I participated in the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union field trips this past weekend. These were run in connnection with the fall meeting of the IOU at Neal Smith Prairie Preserve near Prairie City. On both days I elected to participate in the field trip which “walked” the prairie in search of Smith’s Longspurs, Lapland Longspurs and the various sparrows (e.g., the Emerizinae Subfamily) that can be expected in central Iowa in late October. No Smith’s Longspurs were seen, probably because they have not gotten this far south yet. A few Lapland Longspurs were observed in flight. The sparrows were a better story.
The best observations were of LeConte’s Sparrows. We saw several each day and they made themselves very obvious by coming within a few feet of the group and posing close-by on whatever little stalks or twigs that they could find. The photographers in the group were especially ecstatic. Everyone remarked that never before had they observed so many LeContes at such close and sustained range. Clearly, they were the highlight for many of the birders, including me.
The other sparrows that I was able to identify were: White-throated, White-crowned, Savannah, Vesper, Swamp, Song, Fox, Lincoln’s, Harris’s, Field and Juncos. Some other particpants reported finding a Clay-colored, one or two early Tree Sparrows, and a late Grasshopper Sparrow. Oddly, I do not recall if anyone saw any Chipping Sparrows, and I would have thought they would still be present. Another less surprisingly absent (I believe) species was Nelson’s. Henslow’s, which are now quite common at Neal Smith in summer, were all gone. Nor, as I recall, did anyone see a Lark Sparrow.
It looks like a good year in Iowa for the northern finches. A fair number of Pine Siskins and a few Purple Finches were observed.