KEEPING WATCH - GREAT EGRET ON WALMART WETLAND
HENRY COUNTY — 7/18/2012
I just got a call from Ron Osborne that there is a Great Egret on the Walmart Wetland. 6:00pm
The Dickcissel nest I was watching didn't make it.
I went on to look for Bumble Bees on Red Clover. There is a nice patch of Red Clover at the end of Scotts Lane. Well it was Scotts Lane went I was a kid, now it is 210th Street. It is the first road going west, north of Mt. Pleasant on old 218, make that Iowa Ave.
Once again there were Honey Bees working the Red Clover and this time they were gathering both nectar and pollen but not one Bumble Bee. It is obviously Bumble Bee specific. Honey Bees have been having their own problems and are now making a bit of a come back.
There was also a beautiful Giant Swallowtail Butterfly.
7/16/2012 NEW YORK - BIRDERS SPECIAL
“Birders: The Central Park Effect” follows a diverse group of birders through the seasons as they passionately pursue their hobby in New York City's Central Park. Cornell Lab of Ornithology director Dr. John Fitzpatrick is among the experts interviewed about the so-called Central Park effect--the funneling of millons of birds into the park during migration. The film also highlights the profound impact birds can have on people. The documentary is produced and directed by Jeffrey Kimball and is airing on HBO tonight, Monday, July 16, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. We got a chance to preview the film recently. If you'd like to read more about it, check our latest blog post here.
7/15/2012 ONE REGRET
I have very much enjoyed Julie Odhe, Executive Director of Louisa County Conservation. At the last REAP meeting where, by no wish of my own, I was the only Henry County resident in attendance, I got a chance to once again share with Julie my concern that county conservation boards have lost their focus on conservation. She has heard this from me before and I always thought that her smile was pleasantly dismissive.
Today I read in the Louisa County Conservation Newsletter that she was asked if over her 27 years of service she had any regrets, anything she might wish she had done differently.
She is appropriately proud of the 372 programs with over 9,000 attendees that were put on by her staff last year.
However, she went on to say that if she has a regret it would be concentrating on amenities for humans while all too often putting habitat for wildlife on the back burner.
Bless her heart.
Too little, and too late or right on time? Julie's replacement is Katie Hammond who with a degree in Wildlife looks to increase the focus on Natural Resource Management going forward.
As an observer it is a weakness of mine to see trends developing where only an isolated event has occurred. It is too easy for me to imagine Natural Resource Management on the front burner of county conservation boards all across the state. Too easy because - in the early years of Henry County Conservation it was.
Still, in all fairness to the Henry County Conservation Board, when they get the message from the residents of the county that conservation should be front and center, it will be.
7/14/2012 THE BUMBLES OF THE MEADOWS
Today I expanded my search for Bumble Bees stopping to inspect a Red Clover Hay field. Standing at the fence I did not see one Bumble Bee but there were several Honey Bees working the Red Clover blossoms. The Honey Bees appeared to be gathering nectar as would be expected in the late afternoon. Apparently the nectar is rising high enough in the corollas for the shorter tongued Honey Bees to reach at least some of it. That could be because the corollas are shorter as they sometimes are on dry years, or it could be because the abscence of Bumble Bees allows the nectar to build up or maybe we have some long tongued Honey Bees. There have been efforts made in the past to breed such bees. What ever the reason for the presence of nectar gathering Honey Bees the abscence of the Bumble Bees does not bode well for the Bumbles.
Today as I walked along the edge of a gravel road admiring the Red Clover blossoms an uneasy feeling came over me that something was wrong, something was missing. As I began to pay closer attention I noticed how quiet it was.
During the heat of the day the birds often grow quiet, but no, that was not it, something else was misssing. And then it came to me - it was the low buzz of the bumble bees. As I looked on up the road I noticed that there was not one of the black and yellow fuzzy wuzzies working the clover. I stopped then and pulled a pinch of florets from the side of a well domed cluster in full bloom and pressed the corollas between my fingers, seeking to express a glistening bead of nectar.
