KEEPING WATCH - PACKIN' ELDERBERRY POLLEN
BIG CREEK — 6/27/2013
Grandson Riggs and I went canoeing on Big Creek this afternoon. The Elderberries were in full bloom and the Honeybees were busy doing what they do best. Last year we found some sweeter than usual Elderberries along the creek and this year we hope to sample them again.
We saw Kingfishers and a Great Blue Heron and a Beaver on the trip but the best part was coming upon a mother Woody and her brood of 10. When she saw us coming she must have decided the cover was inadequate where they were sitting on the bank as she led them to the water and started leading them down stream along a cut bank. As soon as we saw them we started back paddling and pulled over along the far bank. The last thing we wanted to do was to panic the birds sending the little guys helter-skelter. As we floated along quietly we watched for an opportunity to pass were the ducklings would have good cover should they decide to climb up the bank and hide in the vegetation.
When the opportunity appeared we began to paddle quietly and yet quickly staying close to the far bank. To our surprise Mom decided not to flush into a classical broken wing act complete with cries of terror all meant to distract us while her little ones scrambled up the bank as she would then attempt to lead us on down the creek. Instead she and her brood also held tight to the bank on their side of the creek and then paused to let us pass quickly reversing and heading back upstream.
Riggs and I marveled at our luck since seeing a mother Woody and her brood is always a treat and yet all too often the disturbance of the encounter creates the possibility of life threatening confusion for the ducklings. This time the passage went perfectly and we could not have been any happier except for the fact that we did not get any pictures.
Due to recent rains the creek was at a nearly perfect level for canoeing - 4.5 feet according to the USGS gauge north of town. We would not some much as hit a rock had we not decided to take some chances running some small chutes.
I even thought I heard a Pileated Woodpecker drilling below Big Creek Park but... well I do not hear as good as I used to.
It was a Beautiful trip. Riggs wants to mount a video camera on the bow of the canoe to record the next trip. Riggs says his camera is water proof and there is nothing like a bit of a distraction in filming the action to contribute to a test for that.
This looks like a fruit year par excellent, at least for mulberries, raspberries, blueberries and peaches. We have several varieties of mulberries, the best of which taste much like kiwi only better and the worst something like a sponge dipped in weak cool aide. The mulberries help keep the coons and the birds out of the raspberries and the cherries.
Keira loves the mulberries as long as they are even a bit sweet and quickly paints her face with them while Grandma goes for the sweetest full flavored ones. Riggs and I like them with a bit of bite that goes with some red around the stem.
As the raspberries come on now I will be taking a stroll several times a day looking for those that have reached the peak of perfection. Maybe the best strawberries are better than the best raspberries, but then again maybe not.
I am propping up the branches on the peach tree and thinning the fruit to keep the tree from self destructing.
JEWEL AVENUE, WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN
So what is it that is on trial?
All around the mid-west every body who wants to know already knows that chip and seal roads are considerably more expensive to maintain than gravel. There is no need to add another 3/4 of a mile to the hundreds of miles of chip and seal pot holes in the Midwest to punctuate the obvious. The county engineer said as much early on.
If the trial was to determine if adjacent landowners are willing to cover any and all of the higher costs of chip and seal surfacing (and maintenance), the agreement that was offered to the county clearly answers that question as noted on 6/3 below. If that was the question the trial should have ended with the supervisors rejecting the proposal.
If the trial was to determine, are the county taxpayers willing to dish out the money it takes to underwrite a special project for special interests who promise nothing of value in return to the county? At this point the answer appears to be yes.
But hey, maybe I am missing something. You tell me, what is, or what should be, on trial on Jewel Avenue?
