decorah envirothon - wetlands


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Wetlands are wonderful dynamic and diverse habitats.

When we think about wetlands, we picture water & maybe waterfowl.

Wetlands are often defined by their plants, and may even be dry.

Porcupine sedge is a plant that grows in perpetually wet soils.

Porcupine sedge seed heads have spikey-looking sides.

Tussock sedge grows in close clumps. Sedges look similar to grasses but have triangular rather than round stems.

Tussock sedge seed heads are tucked along their stem.

Dark green bulrush is another plant often found growing in wetlands.

Dark green bulrush seed heads look like little brown burs when ripe.

Softstem bulrush likes to grow in shallow stagnant water.

Softstem bulrush seed heads seem to spill from their ropey stem.

Woolgrass looks like softstem bulrush on steroids.


Cattail plants are common in many wetlands.

Native cattails have a relatively wide leaf as compared with the invasive narrow-leaved cattail. Unfortunately, the invasive cattails has become too dominant in many of our wetland areas.14

Cattail seed heads look like frankfurters on a stick in the fall.

Cattail seed heads turn to fluff in the winter.

Cattail seed head flower cobs can be cooked and eaten in the spring.

Cattail pollen from those flower cobs makes a tasty yellow flour.

Making biscuits with some cattail pollen flour.

Cattail shoots make a tasty summer soup.

Cattail roots are another source of survival food for hardy souls.

Cattail roots can be pounded into a watery paste and dried to flour too.

Arrowhead is another abundant edible wetland plant.

Arrowhead leaves are indeed shaped like arrowheads.

Arrowhead has white flowers growing above water in the summer.

Arrowhead tubers are known as duck potatoes when dug from the mud

American lotus looks a lot like water lilies out in the wetland.

American lotus has a large pale yellow flower sticking up in summer.

American lotus seed head looks like a shower head. Seeds are edible. Treat them like peas when green or grind into flour in the fall.

White water lilies float right on the water among their round pads.

Smartweed is a water-loving plant with long skinny leaves.

Smartweed seeds are a favorite waterfowl food in the fall.

Migrating mallards look for marshes filled with smartweed.

Mallard drakes and hens rest and refuel on wetlands with smartweed.

Duck hunters set out decoys in hopes of fooling passing ducks.

Duck hunters purchased most public wetlands for all to enjoy.

Duckweed forms the green water cover carpet in the foreground.

Duckweed up close. These miniscule plants are packed with protein.

This young wood duck is happily dining on duckweed.

These young wood ducks were raised on a wetland right here in Iowa.

Drake wood ducks may be the most handsome waterfowl as adults.

Wetlands with some cattail cover may attract sora rails.

Sora rails have a bright yellow bill and are seldom seen, usually sneaking around back behind all the cattails.

Were more likely to hear a sora rail than see one.

Sora rails build their nests up above the water in weeds.

Sora rails search for aquatic invertebrates to eat. Dragonfly larvae would be a likely target.

A green darner dragonfly nymph lives under water.

Green darner dragonfly adults are called devils darning needles.

This brown streaked sparrow-like bird sitting in the cattails is a female red-winged blackbird.


Red-winged blackbird females gather cattail fluff for their nests in springtime.

Red winged blackbirds will often weave their nest in cattail reeds right out over the water.

Red-winged blackbird eggs are blue with black blotches

Baby red-winged blackbirds patiently wait for lunch.

Red-winged blackbird parents are kept busy feeding those babies during the summer.

Moms providing the lunch in this picture.


Red-winged blackbirds likely feed their babies cattail caterpillars, that turn into Henrys marsh moths.


Henrys marsh moth is much more boring.

Dad red-winged blackbirds are easier to identify.


Male red-winged blackbirds use their red shoulder badges to show their strength.


Red-winged blackbirds sing kirk-a-lee


Red-winged blackbirds mobbing a sandhill crane.

Sandhill cranes eat salamanders and frogs in wetlands.


Sandhill cranes nest on reed mats at Cardinal Marsh.


Sandhill crane eggs. Floods can wipe them out for the year.


Baby Sandhill Crane.

Baby sandhill crane.


Baby sandhill cranes eat seeds, tubers, and bugs.

Young sandhill cranes are called colts.

The great blue heron is another long-legged wading bird commonly seen around in area wetlands.

Great blue herons are almost five feet tall.


Great blue herons prowl shorelines or shallow swamps proper.

The great blue herons bill is a sharp deadly weapon.

Great blue heron lunging forward with a hopeful strike.

Great blue herons have a really long reach.

Great blue herons dont worry about bullhead spines.

Great blue heron with another well-placed thrust.

This pumpkinseed is a pretty little tasty tidbit.

Slithery slippery snakes taste good too.

