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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It's a place to note the things you've seen in the natural world around you.  Whether it's snails, bears, fish, bugs, weather, meteorites, climate, birds, flowers, or old rocks,  nothing is too big or too small, if it's part of the natural world, this is the place to talk about it.
So please let us know what's going on in your neighborhood and whereabouts that is.  
It's rare that the schedules of all three of us come together so that we all have two consecutive free days so when that rarity popped up a couple of weeks ago we took advantage of it and took a two day rode trip. We drove north, starting just above St. Louis, and ending just above Burlington Iowa, following the Mississippi river as close as the highways allowed us and checked out several wetlands along the way. We were hoping to see waterfowl that might have stopped over to rest and feed during their southerly migration. Although we did see a few, we were a bit early and not too many birds had made it this far south yet, and the majority of those were hanging out in inaccessible regions deep within the refuges. But never-the-less we had an enjoyable trip and were pleasantly surprised at the upper end of our trip when we lucked into a large concentrations of birds, which although they weren't the ducks we had been hoping to see, were just as interesting and were delighted to unexpectedly come upon them.

At just about every wetland we could count on seeing at least one or two Pied bills.  I've always had a particular fondness for these little birds. I can't explain it, they certainly aren't awe inspiring like eagles, nor do they sport brilliant colors like Indigo buntings or Cardinals, and they don't put on spectacular mating ritual dances, (not that I've ever seen anyway). But to me, there's just something friendly and loveable about them.

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This one swam within a few feet of me, checked me out for a moment or two and then casually swam away.
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We also came upon blue herons along our route although many of them have already headed south. The ones we saw that day may have not been local to that area and might have been only stopovers from farther north.
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Most of the wetlands we visited have large areas that are off limits to people during October through about the end of the year in order to give the waterfowl a place to rest undisturbed, so most of the ducks were either completely out of sight or so far away as to be out of range for the small telephoto abilities of our cameras so we weren't able to get many decent pictures.

The first ducks we came upon that were close enough to photograph (just barely) was this flock, that consisted of mostly Gadwalls, with a couple of mallards and bluewing teal sharing the small pond with them.

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Surprisingly we found the largest concentration of ducks at a very small wetland in the southeast corner of Iowa. It's basically just a small fenced in lake, not more than four or five acres I'd guess. But this ordinary looking little body of water held a good variety of waterfowl. There were a couple of Grebes of course, but also a large group of Gadwalls, a similar sized flock of Ringnecks, several mallards, a few Redheads, a couple of Shovelers, one pair of Wigeons and to top it off a pair of Trumpeter Swans, which unfortunately hung out on the far side of the lake. We had seen a pair of these here in previous years so these may be permanent residents.

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With the exception of the Grebes, none of the birds were very cooperative regarding getting any kind of a close up and I'm thinking more and more about the need for a camera with more zoom power.

Having reached our final destination of southern Iowa we were a bit disappointed that we hadn't seen more birds so we made a last minute decision to drive an extra fifty miles to check out Lock and Dam 18. In late winter it's not uncommon to find a large concentration of Bald Eagles there and even though we knew it was way early we thought we'd take a chance in the hopes that a few early birds might be hanging out there already. They weren't, we never saw a one. But we were thrilled to see hundreds of other birds hanging around just below the dam, all taking advantage of the shad and other fish that were injured and killed on their passage through the gates of the dam.

Cormorants outnumbered everything and there were constantly flocks of them coming and going the whole time we were there.

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The only chance I had for a halfway decent closeup of a cormorant and I cut off his beak!
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Gulls were also there in very large numbers and they were also coming and going constantly, their cries filling the air with sound. The majority of them were Ringbills but there may have been others. I'm not very good at sorting out the different species with all their plumage variations.

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Our biggest surprise was the large number of White Pelicans that we saw there. These magnificent birds, though somewhat a common sight now, are relatively new to the midwest. They first started showing up in numbers after the COE started building the big flood control reservoirs. I can still vividly remember the first flock of them saw back in the early 70s. I was immediately spellbound by their amazing soaring abilities and still am today.

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Ok, your turn, what's happening in your neck of the woods?

The rain seems to be done for the day and I have some outside jobs I need to catch up on so I'll be in and out throughout the day when I'll check and reply to comments.

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Wed Nov 06, 2013 at 08:42 AM PST.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching.

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