6/13/13 HILLTOP WETLANDS
SHEDDING SOME LIGHT ON NESTING SWANS
After thinking of all the ways that Chaney and Bush might come up with to torture live trapped coons to teach them to never return to the nest site
and ruling out lethal remedies that only create temporary fixes as neighboring predators move in to take the place of those that are killed
and having found electric fencing to be expensive and time consuming to construct and maintain
and thinking the swans need to learn how to successfully cope with raiding raccoons
and since some Canada Geese have learned how to ward off coons on the home pond with the aid of minimal illumination
the decision has been made to put a solar panel up at the wetland next year to charge a battery to operate a LED "all night light" to help the swans see the coons and the cygnets so as to attack the one and protect the other.
If that works and the swans are successful raising a brood then we can always shut the light off to effect the population control of the swans as that quickly becomes necessary. It is either that or addle eggs.
The best plan for SE Iowa may be to strictly limit or even to avoid a breeding swan population while enjoying winter visitors. Not simply because we have so many shore line predators but also because we have such limited habitat and low human tolerance.
On another note: I have run onto more dead but not apparently injured adult turtles in the wetlands recently than usual.
And finally, the number of amphibians to include leopard frogs, tree frogs, spring peepers, green frogs and American toads all seem to be down - both adults and tadpoles. The cricket frogs continue to be numerous.
CYGNETS DISAPPEAR - IT HURTS
It hurts. Being involved with critters on a daily basis I encounter a lot of violence and experience a lot of pain and suffering. When the coons kill the cygnets, it hurts. And when it hurts I pause to remember a pair of swans that killed a nesting Canada Goose on the river wetland and that hurt. And then there was the time I picked up a gosling and the gander, attempting to clobber me to protect the gosling, hit the gosling and broke its neck and that hurt. I would have felt much better had he only hit me.
Just yesterday I came upon a dead fawn caught in the broken down woven wire of an old fence line and that hurt. How I wish I would have heard him bleating in the night and came to his rescue.
Seeing the world, the way of it - violent abandon checking reproductive abandon from the amoeba to the man - the parasites and the predators and the wars of ants and bees and men, all of it is painful to look upon. I see it and it hurts and I am glad it does.
When what we value is injured or destroyed it hurts. And so it is that we celebrate life and death in pleasure and in pain, in loss and in gain.
Joy's cancer, Karen's broken body, so much pain and suffering and still, I am glad it hurts.
Try to sit all day in the chairs in the kindergarten classroom and it hurts. There is hope and there is growth and yes, even cause for thanks giving in our pain. It hurts terribly sometimes but it would be far worse if it didn't.
So I wait patiently (or not so patiently) for the revelations of my passing pain.
CYGNETS DISAPPEAR - IS IT TRAGIC OR MAGIC?
When I got to the wetland to offer the swans some supplemental feed early this afternoon the cob and the pen were both standing close to the nest but there was no sign of any cygnets. Either the parents had heard me coming and made the cygnets disappear or .... ?
It is going onto 5 pm now. I am going to quietly sneak up and take another look.
6 pm Tragic. Predators. Island too big? Too much emergent vegetation? Lack of experience?
First time to hatch. Always lost the eggs before. I may be getting too old for this.
FIRST HATCH OF TRUMPETER SWANS ON EFFLUENT WETLANDS
Finally the Trumpeters nested on an island in (instead of on a levee along) the wetlands and today for the first time in four years I got to watch the Old Man from the River walk down to the water from the nest with two cygnets in tow. His pen (female swan) Lady Love stayed on the nest indicating that at least one more cygnet is still fluffing up under Mom. It can be a long road from hatching to taking flight and since this is the first successful hatch for this pair we can only hope they will succeed in getting some offspring air borne.
With an abundance of cattails, duckweed, arrowhead, and small leafed pond weed to feed on the waste water treatment wetlands are demonstrating that effluent wetlands can clean water, save energy and contribute to the restoration endangered species.
ON JEWEL AVENUE 6/3/2013
There are more, many more articles out on the internet about the costs of maintaining hard surfaced roads, but the theme of going back to gravel is the same. On county roads with low travel counts, gravel is where form, function and economy intersect.
