March 17, 2021
When I was asked to write a little piece about outdoor activities that I enjoy, at first, I wondered what I would write about?
It took about two seconds for me to realize I could talk about the great outdoors all day…if allowed. Being a wildlife photographer, I center around birds, but I never miss an opportunity to snap any creature that may cross my path. Sometimes, I don’t even have to leave my front yard to witness the two bald eagles who’ve decided to nest nearby.
Iowa has a multitude of areas to enjoy the water and the animals that call those waters home. I spend a great deal of my time around rivers, lakes, wetlands, woods, and prairie. And many times, people just need to slow down and really observe the wonders around us.
Our state plays hosts to some of the coolest birds to be found, from the largest Raptors (birds of prey) to the smallest and my personal favorite, the Ruby Throat Hummingbird.
While many things happen year-round, the month of March starts off early spring with the fantastic waterfowl migration. Thousands of Canada, White Fronted and Snow geese pass through our state. Look up to the sky at nearly any point of the day to see the giant V-formations and marvel at their precision.
Most waterways, whether they be rivers, lakes, or wetlands, can play host to the migration. I have a couple of hidden gems that really aren’t that hidden: Jester Park in northern Polk County, which houses the upper wetland portion of the Des Moines River and Bays Branch Lake in Guthrie County, a large wetland area that is a stopover point for thousands of ducks and geese. Just the other day, while sitting on a ledge of Jester Park, I took a video of thousands of birds in flight. In the mix were your typical bald eagles and ducks, but the birds that flapped alongside were those of Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, Common and Hooded Mergansers, RedHead, Pintails, Ringneck, Greater Scaup and Shovelers and likely more my eyes couldn’t identify. I truly love when the ducks slice through humungous flocks with their small, distinct wing flaps.
With April comes the return of other migratory birds that can be viewed in and around our waterways. Many colorful warblers will pass through and give us a shot to watch them go about their daily business. The Baltimore Orioles will return along with a plethora of other songbirds too numerous to list. Mid-April brings about my favorite return of the season: The Ruby Throat hummingbird. These little green jewels will grace us from April through the end of September with their vigorous antics.
Do yourself a favor this spring as you kayak, bike, or walk along our waterways: really open your eyes to the environment around you. We are truly blessed with clean water, beautiful landscapes and bountiful animal, fish, and avian wildlife.
All we have to do is open our eyes.
About the Author: Tony Castelline has been an avid wildlife photographer for the last 12 years and a lifelong outdoorsman. Tony retired from the Des Moines Public School District after 30 years of service. He lives in Des Moines and is married with three grown children and four grandchildren.