Tag Archives: Outdoors

Prairie Burn | 12 April 2018

Seventeen years ago, friends of ours moved from their in-town home to a 5 acre property several miles out of town. They built a beautiful prairie-style house and converted 4 acres of their alfalfa field front yard into a mixed prairie like it was 200 years ago. Native grasses, wildflowers, and trees were planted and a small pond was formed. The plantings grew well in the rich Iowa soil. Wildlife returned. Bird species grew in number. Kestrels nested in the box above the open space. Waterfowl visited the pond. They kept paths mowed to allow easy access to parts of the prairie visible in this satellite view.

Recent year Google Maps view. Pond lower left. House upper right.

Only one thing was missing from their prairie. They needed a fire. Much dry vegetation was on the ground built up from years of growth. Certain desirable native species were crowded out by less welcome grasses or weeds. They hired a crew to burn off the dead vegetation. The burn must be a carefully controlled prescribed fire carried out by an experienced team. Fire was a natural and essential event on the prairies in the past. A thorough discussion of prairie burns can be found at The Prairie Ecologist. The author, Chris Helzer, is The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Science in Nebraska.

Before the burn was started, I stood next to the house in the image above and recorded video of the scene toward the south, then panned around to the west and northwest. It was a calm day with gentle breeze in the direction of the pond.

The fire team of four arrived in the late afternoon and walked around the property to assess their strategy. You don’t just toss a match and hope for the best. That is how prairie burns get out of control. There is a procedure used to keep the fire under control.

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Northern Flicker | A Second Look

Late in the day the Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker returned to examine the hole in the trunk it looked at the day before. We’re hopeful it will choose the hole as a nesting site. Our view would be good. For a few minutes the Flicker was inside the hole. I went for the camera. When I returned the Flicker was sitting quietly on a branch about 4 ft from the hole as if waiting for something.

A squirrel had climbed the trunk and scared it. The squirrel sat on a branch preening and in no hurry to move on. This stand-off lasted for 10-15 minutes. Neither one budged.

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Snowshoe Hike

by Jim and Melanie

We got a fresh 6″ snowfall in a narrow band across the region of eastern Iowa and western Illinois. The water equivalent was about 0.20 inches. That is a 30:1 snow:water ratio. Normal is 10:1. The snow was very light and fluffy.

NOAA

The temperatures rose into the teens by mid-day as the snow fell. We donned our snow clothes, snowshoes, and hiking poles and set out on the trail behind our house that runs into other neighborhoods. It was peaceful and quiet. A bald eagle flew over us toward the Iowa River. Snow blanketed our shoulders.

It was 0˚F this morning with northwest wind increasing. Much colder tonight and the next few days. It will be best to stay home and warm.

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.

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Yellowstone | Panorama | Beaver Ponds Trail

We decided to hike one of the trails in the park instead of driving from site to site negotiating traffic and crowds. Beaver Ponds Loop was a good choice at 5.4 mile. It started from the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs and ascended 800 feet through the trees along a creek. Views were offered of the terraces from higher vantage points. The trail emerged into a meadow offering this broad panorama.

 

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.

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Screens For Car Windows

by Jim and Melanie

We have a car that will fit a 3″ thick foam mattress in the back with the passenger seats down. When we drive to Yellowstone National Park this summer, we’ll use that mattress for sleeping if a motel isn’t available. We aren’t campers and won’t likely do that often.

If we do sleep in the back, we will want windows open a few inches for ventilation without letting mosquitoes and other insects into the car. Ready made screens for car windows are available. We thought it would be easy to make our own the way many other people have done. Here is how we did it.

Newsprint paper was placed over the driver side window. With a marker we traced the window outline and marked where the metal of the car body met the glass. Some fiberglass screen mesh placed over the outline let us cut the mesh to size as seen here on our kitchen counter. Two mesh screens were cut. One for the driver side. The other for the passenger side.

We ordered 50 small very strong neodymium magnets to tape every few inches around the perimeter of the mesh. The magnets cost $12 from here and measured 1/4″ by 1/8″ seen here next to a coin. They are very strong. Keep them away from valuables.

  

We used Gaffer tape to attach the magnets to the mesh. Gaffer tape has a cloth backing and good adhesive. The cloth backing will avoid scratching the paint finish on the car.

Pieces of tape about 1.5″ long were cut from the roll then turned over. The magnet was placed one quarter of the way along the adhesive backing. The tape was placed halfway under the mesh and folded over on itself. Firm pressure was applied to assure a very good bond. This short video shows the technique.

Here is a completed screen with all the magnets around the perimeter. It is attached to the metal door to the garage to make it more visible. Notice the firm click of the magnet at the end.

Attachment to the car is quite easy as demonstrated below. Small adjustments of the magnets help to make a tight fit to the car surface so insects can’t get in. Removal is easy.

 

Tips

Arrange the magnet, tape, and mesh layers so the tape is the only layer between the car metal and the magnet. That gets the magnet as close as possible to the metal for a stronger grip.

Don’t roll the window down all the way. The screen is not bear, raccoon, crow, or squirrel proof.

Burls

I noticed two huge burls on this big old oak tree during a recent walk. They are at least 18″ (~0.5m) across. They are on city park land and should be safe. They are valuable wood and can be made into beautiful objects.

As I walked farther, it occurred to me I had a very tenuous connection to another burl. Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives was born in southeast Illinois. I was born in Illinois. He attended Eastern Illinois University not far from his birthplace. I attended EIU. He dropped out. Sixty years later a university building was named after the school’s most famous dropout. I graduated with a master’s degree in physics education. No buildings were named after me.

His brother Clarence Estie Ives farmed only a few miles from our home farm in western Illinois. He is buried in a cemetery I passed many times as a youth.

 

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