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Just waiting for spring

February 12, 2011

All of us are waiting for spring. At least six more weeks of wintery weather must be endured. Such is life in the midwest. Even the hairy little mammal called the groundhog (or woodchuck) agrees as he sleeps away in an underground burrow below frost line. His life will be renewed also when snows melt, and the power of increased sunlight warms the soil.

Today's photo is looking west-northwest. Knapp Avenue is near the top of the image. The original 17-acre Marietta Sand Prairie Preserve is in the upper left, the area purchased in 1983. Several years ago, a 212-acre addition was purchased that is enabling the Marshall County Conservation Board to conduct long term prairie renovations and management. This addition was made possible by a partnership with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Martha-Elen Tye Foundation, Pheasants Forever, REAP (Resource Enhancement and Protection), Iowa Prairie Network and many donation from local people.

Another observation detailed in this image are soil patterns ... yes, even when the surface is covered by snow. There is a prominent northwest to southeast running "ridge line" with a broad border or belt like appearing swath depicted by snow with little vegetation. This is caused by last years growth pattern differences in native plants from one soil type to another. These would be almost indistinguishable on the ground, however, from the air, underlying soil types are revealed.

Article Photos

Photo by Garry Brandenburg
This winter-time eagle-eye viewpoint of the Marietta Sand Prairie area has more to tell us than just the fact that the ground is frozen and is covered with snow.  Note the mowed borders for fire lanes that will allow controlled burns this spring. Although only parts of the site will see fire, the lanes will allow MCCB natural resource management staff to burn what they want and leave other segments alone. Native plant life, over 250 different types of them, are just dormant for the winter. Once spring approaches, the grasses and forbs at this unique site will awaken for another year. Nature cycles through the seasons in her ages old process of renewal.

The soils at the Sand Prairie are as its name implies ... sand based. These sands were deposited over eons of time primarily from the scouring winds of post Wisconsinan glacial times. During glacial winters, strong winds picked up exposed and loose soil grains, sorted them and blew them southeasterly. The wind borne sands were slowly deposited over thousands of years into smooth dune-like accumulations. That was the basis for what we know and see today at this natural area.

About 15,000 years ago, a mere blink of the eye in terms of earth history, the Wisconsinan glacier had one of its icy lobes at its maximum advance in central Iowa. Its southern tip is where the City of Des Moines is now located. The eastern edge of the glacier was along a generally north-south line that ran in the vicinity of the Story/Marshall County line and further north.

During the warming inter-glacial period of time to come, the glacier melted slowly to the north. In its wake were parent soil materials of all types, and a naturally warming climate. Nature being nature, plants slowly colonized the soil. In a succession of long-term plant changes that followed the retreating ice, tundra gave way to boreal forest which in turn where dominated later by hardwood trees. Still further into the future, the trees could lose their dominate status. A dryer climate was coming that was more suitable for grasses. It was the growth of native grasses and forbs that over the course of thousands of years built the soils of the midwest and Iowa.

This weekend during our brief winter thaw, consider a drive to the Marietta Sand Prairie. Do a bit of a walk-about on the melting snow. Know that under your feet plant and animal life is waiting, waiting for spring. Their virtue is patience. Later this spring and summer, we will marvel at the green grasses and colorful flowers of the Sand Prairie. I invite you to partake.


BALD EAGLES are here of course. Nothing new about that. One place that offers the best observation point for the big raptors is at Three Bridges County Park located one mile north of the little town of Quarry. The attraction for eagles is the open water that passes over the old mill dam remnants. Fish occasionally make a mistake of getting too close to the surface. Bald Eagles know what to do with foolish fish. Lunch time. You can observe the eagles from the comfort of your vehicle.


BIRD HOUSE building is coming soon. In fact, the date is Feb. 19. However, the Marshall County Conservation Board does need a head count of people wanting to partake in bird house construction. The registration deadline is Feb. 16, next Wednesday. Call 752-5490 to sign up.


Next Saturday is the WHITETAIL UNLIMITED get-together, their annual prime rib dinner and fundraiser event for wildlife causes. The event will be held at the KC Hall in Marshalltown. Advance tickets are required, in fact the deadline was Feb. 11. The doors open at 5 pm. A prime rib dinner will be served at 6:30 p.m. Check it out.


Impressive DEER ANTLERS will be open for viewing on Tuesday evening, Feb. 22 from 7 to 9 p.m. Come to the Conservation Center at the GrimesFarm to listen and learn about the wide variations in deer antlers. Official measurers will be present to calculate the score for any Iowa record worthy submittal. See you there.


Wit or wisdom: If you think you are a person of some influence, try ordering someone else's dog around.


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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