No tiny silver globes. Nothing. Not even a glisten of nectar. Dry. So that's it, the drought, I thought, as I repeated the process on another blossom.
Walla! This time a beautiful bitsy bead of nectar appeared at the base of each of the corollas. Not likely enough for a short tongued honey bee to reach but certainly enough to wet the appetite of the long tongued Bumble Bees.
Where are these guys? The silence became a bit eerie, empty, even sad now. I found myself missing them even though I can remember a time or two in the past when I was frantically looking for a way to get away from them.
On the internet some say it is a fungus disease introduced with bumble bees from Europe that are being used to pollinate tomatoes. Some say it is a lack of forage or nesting habitat.
I have raised and released Wood Ducks, and Canada Geese, and Trumpeter Swans and Honey Bees. I suppose maybe I could raise and release Bumble Bees? I will wait for thistle bloom. If at the peak of the thristle bloom I still do not see a Bumble Bee then..., well..., they sell them in small hives for pollination. I would have to be able to get the natives. I wonder if my bee suit would offer protection against the big Bumbles?
Joy has always liked Bumble Bees, I am not sure why, maybe her Mom sang "I'm bringing home a baby bumble bee. Won't my mommy be so proud of me. Cause I am bringing home a baby Bumble Bee. Fuzzy wuzzy wuzzy, Ooooh he stung me." Too bad the stings I remember are not the tickles that came with the close of that song. Still, there otta be Bumble Bees on the honeysuckle in the spring, and on the clover in the hay fields and along the roads, and on the tomatoes in the garden and yes on the lavender blooms of the thistle in the meadow.
On 7/5/2012 I visited Mud Creek Park and walked up the hill to visit the meadow. I did not find a meadow, I found a hay field with a "weedy" hay crop having been recently removed. It appeared the meadow must have been mowed the last days of June or the first days of July.
This is a meadow in a county park managed by the Henry County Conservation Board. I think some kind of bartering arrangement was made with a neighbor where the Conservation Board trades (sells) hay for services like cleaning the restrooms maybe or doing some mowing or something of the sort.
The neighbor has a private airstrip next to the meadow and years back scraped the top soil and the vegetation off the hilltop to create the meadow at his own expense, seeking to keep trees out of the approach to his air strip. The board and the neighbor agreed that getting rid of the kind of habitat mentioned by the DNR below (see: 7/8/2012 post) was in their mutual interest.
For the last several years annual crops of hay have been removed but no fertilizer or lime has been put back on. The relationship with nature has been all take and no give. The last two years I have personally witnessed the mowing has occurred well before the safe dates for ground nesting birds universally recognized by conservation organizations like Quail Forever, Pheasants Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation, Iowa Ornithologist Union and government agencies like the IDNR, NRCS and USGS. Dickcissels, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Bobwhite Quail, Turkeys, and Meadow Larks, Bob-O-Links and numerous species of sparrows and butterflies all suffer under this management practice.
Is this something that You would expect from a conservation board dedicated to best management practices in the conservation of our natural resouces and the preservation of the biological diversity of the parks of Henry County?
I have recieved some good reports on ground nesting birds from members of the Iowa Ornithologist Union. Dickcissels, Bob-o-links and the Common Yellowthroat are all actively nesting at this time. There is a great opportunity for significant recovery of Northern Bobwhite Quail in this warm dry year. According to the Iowa DNR there is evidence that quail hens will successfully double clutch establishing new nests as late as early September. However the DNR also notes that this recovery capacity is checked by the fact that
"Osage orange hedgerows, wild plum thickets, tangled areas of wild
grape, multiflora rose and raspberries, brushy draws,
fencerows, and weedy areas are fast disappearing
across the major quail range in southern Iowa."
7/7/2012 (See Correction in last paragraph. It is a Dickcissel nest!)
There they were, two birds sitting in the middle of the road. At first I thought they were sparrows but as I approached I could see one appeared to be a Cedar Waxwing and the other, well, maybe a young one. The old bird flew off to the right so lifting my foot off the gas I quickly checked my options.
