Dunbar Slough near us is a real wonderland — for birds & people, too


COOPER, Iowa, April 8, 2019 — It was a wonderful way to spend a springtime Saturday morning — going “birding” at Dunbar Slough Wildlife Management Area in the southwest part of our Greene County. A group of about 20 of us were led by Matt Wetrich, the naturalist for the conservation board in neighboring Carroll County and a member of the city council in Jefferson.

Dunbar Slough includes 2,289 acres stretching about five miles north-south and a half-mile or more wide. It attracts millions of birds, of hundreds of different species.

Matt Wetrich.JPG

Naturalist Mat Wetrich, leading us at Dunbar Slough.

Wetrich calls the slough “one of the premier birding destinations in the state.” I’m not sure whether he means it’s that kind of attraction for people or birds, or both.

We were thrilled to see — and this is only a partial list — pelicans, bald eagles, geese, ducks, trumpeter swans, meadowlarks, greater & lesser yellowlegs, flickers, pectoral sandpipers, snipe, killdeer, double-crested cormorants, Eastern phoebes, fox sparrows, yellow-headed blackbirds, hermit thrushes, kinglets, great blue herons and of course robins and turkey vultures.

The migration of geese this spring, especially snow geese, wasn’t as large as usual here. Wetrich says he and many birders are theorizing the larger flocks of geese were drawn by the flooding on the Missouri and Nishnabotna Rivers on the Iowa-Nebraska border.

Welcomed by pelicans.JPG

We were no more than out of our vehicles at Dunbar Slough when these four pelicans flew right over us. Many of us wondered if Wetrich had orchestrated the flight.

But other varieties of birds are still moving through our area now. Usually, he says, you can go to the slough the first couple weeks of May and see “the peak of diversity” of birds that are staying in Iowa. By late July, the south-bound migration will be starting.

“Migrations are the most fascinating thing to me in all of nature,” Wetrich said.

You only need to be out at Dunbar Slough a short time — especially with someone like Wetrich guiding you — to realize that this wildlife area is one of Greene County’s great treasures.

Penguins at Dunbar Slough.JPG

Penguins at Dunbar Slough.

Pelican island at Dunbar Slough.JPG

Let’s just name this “Pelican Island” at Dunbar Slough.

Matt Wetrich directing.JPG

Matt Wetrich directing.

Scopes, binoculars & telephoto cameras.JPG

“Spotting scopes,” binoculars and long-lensed cameras.

Incoming trumpeter swans.JPG

Incoming trumpeter swans, with wingspans of 10-to-12 feet!

Eagle nest.JPG

A bald eagle on its nest, which a pair of eagles have been using for 10 years or longer, Wetrich said. He estimated the size of the nest about eight feet wide and 10 feet deep.

Eagle on guard.JPG

While we birders were watching from far below, this eagle stayed on guard near the nest.


Wetrich says he finds the migration as “the most fascinating thing to me in all of nature,”

A birder's car trunk.JPG

A naturalist’s car trunk — binoculars, bird books, food for wild birds and more.

Jim Teusch & Matt Wetrich checking a bird ID.JPG

Dr. Jim Teusch, of Jefferson, and Wetrich checking a book to help with identification of one species.

Canada geese and muskrats.JPG

Canada geese and a muskrat hut at Dunbar Slough. In fact, you can see geese and maybe even a trumpeter swan nesting on top of muskrat huts.

A labyrinth.JPG

When birding gets boring, you can always build a labyrinth. Or is that a bullseye?

Part of Dunbar Slough.JPG

The wetlands in Dunbar Slough range from marshes like this one to shallow lakes, and the depth of the water varies considerably through the year.

Whirlybirds flew over us too.JPG

There are all kinds of birds visible at Dunbar Slough — occasionally even whirlybirds. Eight Iowa Air National Guard helicopters flew past us.

Home on the Slough.JPG

This house on a hill across the road from “Hunter Tract” at Dunbar Slough — a place where there are sometimes hundreds of thousands of geese assembled — must have an awesome view. You know the folks appreciate it, because on their mailbox they’ve named it “Home on the Slough.”

You can email the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com or comment using the handy form below here.

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