Great river birding trail

You probably know it as the hiking trail along the river. I call it Webster City’s “Great River Birding Trail” a.k.a. The Boone River Hiking trail.

I think the Chamber of Commerce missed the boat on this one. It’s one of Webster City’s overlooked assets. And a premiere one at that. Not only is it a drawing card for local birders, but it should be on every visitor’s short list and every tourist’s bucket list.

I like to take out-of-town visitors there because we nearly always see birds – at least enough to make it interesting and worthwhile. And if we can’t see any birds, then there’s always the great scenery.

The other morning, we observed 14 species of birds (two were shorebirds, one was waterfowl, one was a hawk and the rest were migrating songbirds). All along the way, the trail promises exciting birding the year around, especially in spring and fall.

Local birders consider the trail through Webster City to be the premiere bird-watching spot in Hamilton County. It’s always a favorite of mine. From Ohio Street on the south end to the Union Pacific Railroad bridge on the north end is roughly one mile. It’s a piece of cake for walking, especially for senior citizens. The trail is flat and level. No hills. The path is concrete, 10-feet-wide. No wading in mud; no bushwacking through knee-high grass or stinging nettles or brush.

There’s ample parking space at both ends of the trail and lots of park benches spaced at convenient intervals up and down the trail. Snow plows keep it free of snow in the winter.

No matter what season of the year, the scenery is always great. On spring mornings, the foliage and trees are electric with birdcalls. If the river water is low – and it usually is – there are plenty of sandbars with which to observe shorebirds. Killdeers nest in the open field at the west end near the Marshall Crippen bridge.

In the winter, one can usually see bald eagles in the treens downstream from the White Fox bridge. And you can almost bet your bottom dollar you’ll see the eagles in the winter up by the Union Pacific Railroad bridge on the Links Golf Course side of the river.

Walk slowly and keep a wary eye for the Great Blue Herons. There’s ample openings in the trees and foliage on the river’s side of the trail so as to be able to use binoculars and scope to view the hawks. Actually, except for hawk and eagle watching, you won’t need a spotting scope. Often the viewing is so close tha one can easily get by without binoculars.

Brush near the old city water plant abounds with northern cardinals and blue jays, and Canada geese are nesting on the islands upstream from the Des Moines Street bridge. If you’re quiet, walk real slow, look carefully at the thickets along the way. if you’re lucky you might spy song sparrows scratching around the ground. Savannah and White-throated sparrows will be in the underbrush.

The bird activity along this trail will amaze you. All four bridges – Marshall Crippen, White Fox, Steven Sears and Sgt. James Wedding – have sidewalks. And this is a great asset for winter-time bald eagle viewing. One can stand on the bridges and look both upstream and downstream for eagles.

And if you prefer to bird from your vehicle, you’ll have ample opportunities from three good locations. The first is at the west end of the trail in Nokomis Park. Another is the parking lot just west of the Boone River

bridge on White Fox Road. The third is from the parking lot near the 7B Ranch.

As you meander along the trail, keep an eye skyward for turkey vultures and hawks. Allow yourself enough time to snoop and prowl around the ruins of the old A.R. Clark ice house (better known as Zub’s Ice House). Once a thriving, bustling little business along the Boone River, all that’s left now are remnants of some old building walls and foundations. A ghost town of cement block and brick so-to-speak.

Lots of different species of thrushes, thrashers and sparrows are migrating through the area now, and in another month, the tiny by colorful warblers will be passing through, moving on northward to their breeding grounds. At trail marker 1.0 north of Riverside Park, belted kingfishers may often be seen perched on tree limbs that hang out over the river. They’re fishing for small minnows. In the summer, you’ll find that the forest on both sides of the trail has towering canopies and is filled with dense undercover that attracts a variety of songbirds.

Maybe the title of this week’s column should have been “The trail with four names.” Believe it or not, in a single mile stretch of this trail, the city has posted three different signs with three different names. At Riverside Park, the officials sign calls it

“Boone River Water Trail.” Another City Sign at the White Fox Bridge calls it “Boone River Trail.” Another sign at the 7B Ranch calls it “Boone River Recreational Trail.” At least at Briggs Woods Park it’s consistent on this … all the way through the park they call it simply: “Boone River Trail.” Go figure.

So just for the fun of it, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring, add my two cents worth, and give it yet a fourth name. I’ll call it Webster City’s Great River Birding Trail. Semper Fi.

And now … have a good weekend.