Great blue herons also skewer & swallow meadow voles.

Green herons slowly patrol swamp shorelines too.

Green herons are rather short and look stocky in nature

Green herons often stand statue-still for hours on end.

Notice the spider webs wrapped around this green heron

Minnows are a prime focus for hungry green herons.

These brown domes are muskrat houses made from cut cattails.

Muskrats, called marsh rabbits down South, live in water

They may call them that because they reproduce rapidly when conditions are good. Unfortunately, muskrats are on the decline in Iowa. Habitat loss and disease pressure probably play a role.84


Muskrats have skinny rat-like tails


Muskrats chow down on chewy cattail shoots, sedge leaves and snails.

Mama Canada goose topping off a muskrat house while trying to make herself scarce. Muskrat mounds are important habitat for many wetland birds.

Raccoons roam around marsh shorelines looking for easy pickings. Clams and worms would be common choices.

Mink are skinny brown stealthy mammals in wetlands.


Mink and raccoons may be intimidated by a mad Canada goose.

Canada goose eggs nestled in a down-filled cup.

Canada goose eggs would certainly make a filling meal.

Baby Canada Geese are well guarded.

A happy Canada goose family taking off to forage.


Canada geese symbolize wildness with their honking call in the fall.

Mink are more likely to settle for safer prey.


Leopard frog

Green frogs make a safe and easy mouthful for mink.


Snapping turtles might snap up green frogs too.


Snapping turtles have sharp jaws that can snap shut like a trap.

Snapping turtles are a top carnivore in Iowas wetlands.

Snapping turtles like to burrow down in the bottom mud when hunting

Snapping turtles sneak up and surprise their prey, such as fish.

Northern water snakes also like to feast on fish.

Northern water snakes like to slither along swamp shorelines.

This northern water snake is swallowing a black bullhead.

Black bullheads have yellowish bellies. Also called horned pouts.

Pumpkinseeds, also called sunfish or sunnies, like quiet clear water.

Minnow schools seek bloodworms above a marshs mud bottom.

Bloodworms have hemoglobin to help them breathe in the muck.

Bloodworms burrow into that soft gooey mud and graze on all the rich organic matter mired there.

Bloodworms turn into midges, which are basically stingless mosquitos.

Real mosquitos reside around wetlands too and make life miserable.

Female mosquitos require a blood meal for their eggs to form.

Mosquito larvae live underwater and make good minnow food too.

Mosquito larvae suspend themselves right under the water surface. Notice those siphons that let them suck oxygen from the air above.

Wetlands, often thought of as worthless, help protect people today.

Wetlands act like sponges & sop up excess water after rains.

Northern Iowa looked like this before tiling took its toll. Flooding was not typically a problem since the water was stored safely in place.

During dry years, wetland mitigate drought by keeping the water table up and closer to the crop roots.

Wetlands also act like filters and purify surface water through time.

Wetland plants like cattail, algae and microscopic bacteria all work together to break down toxic chemicals mixed in the water.

Wetlands are water and wildlife banks scattered across the country.

Willows are one of the few trees found around soggy wetlands.

Willow trees tend to be stunted and typically grow in dense bats.

American goldfinches nest in sandbar willow bats during the summer.

White-tailed deer might be rousted from a shielding willow bat.

Wetlands are a win-win for people and wildlife alike.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)Allen T. Chartierxeno-cantoAnatidae14079.939eng - XC11461 Allen T. Chartier. Michigan, Dearborn, USA, 180m, ?h, 21-04-1994, N42.19'0" W83.14'16", Call, Single female in flightWood Duck (Aix sponsa)Paul Driverxeno-cantoAnatidae10318.361eng - XC70558 Paul Driver. Huntingdon Valley, PA, United States, 50m, 8.00h, 26-3-2009, N40.7'21" W75.3'48", , female and male calls in flightSora (Porzana carolina)Mike Nelsonxeno-cantoRallidae25991.963eng - XC64553 Mike Nelson. Bayou La Batre Ponds, ACBT 50, Bayou La Batre, Alabama, United States, 20m, 7:30amh, 17-10-10, N30.24'10" W88.16'8", Rattle Call, Close rattle called triggered a Virginia Rail. also: Virginia RailSandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)Robin Carterxeno-cantoGruidae9118.386eng - XC1392 Robin Carter. White River Wildlife Area, WI, USA, 250m, ?h, 16-05-2005, 0.0'0" 0.0'0", call, typical callGreen Heron (Butorides virescens virescens)Stuart Fisherxeno-cantoArdeidae20532.246eng - XC35849 Stuart Fisher. Big Creek, Cumming, Georgia, United States, 311m, 08:15h, 03-06-2009, N34.10'16" W84.12'6", alarm calls. also: Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Mourning Dove, Common Grackle,