Monday, April 25, 2011

Every Little Bit

"Summer Along Angler's Bay"
color pencil - 5X7" - art work © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for larger view)

This "spring" has really been a bugger!  Well, maybe I'm just being impatient but until this past weekend, it's just been a gray cold/windy/wet reminder of November!  

I haven't been able to do any of the prep work in the pastures that I'd like, other than (thank goodness!) get our burning accomplished about 4 weeks back.  We opted to burn 2 of the 3 acres, leaving the third acre abutting the 23 acre native pasture in back, unburned.  We had a good deal of insect diversity back in that corner last summer and fall; maybe resting it another year will help make it a banner year again?  We also burned another acre south of the driveway...this section has yet to be overseeded...I am very interested in seeing what may come back on it's own...this is the 3rd year we've burned it now.  The south edge of this acre burn is our neighbor's pasture - it has never been burned and does have some grass remnants of Side Oats Grama, Tall Dropseed, and Blue Grama Grass.  Also has Fringed Puccoon (which we discovered there for the first time last spring) and Blue Eyed Grass.  There's about 3 and a half acres there so I'm tending to believe that our one acre burn next to it will still repopulate with invertebrates from there.

There's been quite a stir on the list servs here in Iowa the past couple of weeks.  It may have been a small "bit" of a tragedy, but tragic none-the-less.  

Maybe the old factoid that Iowa is the most changed landscape of any of the 50 states is being overused?  I don't think so, I think that statement is true; we're not being overly protective or cautious - we need to waiver on the side of our natural heritage in our thinking.

Apparently, a small wet/wet mesic prairie disappeared this month in eastern Iowa.  Iowa is a state that now has so little of what it was made up of just 150 years ago and whenever a tiny piece that, miraculously survived this long suddenly disappears,'s tragic.

The prairie in question was near the town of was considered a wetland prairie and was known for some high quality wet and wet mesic native plants "for" Iowa.  A couple weeks back, someone who was aware of the prairie (it was privately owned), was stunned to see it was being filled over with dirt.  Some frantic discussion on the native plants list serv found that it was one of those incidents that no one noticed until it was over.  Further investigation showed it was all done by the book (according to Iowa regulations), all permits were applied for, eventually approved, and the work commenced.  

Being a wetland, it was "assumed" the property was "safe" from this type of future...but unlike most states (particularly neighboring states) Iowa does not have any state regs against wetland drainage if they do not fall under federal jurisdiction.  This small wetland prairie did not.

Ironically, this wetland prairie was filled in to build a school building on.  Perhaps ironically, again, some day a class at this school might, in studying our vanishing natural heritage, plant a prairie plot in the school yard somewhere...this was poised by a list serv contributor and I must say - this was nearly the first thought that formed in my own mind when I read the circumstances.

The image at the top of the blog is a small color pencil study I recently finished of a location north of us - Angler's Bay on Spirit Lake in Dickinson County.  In my rendition I left out "civilization" on the far distant shoreline.  In reality it is dotted with houses and docks - visible from this reed filled shore across the bay.  That was the future this shoreline was looking least the possibility of it.  But the owners of this 3/4 mile long reed bed (the area's largest remaining virgin bullrush bed) saw the need to preserve this "wetland".  Through a large/intense campaign, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation was able to save this "bit" of our natural heritage...only 93 acres, but another "bit" of our grand children's heritage is being preserved!

I know, in general conversation, a lament of losing 10 or 20 acres of prairie or wetland would almost certainly be scoffed at by the majority of people hearing about it...but we've long passed the point where we can write it off like someone tossing trash out of a passing car.  When it's gone, it's truly gone...lets try harder to instill a true value on what of our heritage remains - natural and cultural!

Monday, April 4, 2011

They're Here!

Pasque Flowers (Pulsatilla patens) on Waterman Prairie
Photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

The Prairie has begun blooming!  The first flower of spring on the prairie finally began blooming up here in the NW corner of the state this past weekend.  This is always my "official" beginning of spring on the Tallgrass...look forward to it all winter long because it means the season has begun and better days..."great" days, are ahead!

Georgie and I went out on Sunday afternoon to check the prairies for pasques... a wind advisory with a real stiff blow out of the west/northwest was making photography almost untenable...a higher shutter speed was the only option!

Pasque Flowers (Pulsatilla patens) and dead cedar on Waterman Prairie
Photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

Waterman Prairie, here in S.E. O'Brien County, is in the "neighborhood" and we checked out all the spots that we've found these forbs in past years.  Many slopes that had once been over run with Eastern Red Cedar trees here, have had their trees treated or cut to bring back the original prairie habitat.  This, coupled with controlled burns and/or grazing, has encouraged the tallgrass plants to return.  It's not uncommon to find Pasque Flowers growing at the base of the cedar stumps and trunks.  It's great to see the prairie recovering on the slopes of the hills in the valley!

Veering a little, I'd like to comment that our entire planet "is in the neighborhood".  Let's try to take this more to heart.  With sincerity, lets celebrate this place we all must live...and heed the needs that exist "in our neighborhood".   Give thought and action to the needs of our planet's peoples and our planet's habitats.  Please give to your organizations of choice for those in need!

Spring is on the Tallgrass - let the games begin!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Changing for Spring!

Male American Goldfinch beginning its spring molt
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

We've really been enjoying the Goldfinches in the yard this winter.  We get around 40-50 birds every year that stay in the pastures around us and visit our feeders! 

Now that spring has arrived, we're getting more and more types of birds from their winter homes, now headed north, but the Goldfinches stay around all year long here.

One thing that is fun watching for is the Goldfinch molt.  We get to watch all the males really change into their spring/summer/fall finery, and it's taking place right now!  The image above is of the same male Goldfinch, just starting to put on the brilliant yellow feathers...little patches here and there.  None of our neighborhood birds has made the complete transition yet...I suspect that will take another week or more (?), but there is one male I noticed that has really made some progress with it's molt (see image below).

This male American Goldfinch is much further along in its change of color!
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

This female American Goldfinch is not going to be the brilliant "stand-out" that it's male counterpart will be.
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

The ladies molt too, of course, but their plumage is much duller in color...kind of an olive hint when they've changed; nothing near the yellow gold of the males.  But "brilliant" or not, the Goldfinches are great having around the prairie pasture and yard all year long!  

As I was walking from the studio to the house this noon, an accipiter flew through the yard, scooping up a Junco for lunch!  It gets pretty exciting at times...high drama in the tallgrass.  I wasn't able to make an ID but judging from size it was either a male Cooper's or a female Sharp-shinned Hawk.  I only had a couple seconds view and it was moving "away" from me as I spotted it.

Aside fom bird activity, other things are undergoing changes for spring now; I'm looking for signs in the prairie here.  We're a bit far north for the Pasques to be in bloom yet but they may take us by surprise one of these days soon.  I have been hearing forb reports from the more southern parts of the state and they definitely are ahead of us!

We are eyeing the pastures here for spring burning also.  We have alternated section burns in the past few springs but may do more this year "if" we find the neighboring pastures being left alone...going to take some communicating before we get started.  

As I've mentioned in past years, it's important to leave some spaces untouched for invertebrate survival each year.  We have been fortunate in past years...the pastures bordering ours have never been burned since we moved here 9 years ago.  

Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia) - female
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

If your site has a good number of invertebrates, you'll have more birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, etc....  In other words - more biodiversity.  Last year we had an amazing number of Black and Yellow Argiope and Banded Argiope spiders in the late summer pasture.  Our dragonflies, robber flies, butterflies, katydids, beetles, bees, wasps, etc, etc. - were amazing!

I know spring has finally the games begin for another year!