Supervisor Marc Lindeen proposed a "trial" project where the county would agree to take on the maintenance costs of a 3/4 mile Chip and Seal coating on a specified section of Jewel Avenue.The initial cost of construction is to be paid by adjacent landowners . Early on there was talk about limiting the cost of maintenance to be paid by the county on the chip and seal surface maintenance to that of maintaining the surface of an average stretch of gravel road of the same length - however, any such limitation is conspicuously abscent in the final agreement.
On the 28th of May, 2013 the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to enter into a agreement with adjacent landowners to maintain the aforementioned Chip and Seal surface unless and until the project is deemed a failure according to the conditions of the agreement.
The first opportunity where the agreement mentions the county may determine that the Jewel Avenue "Trial Project" is a failure, with no limit set on the cost of necessary maintenance up until that time, is at the end of two years. No wait, correction, I take that back, later in the agreement it states that in the event the first year's county maintenance cost exceeds $10K, the trial may be deemed a failure.
And then again....
If, at the end of two years, the county has spent over $10k on surface maintenance for the first two years combined, then the county will again have the opportunity to deem the project to be a failure. Each time it appears the county is on the hook no matter the cost for reasonably maintaining the surface up to each birthday party. Snow plows can do considerable damage to the surface of chip and seal roads, especially the first winter. If that happens, You, county tax payers, will pay what ever it costs to repair and maintain the surface.
Should the project continue into the third year and beyond, then costs of over $10K per year as required to maintain the surface of the road, could, at the end of the year, be used to determine the trial has been a failure. But again no upper limit was set. How much over $10K might the county need to pay to meet what a court might determine to be reasonable maintenance in any given year? There is nothing that says the landowners shall be liable for the maintenance costs above $10K or that the county shall not be liable for maintenance costs above 10K, in any given year. After all, the road has to be kept open and functional.
And finally, at the end of five years, if the costs of maintaining the surface for 60 months has been over $25K, then the county may determine that the project has been a failure. If not, the landowners may then choose to evaluate the history and the risks and costs of maintaining the surface of the county chip and seal road and take control of the maintenance costs for the surface of the road. At that point it is not clear to me who would determine the appropriate level of maintenance.
So what does the worst case look like? What if the surface is destroyed by heavy harvest truck traffic or by spring equipment traffic or by snow plows during the first year or the second year or worse, on any year there after? All maintenance costs appear to be evaluated after the prior year of maintaining the surface of the road. It is at the birthday parties for the chip and seal coating where the taxpayers will make a gift of what ever the excessive maintenance costs for the prior year have been and where the supervisors will decide, where costs have exceeded the limits, whether or not to continue funding the maintenance of the surfacing at the actual cost.
I consider all maintenance costs for this project, over and above the cost of maintaining an average 3/4 mile stretch of gravel in the county in the given year to be excessive but the agreement states otherwise.
So lets push the limit on the first two years combined, up to $10K. On the third year, add another $10k and still another 10K on the fourth. Then lets say that early into the 5th year it was deemed necessary to resurface the road at a cost of $30K. That would bring the total cost to the county to $60K for the maintenance of .77 miles of road for 5 years or right at 12K/year. That would be $15.5K /mile/year on the .77 miles of road or somewhere between 3 to 7 times what the projected cost for gravel over the same time period would be and the tax payers of Henry County will be picking up the bill.
As for having a chip and seal road out to Big Creek, as a kid on my bike going fishing, I would have loved it. If the adjacent landowners were offering to chip and seal the road while strictly covering all costs to the county for the construction and maintenance of the surface, over and above the cost of maintaining the current gravel surfacing, well that would have been wonderful. However, it appears that offer was too good to be true. If such an offer was the intention of the landowners, how about starting over?
Numbers have never been my strong suit so I welcome corrections. There should have been public hearings to hash all this out with the engineer working the numbers on a flip chart.