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Round Lake Wildlife Area is a gem hidden in plain sight

  • 6/28/2022 3:11:00 PM
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MONDAMIN - Round Lake has to be the easiest wildlife area to get to in the state. Sitting one mile east off of I-29 at the Hwy. 127 Mondamin exit, is the 430-acre mix of wetlands, timber and prairie in western Harrison County.

Primarily used by hunters, Round Lake can be especially good for duck hunting when the wetland has water, said Doug Chafa, wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Missouri River Wildlife Unit.

But hunting is only one aspect of Round Lake, Chafa said. Outside of hunting season, this old Missouri River oxbow offers kayaking in the summer, excellent morel mushroom hunting in the spring, and hiking on the firebreaks anytime.

“It’s not a huge area and because of that it probably gets overlooked a lot,” Chafa said. “But that’s part of its attraction – you don’t have the competition here.”

Chafa said the area is in transition and they are following the management plan that outlines removing non-target trees and converting the old ag fields into native prairie.

On the north end of Round Lake, two fields are in the awkward weedy stage all new prairie seedings go through while getting established, but a few prairie plants are beginning to show up. Foxglove beardtongue, giant cup plants, golden Alexanders, spider worts, rattlesnake master are identifiable. The plant diversity attracts bugs and those bugs feed birds. Two rooster pheasants crowed nearby.

The C-shaped oxbow opens to the west with a large peninsula stretching east. This area has a sunflower field for doves and food plots for deer and turkeys. Chafa is looking to remove some of the trees here, seed the area with native prairie plants and restore a two-acre basin to catch and collect water before entering the main wetland.

The local tenant handles the field work including installing the food plots, sunflower fields and planting cereal rye as a cover crop.

The cereal rye provides browse for deer and turkeys, and takes up nitrogen to prevent it from leaving the field, Chafa said. When the cover crop is terminated, the nitrogen is available for the food plot or sunflowers.

The oxbow wetland is ringed with cattails after two years of low water. On the northeast corner is the parking lot and boat ramp, and off the end of the ramp is a narrow pathway leading to the open water. Bullfrogs nervously scattered to the safety of the cattail edges, their bulging eyes barely visible through the duckweed. A wood duck flushed.

“The area is super attractive to migratory waterfowl, especially for snow geese in the spring, and for shorebirds in the spring and fall,” he said.

On this picture-perfect June morning, the Dickcissels were singing, a pelican soared high above while a brown thrasher flew away.

“There’s so much happening around Round Lake, it’s easy to get to and it’s not overrun with people,” Chafa said.

Battling unwanted invasive species

The Missouri River Wildlife Unit is working to remove invasive honeysuckle by treating it with roundup after the first frost of the fall. Honeysuckle stays greener later than native trees and shrubs allowing the roundup to knock back the unwanted invader.

Honeysuckle can choke out the understory and by removing it, sunlight will again reach the ground and encourage natural regeneration of the native cottonwoods. The staff is also battling leafy spurge and autumn olive on the area.

Round Lake’s lesser known wildlife species

Staff with the DNR’s Multiple Species Inventory and Monitoring program visited Round Lake in 2012 and 2016 to record the different species on the area.

In addition to the deer, wild turkeys, rabbits and pheasants that live here, there are a number of species that are considered in need of greatest conservation including prairie ringneck snakes, tiger salamanders, northern prairie skinks, Baltimore orioles, belted kingfishers, brown thrashers, dickcissels, northern harriers, red-headed woodpeckers, Eastern wood-pewee, yellow-billed cuckoos and regal fritillary and monarch butterflies.