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Henery Cruz with Play Safe works on replacing rubber safety surface at Mark's Park splash pad Tuesday in Waterloo.

Birders pushing hobby to new heights in Cedar Valley

WATERLOO — A lone green heron rested on a branch and basked in the spotlight at Greenbelt Lake.

Nearly two dozen bird-watchers on a nearby trail focused their binoculars and cameras as the heron changed shapes, extending its neck an absurd distance before returning to normal.

It was among 61 bird species the group encountered Wednesday during a birding field trip, one of many events set up by the Prairie Rapids Audubon Society to celebrate Bird Appreciation Week, which wraps up Sunday.

“This park is not only known in Waterloo but around the state as a diverse area for birding,” said PRAS president Tom Schilke. “There’s a nice trail they maintain and a lot of different habitats — water, prairie, trees.”

Later in the hike, the group stopped at a hot spot where an array of colorful, singing birds — rose-breasted grosbeaks, chesnut-sided and black-throated green warblers, a downy woodpecker and a warbling vireo, among them — appeared be throwing a party.

On the nearby lake swam several grebes, a ruddy duck and white-billed coot.

Craig Rash, who led the morning walk, said some species like the grosbeaks had just arrived to nest in the area while others were simply passing through.

“Some of these birds are migratory and they’re coming through here heading north,” he said. “There are only a couple of weeks to see them here.”

The more seasoned birders were able to name the species by their calls, while others were referencing bird guides to confirm identities.

“For me this has just opened up a whole new world,” said Susan LeMaster of Charles City, who began birding seriously five springs ago.

“I’ve lived in Iowa my whole life and I didn’t know about these birds until I got educated,” she added. “Now I wonder, ‘How did I ever miss those beautiful birds?’”

The former biology teacher said the hobby is a great way to continue learning new things, enjoy the outdoors and make new friends.

Waterloo is the state’s first and only Bird Friendly City, an honor bestowed last fall under a new Bird Friendly Iowa program focused on preserving and expanding bird habitats, reducing threats to birds and engaging people in birding, bird conservation and related outdoor recreation activities.

Schilke said Waterloo is the pilot project for Bird Friendly Iowa. The Audubon Society is working with the city and other entities to build on its good foundation, and the Bird Week field trips are part of that process.

“A lot of it is just making our community more aware of their surroundings, what our birds and other critters need,” he said.

Technology is also helping bird-watchers become more connected.

Active birders post what they’ve seen at, Facebook pages and other websites, helping the community find the best viewing locations. Greenbelt Lake and the Riverview Recreation Area in Waterloo have both been tapped as hot spots on eBird.

Schilke said the sighting of a rare species can even drive some level of tourism, recalling a bird enthusiast from Atlanta who came to Waterloo for a weekend to see a Northern Saw-whet owl, which had been nesting in the area.

“People that do birding are quiet,” he said. “They’ll show up and do things and nobody knows they were here.”

More information about the Prairie Rapids Audubon Society and its birding field trips can be found at

Angels Park suffers damage during storm (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

EVANSDALE — An apparent lightning strike scarred an Evansdale park established to memorialize children who died too young.

Huge chunks of concrete and dirt were blown out of the ground, exposing metal re-bar, around a bronze sculpture at Angels Park at Meyers Lake.

Damage at the island park was discovered Wednesday morning after overnight thunderstorms rolled through the area. Police were called to investigate.

“We don’t know 100 percent that it was lightning,” said Dona Frickson, a member of the Angels Park committee. “But just looking at it, it can’t be vandalism.

“It’s just crazy; it blew plants out of the ground,” she added. “We called a cement contractor and they’d never seen anything like it.”

An insurance adjuster has been called to examine the damage.

The sculpture by artist Jim Davidson titled “The Adventure,” which depicts children climbing a mountain, appeared to escape damage. But it may be necessary to look under the sculpture for damage.

Angels Park was created through a volunteer effort to turn the overgrown island into a memorial for cousins Elizabeth Collins, 8, and Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10, who were abducted and killed in 2012. That crime remains unsolved.

The focus later shifted to remember others, including Lindsay Nichols, who at the age of 22 was murdered in March 2012; Donnisha Hill, who was 13 when she was abducted and murdered in October 2006; and Evelyn Miller, a 5-year-old from Floyd, who was killed in 2005.

Frickson said it was fortune none of the memorial bricks engraved with names of loved ones, which are placed in the concrete surrounding the sculpture, sustained damaged.

“It’s a miracle that not of them broke,” she said. “A lot of people put their money into those bricks. The fact that none of them were damaged … I totally believe our angels are with us.”

Making the repairs soon may be complicated due to the work on a new 150-foot-long bridge being constructed to replace an earthen causeway connecting the island to the lake’s north shore.

N. Korea summit set, detainees free

WASHINGTON — Envisioning “a very special moment for world peace,” President Donald Trump announced Thursday he will meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for highly anticipated summit talks in Singapore on June 12. He set the stage for his announcement by hosting a 3 a.m., made-for-TV welcome home for three Americans held by Kim’s government.

Final details in place, Trump and Kim agreed to the first face-to-face North Korea-U.S. summit since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. It’s the most consequential and perhaps riskiest foreign policy effort so far in Trump’s presidency as North Korea’s nuclear program approaches a treacherous milestone — the capacity to strike the continental U.S. with a thermonuclear warhead.

Trump says the U.S. is aiming for “denuclearization” of the entire Korean peninsula, but he has yet to fill in just what steps that might include and what the timing would be.

“We’re starting off on a new footing,” Trump said of himself and Kim as he welcomed the detainees in a floodlit ceremony at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington. He hailed their release as a potential breakthrough in relations between the longtime adversary nations.

He and Kim “will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” he said of the summit later on Twitter. He told reporters, “I think it’s going to be a big success.”

Kim has suspended nuclear and missile tests and put his nuclear program up for negotiation, but questions remain about how serious his offer is and what disarmament steps he would be willing to take. The White House has said withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops from South Korea is “not on the table.”

Long before dawn Thursday, with the former detainees by his side on the air base tarmac, Trump said it was a “great honor” to welcome them back to the U.S. but “the true honor is going to be if we have a victory in getting rid of nuclear weapons.”

The ceremony, which also featured a giant American flag suspended between the ladders of two firetrucks, emphasized Trump’s penchant for the dramatic as he raised expectations for the summit. And it underscored how closely the fate of his foreign policy agenda is being tied to the North Korean negotiations.

He had wanted to hold the summit in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas but yielded to the concerns of officials who thought a DMZ meeting would focus attention on relations between the North and South rather than the nuclear question.

Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, other top officials and first lady Melania joined the president for the air base celebration. The former detainees — Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim — had been released Wednesday at the end of Pompeo’s visit to North Korea.

They appeared tired but in excellent spirits, flashing peace signs and waving their arms as they emerged from the aircraft. One said through a translator, “It’s like a dream; we are very, very happy.” They later gave the president a round of applause.

Pence said Pompeo had told him that at a refueling stop in Anchorage, “one of the detainees asked to go outside the plane because he hadn’t seen daylight in a very long time.” The men were taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for evaluation before being reunited with their families.

Trump thanked North Korean leader Kim for releasing the Americans and said, “I really think he wants to do something” on denuclearization.

Pence said on NBC News, “In this moment the regime in North Korea has been dealing, as far as we can see, in good faith.”

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who was among several Republican lawmakers who dined with Trump and National Security Adviser John Bolton Wednesday evening before the detainees returned, said their release was a positive development, but he remained cautious about North Korea’s intentions.

“We are in uncharted waters,” he said. “This is the highest level diplomacy that the United States has to offer. Failure would be a significant setback to diplomatic efforts.”

As for the venue, why Singapore?

White House spokesman Raj Shah said the country has relationships with both the U.S. and North Korea, meaning both presidents’ security — and a sense of neutrality — can be assured.

Located at the southern tip of Malaysia, the prosperous city state is a regional Southeast Asia hub whose free enterprise philosophy welcomes trading partners from everywhere. It has close diplomatic and military ties with the U.S. and yet is also familiar ground for North Korea, with which it established diplomatic relations in 1975.

“Since their independence, they’ve very deliberately developed a reputation as an honest broker between East and West,” said David Adelman, the former U.S. ambassador.

The White House choreographed the arrival event at the air base, the image-conscious president telling reporters, “I think you probably broke the all-time-in-history television rating for 3 o’clock in the morning.”

The public display stood in stark contrast to the low-key, private reception that the State Department had envisioned, in keeping with a practice of trying to protect potentially traumatized victims from being thrust into the spotlight so soon after an ordeal.

Shortly after they touched down in Alaska, the department released a statement from the freed men. They expressed their appreciation to Trump, Pompeo and the people of the United States and added: “We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world.”