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Restored Lizard Lake in Northern Iowa bustling with wildlife

Lizard Lake is a shallow, dynamic system in southeast Pocahontas County, that is an important stop on the migration route north for thousands of waterfowl. The system was renovated a decade ago and has been attracting bird watchers, paddlers and duck hunters to the area since the lake refilled. Photo courtesy of the Iowa DNR.

LIZARD LAKE WILDLIFE AREA – Lizard Lake Wildlife Area’s resurgence began 10 years ago, when the 270-acre shallow lake was drained to rid itself of an unwanted carp population and to get vegetation established as a way to improve its poor water quality.

“Our driver is water quality and as far as that project is concerned, it has been hugely successful,” said Clint Maddix, wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “If you had been to Lizard Lake before the renovation but not since, I’d encourage you to come back.”

The lake is now used as a stopping point by thousands of migrating waterfowl that target Lizard Lake soon after ice out for its large number of protein packing invertebrates. “It’s an important refueling station for the ducks on their journey north to arrive in a healthy condition,” he said.

And it’s not just the ducks that have taken note of the improved Lizard Lake; hunters and paddlers and bird watchers have, too.

Kayaking, once unheard of here, is now a common activity during the summer and the Pocahontas County Conservation naturalist has been offering courses for those learning how to paddle. The campground is seeing increased use since the lake renovation, especially once duck season begins. A modern restroom was added during the drawdown and has been a welcomed addition.

“There have been a lot of different songbirds passing through the area; bird watchers, too,” he said. “A pair of sandhill cranes spent a month here. This is not the same Lizard Lake that people knew 10 years ago.”

Waterfowl response

The mud motor jerked into gear and the tour of Lizard Lake was underway. Heading south off the east boat ramp, a commotion of nervous coot fled to the safety of cattails while green wing and blue wing teal took flight. As the boat headed west and then north, a handful of mallards, gadwall and shovlers took off.

The amount of waterfowl here is good to see, Maddix said, and those ducks are attracting hunters from Ames, Fort Dodge, Orange City and all-around Pocahontas County to a healthy Lizard Lake.

“We’re hearing that the duck hunters are pretty happy here,” he said.

Expanding the footprint

Post Prairie Wetland Area, just west of the private campground, was acquired and developed after the drawdown by the Pocahontas County Conservation Board. The area includes a restored wetland basin that collects and holds runoff before it can enter the lake as well as a restored prairie providing habitat to grassland birds, including pheasants.

In 2017, roughly 116 acres stretching from the east side around to the north was acquired and planted with more than 100 different native prairie species including big bluestem, Indian grass, sideoats grama, little bluestem, round headed bush clover, compass plant, rattlesnake master, gray headed coneflower, cup plant, rosinweed, prairie sage and more. This protects about 4,000 feet of shoreline and, once the trees are removed, will benefit grassland nesting birds.

Combining the county managed areas with the state areas, the Lizard Lake complex is approaching 600 acres.

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