I became entranced by its incredible variety of birds immediately upon being hired as area manager in the early 1970s. It didn’t take long to realize this gem hosted nesting Canvasbacks, Black Terns, Red-necked Grebes, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, plus summering pelican colonies, and one of the nation’s northwestern-most Prothonotary Warbler breeding sites.
While paddling a kayak to the north end of a lake recently, I encountered at least 35 singing Marsh Wrens along a border of cattails and open water; countless more wrens proclaimed territories from cattails extending far back to the shoreline. Visitors can spot almost every Midwestern migrant, three species of loon, 12 flycatchers, 21 sparrows and allies, and a dozen members of the blackbird family. With birdlife so diverse, Kettleson Hogsback might just be the Hawkeye State’s best birding destination. — Doug Harr
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Glacial lakes, prairie pothole wetlands, native and restored prairies, oak forest, agricultural fields, and hedgerows.
Rolling hills, gravel roads. Hiking trail on a ridge from headquarters to Big Spirit Lake.
273 species. Nesting: Trumpeter Swan, Ruddy Duck, Red-necked Grebe, American Bittern, Upland Sandpiper, Black Tern, Black-billed Cuckoo, Belted Kingfisher, Willow Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Warbling Vireo, Marsh Wren, Cedar Waxwing, Louisiana Waterthrush, Prothonotary Warbler, Clay-colored Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Dickcissel, Western Meadowlark, Great-tailed Grackle, Orchard Oriole. Migrants: Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon, American White Pelican (also summering subadults), American Golden-Plover, Franklin’s Gull, American Pipit, Snow Bunting, Nelson’s Sparrow, Rusty Blackbird.
When to go
Late March to mid-November.
Restrooms and fee campground located at Marble Beach Recreation Area. Information kiosk near headquarters.
State wildlife management area, federal waterfowl production area, and state recreation area complex. County roads and numerous parking lots surround complex. Open year-round. Free.
Hogsback Ridge Trail is the best bet for viewing waterfowl on adjacent lakes (take a spotting scope) and for a wide variety of forest birds in trailside woodlands. Majority of area open to hunting in fall.
For more info
Kettleson Hogsback Wildlife Management Area, (712) 362-1485
Cayler Prairie-Dugout Creek WMA Complex
3,400 acres of native prairies and wetlands eight miles west of Spirit Lake. Upland Sandpiper, Sedge Wren, Henslow’s Sparrow, Dickcissel.
Spring Run WMA
4,700-acre pothole wetland area two miles southeast of Spirit Lake. Gray Partridge, Yellow-headed Blackbird.