The bird man of Okoboji’s birding passion actually began with the bird woman of Okoboji.
“I blame my wife, Nancy,” Lee Schoenewe said. “She started feeding birds in the backyard and got me to go to a meeting and field trip with the newly formed Audubon chapter in Spirit Lake in 1979. It was all uphill from there, and birding has been a great joy in my life.”
Schoenewe has volunteered to lead a variety of birding events in the past almost 40 years, hoping that others will pick up on his love of avian creatures as they experience the beauty and uniqueness of all the creatures that live in and migrate through Iowa.
Schoenewe is leading a new birding series put on by the Dickinson County Conservation Board called Birdwatchers Anonymous, with the next event held Saturday, November 19th. Meet at 9 a.m. at the Dickinson County Nature Center in Okoboji and caravan with Schoenewe throughout the county to see what species are in the area at that time.
“Depending on the weather, we will check the open water on the big lakes for migrating waterfowl and other water birds like loons, grebes, and gulls,” he said. “We may check a cemetery for crossbills and other winter finches or walk through Gull Point State Park to check for owls and woodland birds.”
During the October event, birders were excited to find some unique species, including common loons in winter plumage, western grebes, migrating surf scoters and more.
In December, birders are encouraged to participate in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count Saturday, Dec. 17. This survey has been held across North America for 115 years, and birders in Spirit Lake have participated in an organized effort since 1978. The survey area is centered near Arnolds Park, with a seven-mile radius that covers most of the Iowa Great Lakes region.
People can participate in the Christmas Bird Count in two ways. Those who live in the survey radius can count birds at their backyard feeders and then call in their records to Bird Haven at 712-336-2473 at the end of the day.
Others can travel through the field to count birds. Just meet at 7:30 a.m. Dec. 17 at the Hy-Vee deli in Spirit Lake and again at noon. Teams will be assigned to drive and walk natural areas in the four quadrants of the survey.
“Bring binoculars and dress for the weather if you want to help in the field,” Schoenewe said. “Teams will include both experienced and novice birders looking for and recording all the birds they see. The most important things are good fellowship and having fun.”
Birdwatchers Anonymous programs will continue in 2017:
- 5:30 p.m. Jan. 18: Birding in Northwest Iowa program, Dickinson County Nature Center
- 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 17: Great American Backyard Bird Count, Dickinson County Nature Center
- 9 a.m. Feb. 18: Great American Backyard Bird Count, meet at the nature center
- 9 a.m. March 25: Birding trek, meet at the nature center
- 9 a.m. April 22: Birding trek, meet at the nature center
For more information on Birdwatchers Anonymous or for a full schedule of Dickinson County Conservation Board events, visit the nature center's website or call 712-336-6352. You can also keep up with the latest happenings on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.