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Iowa citizens playing key role in tracking imperiled wildlife

It’s 10:00 on a summer night along a gravel road anywhere in Iowa.  In the farm pond next to the road a raucous chorus of male frogs are making themselves heard as they vie for mates.  A volunteer stands clipboard in hand, ear cocked, mentally sorting out each of the calling species using this seemingly ordinary pond. 

Skip over to a Saturday morning by the river where another volunteer has binoculars and spotting scope trained on the tallest tree in the vicinity.  In this tree is a huge nest, home to two bald eagles and their young.  A peaceful hour is spent watching one of the most spectacular birds in North America. 

Every year across Iowa, Iowans are making enormous contributions to wildlife conservation.  Both of the volunteers described above were trained through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program (VWMP). 

Every March and April, Iowa DNR wildlife diversity biologist Shepherd travels around the state to lead training workshops that prepare volunteers to collect data on some of Iowa’s critical wildlife. 

So what are these critical wildlife species?  One training workshop focuses on some of Iowa’s more spectacular bird species such as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Peregrine Falcons. Volunteers are taught how to collect data on specific nesting sites around the state and submit pertinent data such as how many young birds fledge.   

“This data collection requires lots of patience and some good optics in order to watch the nest from a distance and not disturb the birds,” Shepherd said.  Last year volunteers reported on at least 161 bald eagle nests across the state.

The second survey requires a keen ear. 

Volunteers are trained to listen to and recognize the 16 species of frogs and toads in Iowa based on their breeding calls. In 2016, volunteers surveyed 55 routes which translate into roughly 400 wetland sites monitored for frog and toad activity.

“The frog and toad surveyors are particularly special because to perform the surveys they have to drive back country roads at night along a specified route which would not be everyone’s cup of tea,” Shepherd said. “This is a unique experience and opportunity to explore Iowa’s wild places at night.”

The Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program provides an opportunity for adults who love the outdoors and wildlife to be directly involved with the conservation and monitoring of Iowa’s resources.  “The work is crucial to the well-being of these species,” she said.

Interested volunteers must register for and attend a training workshop.  The DNR is partnering with the Kossuth, Marion, Johnson, and Dickinson County Conservation boards with to host workshops. 

A bald eagle workshop will be held March 4 in Kossuth County near Algona.

Three frog and toad survey workshops will be held in the evening in Marion County on April 4, Johnson County on April 6 and Dickinson County on April 11.  For more information visit: http://www.iowadnr.com/vwmp/ or e-mail vwmp@dnr.iowa.gov.

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