The best laid plans started with an early morning wake-up to be out walking when the birds got up. However, the heat and humidity we suffered the night before resulted in terrible thunderstorms in the early morning hours. Instead of walking, we slept in another hour, and then we enjoyed the Belgian waffles our Travelodge included in their expanded line of breakfast items while the rain continued to fall.
Back on I-80 West, we discovered another opportunity to get out for a bird walk just outside Des Moines, IA off the Colfax exit near Prairie City. The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge had a beautiful Prairie Learning Center with terrific exhibits and a little shop, but we were there for the birding (and to spot a few buffalo!) This NWR encompasses approximately 8500 acres and on that property, they are attempting one of the largest prairie restoration projects ever. In restoring the biological diversity, they have introduced bison (currently at 39 adult and 5 calves) and elk within an 800 acre enclosure. It was the hottest part of the day for a 2-mile hike on the prairie, but after four days without really searching for birds, we were happy to see anything interesting, even if it meant a little sweat. We did spy two bison along with more than 30 species of birds, but we did not see any elk.
Here are the birds (we only started listing after we crossed the Mississippi)
Red-headed Woodpecker (it was flycatching!)
Eastern Wood Pewee