Waterfowl migrating will find water at Hendrickson Marsh

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — There is a good supply of water in the basin of Hendrickson Marsh, the state DNR managed parcel of 851 acres (land and water) near the border of Marshall and Story counties. The basic acquisition was made in the mid 1960s. A dam and water control structure was completed in 1968, and the area was given an official name on June 13, 1970 in a dedication ceremony honoring Iowa State University wildlife professor George Hendrickson. Now in our late summer of 2022, in spite of drought-like conditions, just enough rainfall events happened to allow for a nearly full setting of runoff from the 8,000 plus acre watershed. In today’s image, the overall view is looking west to east, and a small group of Blue-winged Teal ducks take flight from its waters. The early Teal season ended last Friday, Sept. 16.

Hendrickson Marsh is one of a series of natural areas that work as stopovers for all kinds of migrating birds, waterfowl, shorebirds and many other small critters. Even birds of prey will filter over this site as fall approaches. From the Minnesota border to the Missouri border, wetland complexes dot the landscape and offer habitat that is essential for birds to find a place to rest, to feed, and then when refueled, stage the next segment of their flight southward.

In today’s image, much but not all of the 851-acre complex is visible. One can pick our food plots, tall grass uplands, and shallow water segments of the basin. Walk in public access is available for hunters pursuing game birds when appropriate seasons open up.

The early teal season began Sept. 1 and ran for 16 days. The reason for this is because teal species leave Canada very early, as soon as there is a hint of colder weather. A huge factor is their hard-wired brain noting shorter day lengths, which means it is time to go.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes an early teal season available when these species numbers are adequate enough to allow a small percentage to be taken by hunters. All during the late spring and summer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists use float equipped aircraft to fly over wetlands of the Canadian shield and its bordering boreal forests to count waterfowl of all species.

They are also associated with ground crews doing their version of waterfowl censusing. By experience and careful note taking on iPad programs, both the pilot biologist and the observer biologist, and the ground crews, gather data of every duck, goose, or swan they encounter.

By the time the data time frame is complete, their estimate of breeding birds prior to migration is pretty close to and is statistically accurate. Thus season dates and limits can be determined for various flyway councils.

Favorable conditions for waterfowl reproduction happened in 2022 in Canada and parts of the Dakotas and Minnesota. So too were conditions adequate for other birds such as doves, coots, woodcock, rails and snipe. Since each year is different with regard to weather events of too dry, or too wet, or everything in between, Mother Nature does have the capacity to have these species adapt to habitats in ways biologists are always trying to decipher.

Waterfowl seasons will reopen in stages later this month. Beginning Sept. 24 and 25, a youth season will be available in northern Iowa. Central zone youth start dates are Oct. 1 and 2. Southern Iowa zone youth is Oct. 8-9. Iowa has divided duck season zones by thirds; northern, central and southern. Regular waterfowl dates, depending upon zones, begin Oct. 1 and for southern Iowa go until Dec. 20.

Read page nine of the Iowa DNR regulations booklet to see which dates reflect the areas you live or areas you may wish to hunt.


National Hunting and Fishing Day for 2022 will be next weekend, Sept. 24 and 25. Every year on the fourth Saturday of September, National Hunting and Fishing Day (NHF) recognizes generations of sportsmen and women for their contributions to conservation of our nation’s rich sporting heritage of natural resources.

One of the goals of NHF Day is to help recruit new hunters and anglers by having them participate in field level activities, on the range, or in a natural habitat area. Hunters and anglers many decades ago approved, asked for, and helped get federal legislation passed to take self-imposed fees and excise taxes on sporting arms and ammunition, and angling equipment. From that humble beginning, these men and women who love to be outdoors hunting or angling have paid into the system over $57 billion — that is more than $100,000 every 30 minutes — and it is all dedicated to conservation projects. NHF Day is now in its 51st year and is the largest grassroots movement ever undertaken to promote outdoor sports for conservation.

It was in 1972 that President Richard Nixon signed the first ever NHF Day proclamation.

