There is a place in Prairie City, Iowa “where the buffalo roam” called Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. Here you will find a large reconstruction of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, one of the biggest in the United States. This refuge is getting better every year, thanks to the many volunteers that collect seeds and re-plant them and also remove invasive species such as Queen Anne’s Lace. There are good walking trails and an auto-tour which makes it easy to go birding and explore.
The birds are returning to the refuge — Dickcissels are common in summer and fall.
Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge (formerly Walnut Creek), located in Jasper County, Iowa, is a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the federal government. The Refuge was created by an act of Congress in 1990 to re-create 8000 acres of tallgrass prairie and oak savanna, the native plant and animal communities existing in central Iowa prior to Euro-American settlement in the 1840’s. –U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
There are more than 200 types of native prairie plants replanted here, collected from nearby Iowan remnants, found along roadsides, near railroad tracks, and in cemeteries.
The project was undertaken with the support and encouragement of former Congressman Neal Smith
Neal Smith sponsored legislation to create the Des Moines River Greenbelt, Red Rock Watershed Conservation District and the Neal E. Smith National Wildlife Refuge, later named in his honor.
This Brown Thrasher was in full scolding mode, along the auto-tour route of the refuge.
The re-introduced Bison came from the National Bison Range in 1996 and the Elk were re-introduced in 1997. 33 other mammals have been sighted on the refuge since 1991, including two Bobcat sightings in 2005 and in 2006.
The Neal Smith NWR hopes to one day have Greater Prairie Chickens, Upland Sandpipers, and many more once-native species as they work hard to increase the biodiversity of the prairie. It will take time but the refuge is already a great place to visit and go birding and most importantly, we are restoring our tallgrass prairie ecosystem.
Neal Smith was full of gorgeous summer blooms.
We saw one Elk around midday, as they are mostly nocturnal. The best time to see them is early in the morning or late in the evening.