Lower Morse Wildlife Area in Wright County. Photo courtesy of the Iowa DNR.
A walk south past the sunflower field to the crest of the rolling hill offers visitors a view of a diverse 1,850-acre wetland and rolling prairie complex in northern Wright County. As far as the eye can see, its rolling hills, prairies and small wetlands that make up the popular Lower Morse Wildlife Area.
The area has been worked on over the years by removing trees and shrubs, planting prairies, and restoring wetlands.
“We manage this area as a prairie wetland complex that requires regular disturbance to keep trees and shrubs from taking over,” said TJ Herrick, wildlife biologist for the Clear Lake Unit of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The aim of the disturbance – mandated fire and targeted and limited grazing by a local cattle producer – is to create and maintain high-quality grassland habitats for the benefit of a diverse wildlife community.
The prairie changes throughout the summer, showcasing different plants along the way. Spiderweed, Round-headed Bush Clover, Prairie Blazing Star, Black-Eyed Susan, Rattlesnake Master, Calamint, Compass Plant, Lead Plant, and White Indigo are all featured. Remaining native prairie has been exposed on a portion of Lower Morse after ash and cottonwood trees were removed from an old pasture.
“There had never been a plow in this area, so we thought we had a good chance of finding remnants of the prairie, and we did,” he said.
The diverse prairie supports bobolinks, grasshoppers, sparrows, eastern meadowlarks, bell’s vireos, dickcissels and more. Sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans have returned to nest near the wetlands. Six cranes, with their distinctive grating calls, were first heard, then seen, flying low over a hill to the east.
“Lower Morse is important for grassland birds and was designated a bird sanctuary in 2009. It’s also important for migratory waterfowl,” he said.
Duck hunters have a choice here – head in to hunt the small, shallow potholes, or launch a boat at Mitigation Marsh or Morse Lake once it refills for a bigger water experience.
“It is prime duck hunting ground and great for pheasant hunting year after year. It’s a place that gets a lot of calls from foreigners,” Herrick said.
The sunflower fields also arouse interest. But before it attracts hunters and pigeons, it serves as a backdrop for family and engagement pictures, and for senior photos (not to mention a wave of “selfies”).
Wildlife on Lower Morse
The Multi Species Inventory Monitoring program under the Wildlife Diversity program had crews at the Lower Morse complex in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2021 to look for the wildlife species that call the area home.
Crews have identified several wildlife species considered to be particularly vulnerable including American Bittern, Belted Kingfisher, Black Tern, Serotine Buzzard, Brown Thrasher, Blanchard’s Cricket Frog, Tiger Salamander, Yellowthroat, Eastern Kingbird, Locust Sparrow, Henslow’s Sparrow, Northern Harrier, Monarch Butterfly, Northern Prairie Skink, Plains Pocket Gopher and the Least Weasel to name a few.
Morse Lake Restoration
The 90-acre Morse Lake suffered from poor water quality due to silt recirculation and lack of aquatic vegetation caused by a high carp population. The lake was lowered to clear out the fish and get the aquatic vegetation going again. A new water control structure was installed, providing greater control over water level management and the ability to simulate natural water level fluctuations.
The project included downstream wetland restoration and a fish barrier below the wetland to prevent fish from re-entering the wetland and Morse Lake.
The water level of the lake is low but once it returns to the crest it will be stocked with a mix of Northern Pike, Yellow Bass, Largemouth Bass and Sunfish. The improved water quality will benefit waterfowl and other wildlife, and the new lake phenomenon will produce fish of catchable size by the end of the second year.
Media contact: TJ Herrick, wildlife biologist, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 641-425-2814.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers a program to teach adults with little to no experience hunting small game skills necessary to hunt, dress, and cook small game such as rabbits and squirrels.
The workshop will take place on August 13th from 5pm to 8pm at the Amana Sportsman’s Club in Amana. Participants will learn basic small game hunting strategies such as proper equipment, where to hunt, safe shooting practices and how to dress, butcher and cook them in the field.
The workshop also includes shooting techniques and time at the shooting range for those who want to improve their shooting skills.
“This workshop will provide participants with the skills and knowledge they need to start hunting small game, including techniques to prepare and cook this lean and healthy protein in the field,” said Jamie Cook, program coordinator at the Iowa DNR .
The workshop is aimed at participants aged 18 and over. The cost is $25. For information about the workshop and how to start the registration process, go to https://tinyurl.com/22ehv3p8. Places are limited, so register now.
The program is offered through a partnership with the Iowa DNR, the Woods and Waters Project and the Amana Sportsmans Club. It is part of a national effort to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters due to the general decline in hunting and outdoor recreation.