses into the lives of such unusual birds for our area of Iowa are fleeting, I snapped a few photos to remember them by. And then I made a few notes in my garden book, just so I'll remember to be on the lookout for their Northeast Iowa migration again next year.