“I urge all citizens to join the outdoor sportsmen in wise use of our natural resources and in ensuring their proper management for the benefit of future generations,” Nixon said.

Indeed, it is true for many outdoors enthusiasts that the time they spend outside in natural settings, whether just observing or participating in legal hunting seasons, is therapy for their soul. A connection between the land and its wild inhabitants is appreciated, cared for, and given science based management programs.


Iowa does not have a lot of natural lakes. Most are in northern Iowa, where long past glacial systems of thick ice from Canada scoured the landscape, shaped it, and in some locations cut deeply to form large basins.

These depressions were later filled with glacial melt water and are now known by names such as Spirit Lake, Okoboji, Clear Lake and others. Add to these natural lakes are modern man-made reservoirs of Saylorville, Red Rock, Rathbun and Coralville. Numerous prairie wetlands, some too small to be called true lakes but still large enough to always be wet as they held ground water, formed the basis for a landscape our pioneer settlers observed, and settled upon.

Wildlife in the early 1800s to the turn of the next century, were seemingly inexhaustible. Well, we found out differently over time that from an era of no regulation to science based management of today, wildlife habitats have drastically been changed, altered and in many cases disappeared forever. Yet in special places all across Iowa, remnants of what once was still offer hope that wildlife can secure a mere semblance of its former self.

On a big reservoir system like Saylorville Lake, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facility located north of Des Moines, the wildlife that uses this site has been sufficient to have it be classified as an Important Bird Area (IBA). IBAs include sites where birds breed, winter and/or migrate and are part of a worldwide program to identify and conserve areas vital to birds and biodiversity.

A great number of birds use Saylorville Lake and its surrounding shorelines and uplands. The core of this IBA is the 26,000 acre lake. At normal water levels, it has 9.3 square miles of surface water and reaches 17 miles upstream from the dam. At full flood storage levels, its surface area can triple both in size and length.

Bird watching is a huge activity in and around Saylorville. Over 325 species have been seen including 20 species of gulls and terns. During fall migration, more than 23,000 gulls and terns have been observed feeding and roosting.

Smaller birds like the many warblers, white pelicans, sedge wrens, piping plover, American avocet, Bell’s vireo, willow flycatcher and marbled godwit have been documented. In the 142-acre prairie site at the southwest area of the dam, 142 species have been recorded. Here Henslows’ sparrows, eastern bluebirds and bobolinks stop by to rest and feed.

A checklist for Saylorville’s most likely birds is available at the nature and visitor center. On this list are 172 names of birds. To see them all would take years of careful watching at all times of the year.

However, spring and fall will certainly fill the bill (pun intended) for any avid bird watcher. Check out Saylorville Lake this fall for yourself.


Closer to home, the Iowa River valley is a migratory corridor of great importance. Many species large and small tend to follow the landscape features of woodlands that border the water channel.

September is a huge opportunity to observe all kinds of birds. Grammer Grove Wildlife Area located southwest of Liscomb is one fantastic place to see birds of prey or small warblers of all kinds.

As for birds of prey, mid September is a peak time for raptor migration. Last year, observers tallied 1,798 broad-winged hawks moving southward. This number is only what they witnessed during daylight hours when people were there.

At other times of the day or night, many other raptors passed overhead. Still, the number of broad-wings is an indicator of how important the river valley is to migration patterns. Other raptors seen included Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Ospreys, Northern Harriers, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Swainson’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawks, Rough legged Hawks, American Kestrels, Merlins and Peregrine falcons.

For any aspiring wildlife observer, young or old, a good pair of binoculars is a good purchase. Do buy the best quality you can afford. The more money one spends also brings better quality construction and great glass quality. Then add a few well chosen bird identification field guide books.

Start slow but remember, once the bug bites, this outdoor activity will never disappoint. Mountains are climbed one step at a time. Bird life lists of species seen began with one bird at a time. Life-long enjoyment from nature never ends.


Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at: P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.38/week.

Subscribe Today