Fall bird migration through Iowa isn’t rushed

Photo of a Sabine's gull

Sabine’s gull

Sabine’s gulls are an Arctic species that typically migrate along the coasts or at sea, but one was spotted in Dickinson County in September.

During the Sept. 30 Birdwatchers Anonymous birding trek, Lee Schoenewe and his group of birders found this rare species at a marsh just west of Little Swan Lake, which was quite the treat. Schoenewe said he has seen them only every three or four years as some will migrate directly north-south across North America rather than using the coasts.

At the same event, the group also spotted an immature little blue heron that was far north of its typical range.

Photo of a little blue heron

Little blue heron by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren — Wikimedia Commons

One never knows what will be spotted during fall birding treks, and Schoenewe will lead two more for the Dickinson County Conservation Board in the coming months. Meet at 9 a.m. Saturday Oct. 21 and Nov. 18 at the Dickinson County Nature Center and caravan to birding sites throughout the county.

“Birds are just interesting creatures,” Schoenewe said. “Bird life — because they can migrate — it changes month to month. That’s why I like to get out all year.”

For the Oct. 21 event, Schoenewe plans to lead people to birding spots around Big Spirit Lake to look for diving ducks, grebes, loons and other water birds.

Photo of a hooded merganser duck

Hooded merganser

“It should be peak of the waterfowl migration, and some other water birds should be moving through,” he said. “There are places clear around the lake you can stop and have a look at what is on the water. Ainsworth-Orleans Beach and the pump house on the south end, the grade on the north end, there are always birds there.”

As shallow lakes begin to freeze in November, Schoenewe plans to head to Big Spirit Lake and West Lake Okoboji, which should still be open.

The birds in northwest Iowa will vary greatly from the September event to the November birding trek as summer residents leave, migrators make their way through and winter residents move in.

“Fall is really an interesting time for birds. The fall migration is spread out. If you think of migration in the spring, the birds are really focused. They want to get north; they want to set up nesting,” Schoenewe said, but in the fall birds aren’t as rushed. “They know innately it’s time to move. They form flocks and move around, and if they find a good habitat or food source, they’ll stick around for a week.”

Birdwatchers Anonymous birding treks are open to adults and children, mainly geared for those aged 10 and older. Participants are guaranteed to learn something about our avian friends, and Schoenewe thinks birding is great for so many people because studies have shown one in four have some kind of interest in birds.

Plus, he said, we all have had dreams of flying.

“If you go and watch birds, you can see something that can fly,” he said.

For more information on Dickinson County Conservation Board programs like Birdwatchers Anonymous, visit the environmental education page or call 712-336-6325. You can also keep up on the latest on the Dickinson County Nature Center Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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