There was room on the right if he did not fly at the last moment to go join the parent bird. I could straddle him but I really questioned if he would stay put as I passed over head, so to the right it was. I did not see him fly as I rolled by. I looked in my mirror and sure enough he was still sitting there smack dab in the middle of the road just waiting for the delivery of his next free meal I suppose.
I stopped and walked back and as I approached on foot it finally dawned on him that he might be at risk. I was surprised how easily he lifted off and flew into the fence line in the near-by yard. I turned back and got in the truck an headed for a swim.
When I got to Joy Lake the water was clear but not quite as refreshing as it could have been if it was 10 degrees cooler. The Canada Geese and Mallards headed to the far corner of the lake. The Green Sunfish schooled around me with one of them grabbing at a button on my shirt every now and then.
A lone Wood Duck, maybe a third grown, was so busy chasing bugs among the floating pond weeds along the shore that he ignored me, passing back and forth maybe 75 feet away a couple of times.
Getting out I worked my way through the nesting Orange Spotted Sunfish. Only one of these guys had come out into the open water with the Greens to visit me while I treaded water along the northern shore.
I jumped a Field Sparrow off her nest as I headed for the road. There was only one robin egg blue egg in the well woven cup of grass that was suspended a few inches off the ground in a clump of Red Clover. (Correction, the blue egg indicates it is the nest of a Dickcissel. :)
Mowing is no longer a recommended practice in the management of acres dedicated to the welfare of upland birds. Caring just a bit about the critters around us allows them to add quite a bit to the richness of our lives.
7/4/2102 I GOT A SCOLDING
Last night four Cat Birds and one Brown Thresher all gathered to scold me as I opened the driveway gate. I looked for a youngster or a predator but I did not see either. A Red-winged Black Bird also added some sour notes. I was surprised by this out pouring of support not only from a second pair of Catbirds but from other species as well.
This morning there were four Great-Blue Herons spread along the river from Oakland to Faulkner's. I saw one Night Hawk flying down Washington Street in Mt. Pleasant on my early morning coffee run.
Late this afternoon I went down to the river pasture to feed the horses. I let out a wail for the horses and then leaned on the top pipe of the gate to wait for them to show up. Not 3 feet to my left a small gray gnat catcher landed and immediately began beating something in its mouth against the pipe. It reminded me a bit of Chick-a-dees working on a sunflower seed but as I watched I could see this guy was doing his best to knock the gray horse fly he was holding in his beak senseless on the pipe. Suddenly the bird saw me and flew into the cover of the trees. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Blue-gray_Gnatcatcher/id
As I crossed the gate to go look for the horses I flushed a Common Yellowthroat who landed on the top wire of the fence to share with me a quick introduction to his singing abilities. When he then flew across in front of me and I noticed that he did not have any tail feathers, making him look like a little yellow buzz bomb.
Families of cardinals at the feeders are refreshing as the abundant raccoons have been particularly hard on their nests this year.
7/2/2012 ALBERTA SPRUCE
When we moved here 17 years ago we brought two Alberta Spruce with us. These are those beautiful very slow growing compact pyramidal short needled evergreens often used in foundation plantings. Ours were maybe knee high when we dug them up and moved them and now, they are pushing 5 feet. That means they have added all of a couple of inches to their height every year. I am one who likes fast growing trees like the Black Locust that can add up to 8 feet of new growth in one year.
Still the spruce are special to me because the light green new growth is so soft and dense and because they are one of the favorite nesting locations for our native sparrows. The first sparrows to move in was a pair of Chipping Sparrows in the east tree and now this year we have a pair of Song Sparrows in the west one. Joy and I watched one of the parents hauling in worms to feed the babies yesterday. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Chipping_Sparrow/id http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Song_Sparrow/id
I have planted several Eastern Red Cedars in the meadow and while they are young and dense the best of them will offer good nesting cover. I am thinking that I will try pruning some of them to see if I can keep them shorter and denser a bit longer.
