A Swedish wetland in Iowa!?

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I recently visited Bjorkboda Marsh near Stanhope in Hamilton County. It appears that this is a little bit of Sweden right here in Iowa! The sign tells the story, but better still, I encountered a bird that could very well be from Sweden (or, visit there someday). I’ll reveal that in a moment, but first let me tell you about the search.

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Bjorkboda is not so easy to find, rather out of the way on back roads. After arriving I enjoyed a climb up the viewing platform to the blind. Nicely placed near the water, and an easy walk from the parking lot. It was already late afternoon, and the sun was coming at my eyes, so everything before me was back-lit. This created pretty silhouettes of the vegetation, the muskrat mounds, and the birds. Ah, the birds…what ARE those waterfowl?

As it turns out, seeing them first in silhouette may have been fortuitous, as the most notable feature became even more obvious: the bird has a shovel built into its face! I was looking at a group of four Northern Shovelers.

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I love birds, but I confess I’m no ornithologist. I’m grateful for the help of good field guides. I recall reading in a field guide, that an automobile can serve as a blind for bird observation. I climbed in the car, drove along the road a short distance, and looked at the birds again. This time with the sun behind me, the colors were all visible and other features (not available in silhouette) were apparent. The birds were actively feeding, sort of swishing their bills back and forth through the water, almost as if constantly shaking their heads no-no-no

I was also impressed by the large size and great density of muskrat mounds. The wetlands straddle the road, and the south parcel has a wonderful stand of snags (standing dead trees)…unclear if those are part of the site or a different property? I’ve encountered fewer muskrat mounds of late, and I am not the only one to wonder about our muskrat populations. Perhaps that’s a post for another Wetlands Wednesday.

Back to Bjorkboda. Brian from the county conservation board gave me a bit more information about this place: Ruth Weeds donated this land after it had been in the family for a century! I enjoyed hearing the stories of Native Americans camping here even after the Swedish-American settlers started farming; preservation of the wetlands  despite surrounding intensive agriculture; research and conservation efforts. It’s helpful to remember that although the shoveler birds come and go, the marsh goes on. Past caretakers preserved this beautiful place for us, and we can pass it down to others who come later.

So head to Bjorkboda and bring your binoculars and camera. Leave a comment or two and impress us with your observations!

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Author: Paul Weihe

Associate Professor of Biology at Central College, traditional author (Textbook of Limnology, Cole & Weihe, 5th ed.; Waveland Press), and now...blogger!

5 thoughts on “A Swedish wetland in Iowa!?”

  1. Reading about the history of this nice wetland reminded me of an Iowa Public Radio piece I heard months ago about a non-fiction book set in Minnesota that tells the history of a marsh area up there. The book points out, among other things, that Upper Midwest farmers did not all rush to drain their wetlands as fast as possible. In fact there were some serious conflicts in which some big-money landowners wanted to drain marshes, while small landowners wanted to keep the marshes for the many practical benefits they provided in terms of hunting, trapping, fishing, and other goods and services. The drainage-pushers eventually got what they wanted in most places, of course, but it was good to learn that wetlands had more and earlier advocates than I had realized.

    Liked by 1 person

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