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Hawk Watch a great time to look up

September 25, 2010

It's free and open to the public. It happens each year during late September and early October. This activity never gets old. It forces one to study great books with detailed descriptions. It causes one to read more about them in journals and other natural history publications. What is it? Bird watching.

Some folks are really avid bird watchers, others are more casual. This author tends to classify himself as in the casual ranks, however, my degree in fish & wildlife biology tends to put my definition of casual on someone else's definition of avid. I really don't care. I just enjoy anything and everything of the natural world because I'm interested in what makes them tick, how they fit into the ecosystem, and as a bonus, they may be great subjects to photograph or just to watch.

HAWK WATCHING fits this model to a "T." Join MCCB staffers and Mark Proescholdt from 10 a.m. until noon on Wednesday at the Grammer Grove Wildlife Area. Dress for the weather and bring good binoculars. Grammer Grove has a great observation blufftop site where birders can watch over the Iowa River valley as birds of all kinds drift in the air currents during the fall migration. By the time the migration has peaked in late October, Proescholdt will have thousands of sighting recorded in his ledger.

Article Photos

T-R Photo by Garry Brandenburg
Hawk watching is on the docket for Wednesday at Grammer Grove, the Marshall County Conservation Board 121 acre public land area. This wildlife area is located about 5 miles northwest of Albion. Hawk watching has been a decades old endeavor of the Proescholdt family of Liscomb.  Mark Proescholdt continues to volunteer many hours to observe the fall migration birds of prey. You can join him and MCCB staff on Wednesday from 10 a.m. until noon. Binoculars are mandatory equipment. Today’s photo is of a red-tailed hawk, one of the most common raptors across the United States.

Yes, I did say thousands. In one day, if the weather is good and birds are anxious to move, hundreds of raptors will fly south. The species list will include red-tailed hawks of course but many others will also be likely to show themselves. Most numerous will be broad-winged hawks and red-tails. Other raptors will include bald eagles, golden eagles, turkey vultures, northern harriers, sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper's hawks, northern goshawks, maybe a few red-shouldered hawks, rough-legged hawks, American kestrels, and merlins. The last two are in the falcon group.

Since the birds are in the air, the best bird books will show the eagles, hawks and falcons in the air with wings spread and tail feathers open. It is the coloration of the undersides of these birds, plus profile shapes of their wing lengths vs width and tail shapes that must be quickly diagnosed for identification. When one does this often enough, it becomes easy to do.Try it. You'll like it. Put Grammer Grove on your list of places to go on Wednesday.


On Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Fisher Community Center, the local bird clubers program will host Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation representatives Anita Ogara and Cheri Graver. The duo will show photos and projects in the central Iowa area that the INHF, past, present and future. Past projects have included assistance both in financial terms and/or advice for the Arney Bend Wildlife Area, Marietta Sand Prairie and its addition, Iowa River Wildlife Area, American Discovery Trail Heart of Iowa bike trail, and the GrimesFarm. Future projects in surrounding counties will highlight the presentation. The program is free and open to the public. See you there.


What summer resident birds may a person expect to see for the last time during the last week of September and very early October? This list is typical but not absolute. Swainson's hawks, Eastern solitary sandpipers, Bonaparte's gull, Common tern, Yellow-billed cuckoo, Nighthawks, Ruby-throated hummingbirds, Eastern wood pewee, Tree Swallow, Barn swallow, Short-billed marsh wrens, Catbird, Brown thrasher, Hermit thrush, Ruby-crowned kinglet, Black and white warbler, Nashville warbler, Ovenbird, Northern yellow-throat, American redstart, Bobolink, Yellow-headed blackbird, Indigo bunting, Grasshopper sparrow, Harris' sparrow, White-crowned sparrow and the White-throated sparrow.

Fall is fast approaching. The birds know it. Farm crops are turning brown and maturing. Deciduous trees are starting the process of shutting down for another year. The weather is getting cooler. Birds are flocking up. It is a great time of the year. Enjoy.


SOIL, a special exhibit from the Smithsonian will be featured in Omaha this fall. This exhibit is a special offering that should be a great hit in the midwest with its well known and huge agricultural base. Every school group in the nation, in my opinion, and every farm related manager may want to attend the show.

It is called "DIG IT." It will be in Omaha from Oct. 23 through Dec.. 26 at the Durham Museum, 801 S.10th St., Omaha. This author was made aware of this excellent exhibit by Norm Helzer, a retired soil scientist. I got to know Norm and his family when they lived in Marshalltown for a time during the 1980s.

Helzer was part of a team of soil scientists that walked every part of Marshall County and updated the USDA Soil Survey book and maps. Every landowner, farmer or construction firm is probably aware of the soil survey. Its aerial photo base maps have delineated lines to illustrate and locate all the various soil types on any tract of land. The associated descriptions of each soil type provide all kinds of data regarding what makes up the soil and how potentially productive it is or what its limitations are for various uses.

The DIG IT exhibit will feature six cart activities. First off, the soil is alive. There are more living creatures in a shovel-full of soil than human beings on the planet earth! And since the human population of earth is estimated to be 6.9 billion people, that means that those soil organisms of every type are quite microscopic in size. Yet we hardly take note how important they are to us. That is why we take soil for granted. We should acknowledge that our lives depend on soil and all the minute organisms in it.

Second, The Soil Chef will allow people to examine soil with magnifying glasses and scopes. The goal here is to identify the four main soil components.

Third, learn What Soils have to do with You. You'll examine how everything comes from the soil. An example will be the cotton shirts people wear and then learn all the steps it took to make that shirt.

Fourth is the To Till or Not to Till segment of the exhibit. When soils are not tilled a healthy diverse soil biology is preserved through soil particles stuck together is such a fashion that many pores allow water and oxygen to enter and carbon dioxide to leave. A demonstration will show what happens when it "rains" on two different soils. See where runoff happens, or not, and the quality of the water at each end point.

Fifth is Infiltration. Soils filter and clean water. Some soil types do it better than others. The exhibit will illustrate differences between sandy soils and clayey soils. When chemicals are added to help plants grow, how much is just enough to do the job.

The last station is called Soil Glue. Here one learns how healthy soil is bound together by organic substances. Comparisons of healthy and not-so healthy soils will be shown by the results of weather events during the course of a year.

DIG IT will be worth one's time. If you are anywhere near Omaha between Oct. 2 and Dec. 26, find the Durham Museum to see the soil presentation.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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