MOUNT AYR – The Ringgold Wildlife Area, south of Mount Ayr on the Missouri border, is 2,600 acres of prairie, timber, oak savannas and floodplains with a handful of fishable ponds mixed in.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have an area of that size,” said Chad Paup, wildlife management biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “It’s one of my favorite areas.”
The Ringgold Wildlife Area is home to a host of bird species, including an occasional prairie chicken wandering over from the nearby Kellerton. Five turkeys were lazily bugging in a field. A sharp shinned hawk flies low and tight to a row of shrubs looking for a meal. Goldfinches seem to be everywhere.
The area features reconstructed prairie as well as some prairie that’s never been plowed. Its forb heavy which benefits pollinators and birds who dine on the bugs attracted to the flowers.
Grassland management is the focus here; converting fields of brome grass into prairie. It requires a lot of attention to carry out the rotation of strip disking and spraying.
A field of seed producing common ragweed has appeared next to the row of shrubs on a part of Ringgold near the state line. Common ragweed produces seeds; shrub patch provides escape and winter cover.
“It’s a perfect mix for bobwhite quail and mourning doves,” he said.
Food plots dot the area rotating yearly from soybeans to sorghum to being left alone. Paup gets calls from nonresidents who want to know more about Ringgold as well as nearby Sand Creek and DeKalb wildlife areas as they prepare to apply for a deer license.
“They are using the hunting atlas to look at Ringgold from above and see the draws and valleys and the large timber tracks with grassy areas,” he said. “It catches their attention.”
Camping and fishing
Tucked in Ringgold’s rolling hills area are a series of small ponds – some managed as a fishery and others are not. Visitors can drive right to some of the larger ponds with rustic boat launches and parking lots. Other ponds are only accessible by foot. These areas are open to fishing and no frills camping and paddling.
No street lights, road noise or neighbors. This is the definition of getting away from it all.
Large IHAP site borders Ringgold
Adjoining the Ringgold area on the northeast side is 300-acre site enrolled in the Iowa Habitat and Access Program that allows hunter access to private land in exchange for improving the habitat on their property. It’s marked with a series of orange IHAP signs.
Barn owl boxes
The recent increase in the number of barn owls across southern Iowa spurred a network of barn owl boxes to crop up on many areas, including Ringgold, as part of a coordinated effort to provide nesting to this state threatened species.
Barn owls have a long nesting season stretching from spring into the fall.
Grassland management research
The Ringgold area has been testing the rotational technique called patch burn grazing for vegetation management of using cattle grazing on one third of the area, burning one third of the area and allowing one third to recover and rotating every three years.
“We’re trying to create grass and flowers of different heights for grassland birds, reptiles, amphibians and other wildlife. It’s a challenge because tall fescue invaded southern Iowa a long time ago and it really impacts our native grasslands,” he said.
“We are working with several management techniques in order to keep tall fescue at bay.”
Research is wrapping up on the nine year study.