Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | Contact Us | Home RSS

Summer outdoor activities are in session

June 23, 2012
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

ROBINS like to take baths. So do many other bird species, even resorting to shallow mud puddles or the edges of ponds, lakes or streams. Bathing helps the bird cool off, and more importantly, helps to clean its feathers of everything from dirt to parasites. It may take a lot of subsequent preening to rearrange and dry its feathers. A cleaner, healthier robin is the result.

A bird water station close to the feeder site is very important. Keep the water dish clean and change the water at least once a day. Then sit back and enjoy the antics of the feathered critters of the outdoor world as they drink ... or take bird baths.


Article Photos

How to handle hot weather is an easy choice for this robin. After considerable splashing and wing flipping at the bird drinking water station, the feathers of this bird were soaked. It looks like it enjoyed the cleaning opportunity. A long spray of water droplets followed the bird when it finally flew away.

At Green Castle, the Marshall County Conservation Board area south of Ferguson, IA last Thursday afternoon, crews from the wildlife bureau of the DNR were there to capture a few more CANADA GEESE to add to the banding quota for their portion of central Iowa. This opportunity for the public to attend and let kids handle geese was greatly enjoyed. DNR wildlife crews out of Otter Creek Marsh have an annual quota of about 200 bands to put on geese from at least six different locations in and near the Iowa River valley. Bands are aluminum, sized to fit the leg of a goose and have a specific number. That number is a record of the goose, its gender, age, and place of banding. Later if the band is recovered, a history of its migration pattern can be determined. When enough bands are in place, and when sufficient return reports are obtained, biologists have additional facts to add to their data base of information. Canada geese are a very successful waterfowl species that has adapted well to every area pond, lake or golf course lawn.


FISH work by DNR fisheries bureau workers is an on-going proposition. What do they do if the desired stocking levels for some fish cannot be met? They turn to other states to see what they have on inventory. Such was the case in 2012 for Iowa when its walleye egg collections came up short in April. Responding to assist were Minnesota DNR folks with 19 million walleye fry from several of their hatcheries that had a surplus. North Dakota also responded from the Garrison Dam facility with 5 million more fry.

All of this happened because of the unusual warm weather this spring that made water temperatures rise early but not in sync with lengthening daylight. You might say it confused the brood fish of Iowa's natural lakes. The result - Iowa obtained only 35 million fry at the Spirit Lake hatchery, an amount about one-half of what they needed for that facility. Meanwhile Rathbun and Fairport hatcheries in Iowa were close to their target numbers to raise walleye to the preferred two- inch stocking size. Some of the two-inch walleyes will be retained at Rathbun and Spirit Lake to enable them to grow to six to eight inches. Those larger fish will be selectively stocked in Iowa waters this fall.

Locally, some of those walleye two-inch fish have made it to Sand Lake during the last 10 to 15 years. And from time to time a few of those fish have been caught now that they are much larger. They are not easy to find, or easy to catch, but they are in the water of Sand Lake. Sand Lake has about 47 acres of public water within its total 95 acre boundary. It was acquired in 1995. Excavations took sand out of the basin to levels about 35 feet deep. Fish live in only the top 10 feet of Sand Lake where dissolved oxygen content is sufficient for aquatic life.

Water in Sand Lake has filled the former excavation pits after sand and gravel mining operations had removed what was required for construction needs. Water levels in Sand Lake reflect the water table of the floodplain, low during drought conditions and high during wet or flood times. There is an underground connection of hydraulic pressure between the Iowa River and Sand Lake. If the Iowa River flow is high for a long enough period of time, water levels in Sand Lake will slowly rise over time to reach equilibrium.

The opposite is also true if the river flow is really low. Given enough time, those water levels will be nearly equal.


An IOWA RIVER CLEANUP is slated for the week of July 7 -14 for a 90 mile stretch between Dows downstream to Marshalltown. It is called project AWARE, which stands for Watershed Awareness River Expedition. The purpose is to utilize volunteers to find and remove trash that may be in the river or along its shores. In addition to the work by those volunteers, they will also learn about watersheds, water quality, recycling or other natural resource topics. This year's expedition is the 10th year for AWARE.

Registration is required for those folks with canoes or flatbottom boats that want to help in river cleanup efforts. Contact as soon as possible the folks at this website:


The Iowa River claimed another life recently, a young boy enjoying water on a hot day. Swimming in the river is not a good idea due to poor visibility, unknown obstacles that may be hidden deep in the bottom sands or mud and strong currents even at low river flow times. Our sympathies go out to family for the loss of this young life. Be careful out there. Respect the water at all times.


Here is a bit of river information to note. The US Army Corps of Engineers has river gauge stations all over the United States. At Marshalltown, automatic sensors of this gauge at the highway 14 bridge send hourly signals 24/7/365 to earth-orbiting satellites for river levels and flow rates. This information helps determine expected flood crests after heavy rains or the capacity of the stream or river to handle more normal conditions, which is most of the time.

The reference marks at the gauging station are arbitrary. For instance, the level of 10 feet is established as something close to base flow, the river at or near lowest flow conditions. This is just a bench mark or reference point to compare how much water levels fall or rise. A base flow reading of 10.0 feet does not mean the river is 10 feet deep. In fact, at the reading of 10, a person could walk in many segments of the river and not get your knees wet. Thus if a rain event causes the river to come up, a reading of the gauge will tell authorities how much the rise is and its corresponding increase in flow rate of cubic feet per second.

Right now, the river is poking along at a gauging level of 10.0 feet and 278 cfs. During the biggest flood in our history, June 13, 2008, the gauge level was 21.79 feet and 22,388 cfs. Subtract the base level of 10 from 21.79 and one gets 11.79 feet of actual water depth over the typical low flow situations. During that flood of 2008, highways 14 and 330 were closed due to water over the roadways. Extensive low lying flat lands of the floodplain adjacent to the river were covered with water, giving the appearance of a big lake. Many farm fields were inundated and crops lost. It took a long time for the water to fall and a longer time to address damages to roadways bridges, and farm fields with new sand deposits or gouged out depressions where non-existed before. Such is the power of swift running water.

The watershed of the Iowa River begins at Crystal Lake in Hancock County of north central Iowa. Approximately 300 miles later, the Iowa River enters the Mississippi River near Wapello. The watershed contains 12,499 square miles of land for which every small creek, stream or other waterway eventually contributes water into the Iowa River. The watershed area above Marshalltown is 1,532 square miles, and we are at mile number 222.8 above the mouth of the river.

The Corps of Engineers calls a gauge reading of 19.0 feet at Marshalltown as flood stage level, even though water will begin to seep over lower river banks and into surrounding lands at readings of 16, 17 and 18. Once a river has risen enough to go over its banks, water has the opportunity to spread out considerably over the flat lands of the valley. It may look impressive even if it is not that deep.

This we know from geologic history and mankind's written records of the last 150 years: the river will flood periodically and be downright very low during drought times. So we mere humans have to learn to live with and adapt to the natural cycles of weather extremes. What other choice do we have? None.


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.



I am looking for: