Two male scarlet tanagers, ablaze in fiery red feathers, flitted about in front of a group of birders during a Warbler Walk for Wings & Wetlands Weekend.
“The gasps and oohs and aahs were just unbelievable,” said Ed Thelen, who helps lead the Warbler Walk for Dickinson County Conservation each year.
The little birds were so colorful, they almost looked out of place, like they should be in a tropical rainforest, not flying around northwest Iowa.
However, at this time of year, a variety of colorful birds are migrating through the region on the way from their tropical winter homes to their cooler summer homes. See them during this year’s Warbler Walk 8 a.m. Saturday, May 13, during Wings & Wetlands Weekend.
Meet Dickinson County Conservation environmental education coordinator Bryanna Kuhlman and Thelen at the Marble Lake boat ramp west of Big Spirit Lake for the leisurely walk to look for warblers and other migrating songbirds.
Thelen said groups have spotted up to 18 species of warblers and other colorful birds such as the scarlet tanagers and rose-breasted grosbeaks during this annual walk. He loves to see the blackburnian warbler and the more-common American redstart.
“That one we’re much more likely to see because some are known to nest in Iowa,” Thelen said. “Most of the warblers are going north to nest in the deciduous forests of Canada.”
During the Warbler Walk, birders will move slowly, watching for warblers feeding in the tops of trees and listening for their calls.
“Warblers often group together in little bunches; they call it a wave of warblers,” Thelen said. “It’s not unusual to see one, and then you stop and wait and a bunch of them will move through in a wave.”
Although birders usually hope for a gorgeous day to head outside, a little darker weather often helps people spot these colorful little birds. Instead of feeding in the top of trees, light rain and clouds will push them down closer to eye level.
Thelen has helped lead the Warbler Walk for about 15 years, and he is always excited to get people of all ages out doing what he loves, birding. And this is a great time of year to try it.
“The whole migration thing is so unbelievable the way these same birds come back to the same area,” he said.
After the Warbler Walk, a Wings & Wetlands Weekend program will be held at 3 p.m. at the Dickinson County Nature Center in Okoboji.
Duane Jundt, a lecturer in history at Northwestern College in Orange City, will present “Birdwatcher-In-Chief: Theodore Roosevelt and America’s Birds.” Roosevelt’s conservation ethics and hunting exploits are well known, but many people don’t know that he was an avid birdwatcher and champion for America’s threated bird species and habitats. Jundt will discuss the role birds and birding played in the life of this American president.
In addition to Dickinson County, other northwest Iowa county conservation boards will also be having Wings & Wetlands Weekend activities May 13-14, so check out all the fun opportunities throughout the area.
For more information on Dickinson County Conservation’s Wings & Wetlands Weekend events, visit www.dickinsoncountynaturecenter.com or call 712-336-6352. You can also keep up on the latest happenings on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.