July 13 Iowa Outdoors

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Outdoor News

July 13, 2021

Goose Lake Wildlife Area has been a destination for Eastern Iowans for more than 70 years

Goose Lake Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes loafing in the south marsh at Goose Lake Wildlife Area, in Clinton County. Goose Lake is a permanent nesting site for sandhill cranes and for trumpeter swans, two iconic restoration species, and their numbers here are growing. Photo courtesy of the Iowa DNR.

Goose Lake, Iowa - Sitting on the west edge of the town of Goose Lake is a 1,300-acre public area that started as a soggy marsh that no one could tame but has become one of the more popular spots in the region, attracting visitors from Clinton, the Quad Cities and out of state.

Goose Lake Wildlife Area, in northeast Clinton County, has been hosting birders, hikers, hunters and paddlers since the 1940s. The large, natural, high-quality marsh is pretty unique for eastern Iowa. It’s even more rare that one wildlife area feeds two watersheds – the portion to the north of Hwy 136 flows to the Maquoketa River; the portion to the south flows to the Wapsipinicon River.

On this Chamber of Commerce day at the end of June, Goose Lake is a buzz of wildlife activity.

“This is a great birding area,” said Curt Kemmerer, wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as he drove slowly through the south marsh. As if on cue, 21 sandhill cranes could be seen loafing where the tall vegetation meets the short vegetation in the soon to be underwater marsh.

“Goose Lake is a permanent nesting site for sandhills and for trumpeter swans, two iconic restoration species,” Kemmerer said. “They’re here, and their growing in numbers.”

He said the state endangered king rail and northern harrier is also here, as is the yellow-headed blackbird, that is becoming less common in Iowa. “It’s a great spot for amphibians and reptiles, and wildlife likes it, but I’d like to make it better,” he said.

To that end, his staff at the Maquoketa Wildlife Unit have been working to reduce the influence of cattails in the marsh and create a variety of wetland plants by aerial spraying the dense stand, and, in the north marsh, it appears to be working.

While the marsh habitat is the main focus, the grassland habitat surrounding it is a close second and his staff has been busy battling unwanted invasive species and reestablishing diverse prairie.

Piles of honeysuckle are stacked near the south sunflower field and ready to burn before next cropping season. Kemmerer said they are looking at a late fall spraying of the harder to get at honeysuckle that has been successful at other locations. They’re also battling phragmites on the south portion, and autumn olive.

A local farmer is partnering to provide some of the vegetation management, and is currently farming certain areas that will help to get rid of the history of the invasive species in the soil before being converted into hay or natives. “The goal is for the farmed area to become a high-quality nesting site,” Kemmerer said. The partner also provides custom mowing, if needed.

Approaching an 80-acre section where they had conducted a prescribed fire this spring, Kemmerer was pointing out all the native prairie plants that were starting to show – rattlesnake master, spiderwort, cup plant, pale purple coneflower, goldenrod, oxeyes, gray headed coneflower, compass plant and more. Bushes that had crept into the prairie were top killed which will help to keep them at bay.

“It’s a fairly nice reconstructed prairie that will offer a reliable nesting place for upland birds,” Kemmerer said.

High quality hunting, trapping

Kemmerer gets calls from hunters looking for insider tips on duck, deer, dove and pheasant hunting, he said, as a young buck darted across the dike to the south.

“It’s a popular duck hunting spot and a sleeper area for turkeys,” he said. “It’s one of the best pheasant areas in my unit. Even in our poor population years in Eastern Iowa, Goose Lake had pheasants because it has quality habitat. For someone willing to walk the cattails or the south end, what a great resource. You could hunt all day and not cover the whole area.”

Dove hunting is also a big draw, he said, and Goose Lake’s two dove fields are easy to find and easy to access.

“It’s a decent place to trap, especially for muskrats,” Kemmerer said. “The lack of trapping here is more of a reflection on the low fur prices than on the opportunity.”

After a day spent on the area, Hoffy’s Bar and Grill, on the east side of Goose Lake, offers a nice place to relax and get a good meal.

Diversifying the timber

The timber component of Goose Lake is primarily walnut and cherry and Kemmerer looked for opportunities to diversify the tree species. In 2017, they planted 11 acres of high-quality oaks and hickories in two places, thanks, in part, to a grant from the Hardwood Forestry Fund.

“One day, this will be a solid block of hardwood timber which is something that it’s lacking today,” Kemmerer said.


  • The edge of the timber is a good place to forage for wild raspberries, blackberries, and mulberries – just be sure to bring a large enough bucket. It’s also a popular place to look for morel mushrooms in the spring.
  • A $200,000 project to replace the dam built in the 1950s is expected to be finished by the end of summer, ahead of hunting seasons. Half of the cost was covered by a federal North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant.
  • Boat ramps provide access to both marshes
  • During normal years, there is paddle able water
  • The dike system and access lanes are good places to go for a hike or go birding or wildlife viewing

Media Contact: Curt Kemmerer, Wildlife Biologist, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 563-357-2035.


Pheasant hunters and pheasant harvest increased in 2020

Pheasant hunters harvested nearly 300,000 roosters in Iowa during the 2020 season, which was the second highest harvest reported in more than a decade. In 2019, hunters harvested nearly 284,000 roosters.

