The parking lot of the Super 8 at I-29 and Hwy. 175 fills each fall with trucks pulling boats covered with duck blinds. For hunters, the bread and butter at Tieville Bend is the fall duck migration and if you want to know how the hunting is, go to Onawa and stop in Dave’s World Truck Stop and Restaurant, Suds and Jugs, or Millers Kitchen.
What draws the hunters here is the same thing that draws the ducks – a silty, sticky gumbo. But not the eating kind.
“The sticky gumbo is unique here; it covers the farm fields and holds sheets of water. The number of ducks we get here can be insane,” said Doug Chafa, wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The 4,500-acre Tieville Bend connects with Ivy Island and Blackbird Wildlife Area to the north which provides about 3 1/2 miles of riverfront for public recreation. Its varying landscapes of prairie, riverine, upland and wetlands is large enough to offer a 2-1/2 mile hike-in solitary experience or a sunflower plot with hunters every 20 yards a stone’s throw from the parking lot.
This diversity is also reflected in a unique plant and animal community.
Tieville Bend is home to deer, turkey, pheasants and ducks, but also to short-eared owls, northern harriers, northern and southern leopard frogs, woodhouse toads, sand toads and tiger salamanders.
It’s home to the plains spadefoot toad which lives underground for years at a time only coming out during thunderstorms to mate. It’s rare and secretive and looks more like a frog than a toad.
Plant community includes prairie mint, rattlesnake master, partridge pea, purple coneflower, wild licorice, wild grapes and a lot of poison ivy.
Taming old man river
The Missouri River ran wide and shallow while Iowa was being settled. As modern modes of transportation crossed the state, an effort led by the federal government was initiated in the late 1930s to narrow the river channel to promote barge traffic.
The project constructed a series of wing dikes extending from shore to harness the river’s energy to deposit silt behind the wing dikes. Once the area would silt in, a new series of wing dikes would be built, slowly narrowing the river channel.
One area resident has dedicated his spare time to looking for sunken steamboats where the Missouri River’s channel was decades ago, which is now on land.
In 1943, the project was halted while the nation went to war and there was a compact between Iowa and Nebraska that the river’s location in 1943 would be the border for the two states. When the project resumed after the war, the river channel had moved west creating an oxbow and an island of Nebraska land on the east side of the river.
“Hunters need to be aware where they are when hunting in this area to know which set of hunting laws that they need to comply,” Chafa said. There is one area, in particular, has been good for turkey hunters from both states that are right on the state line near a break in the dogwoods on Ivy Island Wildlife Area.
The Missouri River continues to exert its influence with occasional floods and sand deposits that manipulate the tree and plant makeup, and wildlife that call it home.
The flood of 2011 damaged the Decatur Bridge toll bridge on Hwy. 175 over the Missouri River, killed cottonwood and oak trees on Tieville Bend and deposed enough sand to cover 80 acres. Gold flakes have been found attached to sand found on the area that has spawned recreational gold prospecting.
During the high watermark, the DNR was launching boats off an agriculture access lane more than a mile from the river.
However, not all news was bad. The flood gave the cottonwoods a significant regeneration event for the first time since the flood of 1952. The sand dunes slowly began to vegetate with switch grass and prickly pear, giving a savannah-like appearance.
Woodpeckers benefited from flood-killed trees, orioles are building basket nests and the spring and fall bird migration fills the area. The DNR had re-seeded 500-600 acres that were flooded out which is now experiencing a honeymoon phase where “pheasants are going bonkers,” he said.
The flood allowed fisheries staff to document the grass pickerel and confirmed paddlefish reproduction in the area.
Some oak trees have returned and a lot of milkweeds along with it. Last year it was full of monarchs late in the day during the annual migration.
The Iowa DNR works with a lot of partners for the benefit of the area, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Monona County Pheasants Forever, the Iowa DOT and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. It is in the early stages of working with the Omaha band and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to partner on projects like prescribed fire.