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Iowa citizens playing key role in tracking bald eagle nests and frog and toad populations

  • 1/22/2019 11:40:00 AM
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It’s 10 o’clock 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 which are 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 half hour is spent watching one of the most spectacular birds in North America. 

All across the state of Iowa, citizen scientists are making enormous contributions to wildlife conservation. Both of the volunteers described above were trained through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program.

“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 done is crucial to the well-being of these species,” said Stephanie Shepherd, wildlife biologist with the Iowa DNR’s Wildlife Diversity Program.

Every March and April, Shepherd travels around the state to lead training workshops that ready folks 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 more than 150 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 2018, volunteers surveyed 54 survey routes which translate into more than 400 wetland sites monitored for frog and toad activity. 

“The frog and toad surveyors are particularly special because to perform the surveys volunteers have to drive back country roads at night along a specific route using only their ears to collect data,” Shepherd said. “I think most feel that exploring the Iowa wilds at night is a unique experience and opportunity.”

Interested volunteers must register for and attend a training workshop.  The Iowa DNR is partnering with the Scott, Wapello, Mahaska and Sioux County conservation boards to host the following workshops. 


Bird Nest Monitoring Workshops

March 16, 1 to 4:30 p.m.  
Environmental Learning Center at Caldwell Park, Hwy 92 east side of Oskaloosa
Hosted by Mahaska County Conservation

April 13, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 
Oak Grove Lodge at Oak Grove Park, 4051 Cherry Ave., Hawarden
NOTE: A Frog and Toad Survey Training will be held in the afternoon on this same day. If you wish to sign up for both workshops, the total registration fee will be $8.
Hosted by Sioux County Conservation 


Frog and Toad Call Survey Workshops

April 2, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. 
Pioneer Ridge Nature Center, 1339 Highway 63, Bloomfield
Hosted by Wapello County Conservation

April 8, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. 
Wapsi River Environmental Center, 31555 52nd Ave., Dixon
Hosted by Scott County Conservation

April 9, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. 
Boone Wildlife Research Station by Ledges State Park, 1436 255th St., Boone

April 13, 1 to 4 p.m.  
Oak Grove Lodge at Oak Grove Park, 4051 Cherry Ave., Hawarden
NOTE: A Bald Eagle Nest Monitoring Training will be held in the morning on this same day. If you wish to sign up for both workshops, the total registration fee will be $8.
Hosted by Sioux County Conservation

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