“The 2020 roadside survey showed our pheasant population was 18 percent higher than in 2019, so an increased harvest was expected,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “Part of the increased harvest was due to the increase in pheasant hunters - 10,000 more hunters compared to 2019 - which was the highest since 2009. COVID was likely a major factor in that increase.”

Hunters in northwest, northeast, west-central, central and east-central Iowa reported good hunting success with more than 20,000 roosters harvested in each region.

Conversely, Iowa’s quail harvest saw decline. Hunters harvested an estimated 17,500 quail last year, which was a decline of 16 percent from 2019. The quail harvest decrease was also expected based on the August roadside survey that found the population was 11 percent lower than 2019.

The harvest and participation estimates are based on the results of a random survey of licensed hunters following the 2020-21 hunting season.

The survey estimated hunters harvested more than 75,200 rabbits; more than 76,600 squirrels; and more than 81,700 mourning doves.

The Iowa DNR will begin the process of conducting its annual survey of upland game. The August roadside survey covers more than 6,500 miles of routes driven on gravel roads at dawn on mornings with heavy dew. Hen pheasants will move their broods to the edge of the gravel road to dry off before they begin feeding, which makes them easier to count. The statewide survey takes place between Aug. 1-15.

The August roadside survey has been conducted over the same routes since 1962. In addition to pheasants and quail, the survey collects data on partridge, cottontails and jackrabbits. Results will be posted online at www.iowadnr.gov/pheasantsurvey by Sept. 10. Iowa’s pheasant season begins Oct. 30.

Media Contact: Todd Bogenschutz, Upland Wildlife Research Biologist, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 515-979-0828.


Learn to Hunt program opens registration for dove hunting and wingshooting workshop series

DES MOINES - The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is offering a program to teach skills needed to hunt, field dress and cook mourning doves to individuals who have little to no dove hunting experience.

The August 14 workshop will feature a mourning dove knowledge and skills building session with instructors that will provide hands-on learning as well as a live-fire wingshooting clinic.

“For those interested in the challenge of dove hunting as a means of sourcing their own protein, this program provides the opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge it takes to do it all yourself,” said Jamie Cook, program coordinator with the Iowa DNR.

Participants will learn basic strategies for hunting mourning doves such as proper equipment, where to hunt, safe shooting practices, and how to field dress, butcher and cook. The wingshooting course will provide lessons on shooting techniques and range time for those looking to improve their shooting skills.

The courses are designed for participants 16 years of age and older. The cost is $15 for the two-hour mourning dove course, $35 for the two-hour wingshooting course or a $45 combination registration is available for both courses. Space is limited so register early.

For more information and to begin the registration process, visit: http://events.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=dep4qyuab&oeidk=a07ei7hv18r339bada2

The program is provided through a partnership with the Iowa DNR and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. It is part of a national effort to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters due to the overall decline in hunting and outdoor recreation.

Media Contact: Jamie Cook, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 515-350-8091


Attention photographers: Showcase your pictures and Iowa state parks in national contest

DES MOINES -- If you enjoy photographing Iowa state parks, the Iowa DNR invites you to enter your photos in the America’s State Parks 2021 Photo Contest, hosted by the National Association of State Park Directors. Photos will feature state parks from Iowa and other states, and could be included in calendars and other publications. 

Participating photographers can showcase Iowa’s beauty while winning prizes and earning national recognition for photo entries. Photos categories include: friends and family, camping, scenic and seasons, wildlife and activities. Participants must be aged 18 or older; the easy-to-enter contest ends on July 31, 2021. Visit https://stateparksphotocontest.org/ to learn more and submit your photos.


New state park trail app available

The Iowa DNR has developed an online mapping application to help visitors navigate trails in state parks.

Through GPS and mobile data, the application can be accessed on mobile phones and helps the user identify trail names, trail heads, acceptable trail use (i.e. hiking, biking, etc.), and distances. The application is web-based rather than downloadable from an app store, so data service availability could be a factor when using the trail map application. To access trail maps, go to iowadnr.gov/stateparks and click on Iowa State Park Trails.


State Preserves Advisory Board to meet July 19

The State Preserves Advisory Board of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources will meet at 1 p.m., July 19, in the second floor conference room in the DNR Water Supply office, Wallace State Office Building, 502 East Ninth Street, in Des Moines.

The meeting is open to the public. Any person attending the public meeting and has special requirements such as those related to mobility or hearing impairments should contact the DNR or ADA Coordinator at 515-725-8200, Relay Iowa TTY Service 800-735-7942, or Webmaster@dnr.iowa.gov, and advise of specific needs.

The public can listen to the meeting via Google Meet at meet.google.com/fkr-jufm-xkc or

by calling 224-858-0519 and entering the PIN of  ‪652 473 898, followed by the pound (#) sign.

Members of the State Preserves Advisory Board are Rebecca Kauten, Steve Gustafson, Amy Crouch, Rick Cerwick, Perry Thostenson and Barbara Schroeder. The deputy director of the DNR is Alex Moon.

The following is the July 19 agenda.

  • Approve agenda
  • Approve minutes of past meeting
  • Proposed Lamson Woods State Preserve management plan
  • Proposed White Pine Hollow State Preserve
  • Fort Atkinson State Preserve rehabilitation grant update
  • Open discussion

A more detailed agenda is available on the Iowa DNR’s website at www.iowadnr.gov/spab.

For more information, contact John Pearson at 515-669-7614.