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Harmon Lake Wildlife Area ready for a busy fall

  • 10/3/2023 12:38:00 PM
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Standing at the gravel boat ramp on the middle pool of Harmon Lake, among a dense stand of bur-reed full of seeds, four noisy trumpeter swans appeared over the trees then banked west at the sight of unwelcomed visitors.

Harmon Lake Wildlife Area is nearly 1,000 acres of prairie-wetland complex in northern Winnebago County anchored by three larger pools – west, middle and east – with the middle pool identified as a sovereign lake when the state was settled.

The area has been the site of various research projects throughout its history, including participating in a national study on small white lady’s-slipper orchid, and an Iowa study on mallards in the 1970s. It is home to Blandings turtles, long-tailed weasels, meadow jumping mice, northern harriers, sandhill cranes, grasshopper sparrows, bobolinks and more.

On this early September morning, TJ Herrick, wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Clear Lake Unit, is walking on the bank separating the middle pool from the east pool. Two recently installed water control structures will allow the Iowa DNR to hold water in the east pool and manage the water level in the middle pool to improve the habitat benefitting wildlife.

“When we get water back, it will be great here,” Herrick said, referencing the drought.

Heading west along the south edge of the area, a rooster pheasant cackled and flushed, flying south to the neighboring soybean field. 

Here, prairie and wetlands are intertwined supporting deer, ducks, pheasants, doves and more. Bees and monarchs are moving from flower to flower in search of late summer nectar. The pothole wetlands are holding a few ducks. Prairie blazing star, goldenrod, big bluestem, Indian grass, heartleaf golden Alexander, sawtooth sunflower and side oats gramma are visible. Shining willow has been found in the most soils here.

Remnant prairie was found in the area around an old one room schoolhouse that once sat on the southwest corner.  

Positioned closer to the Minnesota state line (two miles) than the nearest Iowa town – (Scarville, pop. 78), Harmon Lake doesn’t receive a lot of hunting pressure.

“It’s a long way from anywhere,” Herrick said. “There’s not much competition. You could hunt ducks here in the morning and pheasants in the afternoon or walk all day hunting pheasants.”

Harmon Lake is within one-and-a-half miles of Good Neighbors Marsh which as well as other private land enrolled in the conservation reserve program. “It’s not a habitat island or just one block of habitat, but is in proximity to other habitat that supports a variety of wildlife species,” he said.