Category Archives: Nature

Great Horned Owl Visiting Again

In February we told the story of a great horned owl visiting our backyard. Before that day, we never saw or heard one in our yard. Today we had the privilege of a second visit.

This time it perched on a lower branch than before, and Jim was able to get some terrific shots.

Great Horned Owl. Eastern Iowa. 11/15/2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Click on any picture below to embiggen.

And here is a short video to show a bit of personality.

We watched it as a cat roamed through our yard beneath it. The cat was lucky the owl wasn’t ready for dinner. Later a squirrel grazed under the bird feeder and similarly escaped a violent death.

It was quite a treat to see this beautiful bird.

Advertisements

Autumn Walks

by Jim and Melanie

One of our true pleasures is walking or hiking with each other. The pace allows for companionable silence or conversation, and for experiencing our current surroundings while letting the past and future fade. When we travel we look for opportunities to hike, and at home we walk the neighborhood or make small outings to local trails. Serendipity often blesses us while we’re out.

When visiting Washington state last month, we intended a hike in Point Defiance Park, a city park in Tacoma. It hugs the shoreline of the Tacoma Narrows and Commencement Bay, south of Seattle. Jim also wanted to visit the park’s rose garden, displaying the last of early fall’s blooms.

What we didn’t anticipate was the dahlia garden. The tall-stemmed blooms overwhelmed us with their joyful colors. We don’t see many dahlias where we live, so we lingered for a while, taking dozens of photos. Here are a few. Click to embiggen.

~*~*~*~

This week we hiked closer to home. We drove to hiking and mountain biking trails a few miles away, next to the Coralville Reservoir. There are several miles of trails, rated from easy to difficult. Because they are for bike riders as well as walkers, the trails are designated for one-way traffic to improve safety. We hadn’t hiked in this area before and enjoyed the new adventure.

Most of the trail is within the trees with no view of the water, though you can see the reservoir in places. The fall colors are slow in coming this year, and the trees are still leaf-covered, perhaps due to our mild summer.

Our moment of serendipity came about halfway through our hike, when we chanced upon this Santa-on-a-tractor-in-a-creche. It seemed to be the perfect representation of Christmas in Iowa, though a little early.

Since we hadn’t been to these trails before, we stuck to one designated as “easy.” There is a lot more to explore for other times. We’ll go back.

Snakes on a … Sidewalk!

by Melanie and Jim

Most snakes in Iowa are pretty harmless, not scary like snakes on a plane. The ones we see most often are non-venomous and pretty amusing. They are Brown Snakes, and they typically measure from 13-18″ long. Most we see in our neighborhood are smaller than that, with lengths from about 8-12″.

Yesterday’s first snake sighting was on the paved trail behind our house. We had just left the house for a short walk when we happened on the snake, stretched almost its full length across the trail. We estimated it was about a foot long, maybe slightly more. There was some dappled sunlight warming the little thing. They seem to appear in early fall. They like areas with water and some woodland border, making our neighborhood the perfect habitat.

Jim ran back to the house to get a camera while Melanie stood guard. Two women came along and admired it while we waited. They said there were other snakes that were much smaller farther along. And then one of the women hopped a little and pointed to two more snakes at the edge of the sidewalk. A bicyclist rode by, and we directed him to the side so he wouldn’t run over the small monster.

Finally Jim came back, camera in hand.

Slightly out of focus, its tongue is flicking at high speed.

Great picture of its markings, including the top of its head.

With no sense of scale, you might think this is large and ferocious!

A few seconds of video, with Melanie’s finger to show how tiny it is.

After that encounter, and noting the two other snakes at the edge of the sidewalk, we didn’t see any more for most of our walk. Shortly before getting home, Melanie saw another skedaddle into the grass. It was a larger, longer snake and moved very quickly. It moved too fast to get a good look at it, but because of its larger size, we guess it may have been a garter snake.

Snakes are always fun to see around here, partly because we know they are harmless if not bothered. Do you encounter snakes where you live?

Morning Walk | Yellow Wildflowers

It was a beautiful morning for a walk with temperature in the low 60s and clear sky. The waning moon was visible above the western horizon. It was heading east for the grand solar eclipse on 21 August.

We set out from this location in Solon, Iowa. We walked about two miles west and then headed back. Lake Macbride trail heads west from the parking lot. It is mostly flat as it passes several wooded areas and native prairie restorations. Numerous wildflowers were showy in the prairies. Especially colorful were the yellow ones.

