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Burlington, Iowa - It’s not often that a trip to the grocery store ends with an unsolicited public endorsement but that’s what Andy Robbins got last year while walking to his vehicle.
Robbins is the wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources responsible for managing state wildlife areas in six counties in southeast Iowa.
On this particular day, the grocery courtesy was retelling the events of an excellent trip he and his buddies had walking in to hunt ducks on an off the radar wetland. The area in discussion was a newer 75-acre addition to Black Hawk Bottoms Wildlife Area.
Robbins didn’t let on who he was, but took in the story and the young man’s excitement. “It was so great to hear that,” Robbins said. “The area is doing exactly what we wanted it to.”
Just south of Burlington, near the mouth of the Skunk River, this small Mississippi River backwater is quietly becoming one of the better walk-in duck hunting locations in southeast Iowa, made possible through a cost-share program with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that is focused on restoring aquatic ecosystems.
To the untrained eye, the roads leading to the area may look more like a construction site than a wildlife area, but once you reach this hidden gem there’s no mistaking it, and once the word gets out, it will be one busy place.
“I think this area is going to be a sleeper,” said Robbins, standing on the berm overlooking the back side of the wetland. The growing vegetation is a duck food buffet - 90 percent wild millet, with smartweed and yellow nut sedge mixed in. The vegetation is thick and that may mislead some to think that the ducks may pass it by.
Don’t be fooled. Robbins will begin putting 16-24 inches water from Spring Creek on it in late September, just ahead of the migration. While waterfowl is a significant management and recreation focus at Blackhawk Bottoms, it’s more than a duck hotspot. It’s also a welcomed stopover on the migration superhighway.
Visitors include everything from bald eagles to wading birds that draws bird watchers and wildlife viewing nature lovers.
The diverse habitat here supports year round residents including a handful of turtle species - painted, map, red-eared sliders and snapping, otters, beavers, deer, herons, northern water snakes, pileated woodpeckers and more.