The Oakland Great Blue Heron was below the dam fishing again yesterday morning. A mother Mallard with a late brood, looked like at least a dozen all crowed into a tight string following closely behind her, were enjoying the pond weeds on Joy Lake yesterday. I wish them well.
6/29/12 JOY LAKE-STAY AT HOME DADS
The local Grandsons and I went fly fishing at Joy Lake today. I wanted to get a positive ID on the brightly colored little Sunfish that are spawning there. The stay at home dads have washed the mud away in platter shaped depressions along the north and west banks. The wave action helps them keep the sand and gravel nests clean protecting the eggs from being covered up and smothered with silt. After Pa builds the nest Ma lays the eggs leaving Pa to guard them and the fry until the little fish are ready to take off on their own.
At first all we could hook was the larger Green Sunfish that were hiding further out in deeper water among the pond weeds where we also caught a couple blue gills. The longer we worked the spawning beds the bolder the protective males became. Finally we hooked one and Jarrett took its picture with his cell phone.
When we got home we narrowed our choices down to the Orange-spotted Sunfish. Its bright red eyes and reddish lower fins cinched it. One nest may produce a thousand fry.
We flushed a Great Blue Heron upon arrival at Joy Lake and then on the way home we saw another one standing in Big Creek just above the bridge on Iowa Avenue south of town. When I did a leeve check this afternoon I jumped another Blue from the hilltop wetland. Twice this week early in the morning I spotted a Great Blue working the riffles below the dam at Oakland. The one at Oakland is a fully mature bird sporting the bright white patch on top of it head that appears only on the older birds.
There were Canada Goose families and Mallard broods on Joy Lake as well but I did not get a count as they quickly disappeared into the vegetation on the east shoreline.
Riggs almost caught a big Snapping Turtle by hand. He plunged in after it but failed to get a good hold on it. He did not fail to get cooled off, however.
6/27/2012 CRIME SCENE?
What at first appears to be a crime scene is in fact feathers shed over night in the annual molting of a Trumpeter Swan named Buddy. The water affords waterfowl such excellent protection that apparently they can better afford to be flightless during the summer molt than to be missing some flight feathers during the rigors of migration. Perhaps I should gather the feathers for quill pens. There was a time when such large feathers were used for writing. See http://www.sullivanpress.com/quills.htm for some interesting info on using feathers for writing utensils.
6/23/2012 Three of a kind
Three Little Green Herons on the pond today set a new record. They flew in together and joined a pair of Kingfishers in managing the population of the minnows in the pond. Joy could not tell if one of the birds was a young one.
The bellowing of the Bull Frogs has now replaced the chorus of the spring frogs. It is too bad they do not all get their act together occassionally as the bass voice of the Bull Frogs would go well with the spring chorus.
6/20/2012 MAINTAINING THE APPROACH
Trees grow on the pond dam. I love trees, and some more than others and the Willows and the Cottonwoods are among my favorites. But tree roots can create water channels in a pond dam and the bigger the tree gets the larger its roots and the greater the risk. Trees may also make it difficult for geese and swans to come in for a landing. Therefore I cut it down. It was a beautiful young Cottonwood, forty feet tall or better and reaching for 100. I fell it into the water.
The geese and swans appreciate the opening, especially on windy days. The Wood Ducks love the horizontal roost the fallen tree has created. The central stem or trunk runs just inches above the water where Mom Wood Duck lines her brood up for preening and waterproofing (oiling) their feathers.
With waterfowl populations artificially high in the fall and winter due to the supplemental feed we offer, a cattail does not have a chance on our pond. The only cover for the Woodies is what is supplied by trees growing along and arching out over (and eventually falling into) the water. It seems to be working. No bass in the pond and a carry away policy on snapping turtles found walking the fence help too no doubt. One hen hatched 14 downies and managed to raise 10 of them this spring and they are now becoming air borne.
So, as it turned out, maintaining the approach for the swans helped enhance cover for the Woodies which helps me feel better about that empty place where a beautiful young Cottonwood used to grow.