We captured photos of as many different ones as we could find. There might be some duplicates. We made no attempt to ID them. Fellow blogger Eliza Waters offered some IDs which are in the photo descriptions. See her comment below. All photos can be viewed larger for details.

Show me more…

Easter Hike | Argyle Lake State Park

by Jim and Melanie

Our family gathered for a potluck dinner on Easter at a country church in Illinois. On Saturday, we drove down to the area from our home in Iowa. It took a little more than two hours. In the area is a state park called Argyle Lake. It had been many years since either of us visited the park. We decided to spend part of the nice day hiking. We chose a trailhead near the dam.

The 1700 acre park, with a 93 acre lake, was established in 1948 by the state of Illinois. The site was formerly known as Argyle Hollow. It served as a stage coach stop on the line between Galena and Beardstown, IL. The hollow was also home to many drift coal mines dug into the hillsides. The park today suffers from neglect by the state. Their lack of funds is obvious. The trails we hiked really needed attention. Tick spray with DEET was a necessary precaution, given the brush impeding on the trail.

One trail bordered the lake. We encountered this pair of Canada Geese sitting on a branch.

Show me more…

… And An Old Friend

by Melanie and Jim

One morning in February we had an unexpected visitor. A great horned owl perched behind our house, fending off harassing crows with its dignified, quiet pose. Though we’ve lived in this house for almost 15 years, we’d never known a great horned to stop here before.

As excited as we were, we also were a bit concerned. I’d read that great horned owls and barred owls don’t share habitat. If the great horned was here, did that mean we’d no longer welcome our old friends, the barred owls? There was no need for concern. The next day, the great horned owl was nowhere to be seen. Within a couple of days, we heard barred owls in the woods again.

On March 2 I opened the garage door to ready trash for pickup. As I did so, I heard a barred owl. It was close and sounded like it was across the street. I stepped out into the cool morning air, sky brightening but still dark before sunrise. The owl loudly called again as I searched for it, and I realized it was behind the house rather than in front. The echo had fooled me. I hurried to the side yard in time to see one land in the neighbor’s tree.

I ran in to tell Jim, and he was able to see it, too, through the window. Well, no need to worry about the great horned owls chasing the barreds out of the neighborhood. We had one a few feet from our house.

The bigger treat came later that day, as the sun was low in the sky. A bird called again, just behind the house. “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?” came the characteristic hoot. (Listen to the recordings at All About Birds. Check the “Various hoots” first.)

We looked in the direction of the call. There on a branch, about 30 feet from the house, was this beautiful bird.

Barred Owl. Iowa, March 2, 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Jim also got a few seconds of video.

Since then we’ve heard these wonderful birds nearby several times. We’re fortunate to share our yard and close green space with them, and with the occasional unexpected visitor.

Hibiscus | Along the Garden Path

by Jim and Melanie

Our walking path takes us by the garden of a neighbor who has many Hibiscus plants nearby. We check on each pass to see which ones are in bloom. Their flowers are large and showy. Each is about 6 inches (15 cm) across. Some are deep red, pink, and white with different combinations.

The link provided here has many interesting facts, a list of the many species, and photos of many of them.

2016_0814Hibiscus3

Click to embiggen any image.

2016_0814Hibiscus4

2016_0814Hibiscus1

Buttonweed | Velvetleaf | Annual Weed

Do you recognize this seed pod? It is from the annual weed I always called Buttonweed. By late summer the plant forms these characteristic pods. Each vertical segment contains from 2-9 seeds. It is 1 inch across. Later they split open for seed dispersal. Notice the many hairs.

Buttonweed4

Buttonweed5

It is a member of the mallow family. The plant Abutilon theophrasti is native to China and India. It was used as a fiber crop in China since 2000 BC. The stem has long fibers suitable for cord, rope, binder twine, fishing nets, coarse cloth, paper and a caulk for boats (Mitich 1991; Spencer 1984). The seeds are edible.

It was apparently introduced to North America before the 1700s. Records show it was cultivated along the east coast for its fiber content. It is now widespread in the croplands of the U.S. and Canada and is considered a weed pest. It was one of the targeted weeds Dad told us to not miss when we walked the soybean fields in the summer.

Known for its ability to thrive in disturbed soils, it grows in the worst of conditions. Here are two examples I found in weedy patches by the trail. Buttonweed2

Buttonweed1

The leaves are heart shaped with a point at the end. They and the stem are covered with fine hairs. Even the seeds have a fine hairs. The seeds are very durable. They can pass through the gut of animals unharmed. They can remain viable up to 50 years before germination.

Buttonweed3