Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Plant of the Week: Dec 30

Lomatium foeniculaceum (Nutt.) C. & R.
other common names: 
yellow wild parsley, hairy parsley, lomatium, carrot-leaf lomatium, Indian biscuit, cowas or cows
Lomatium: from the Greek, meaning “a little border,” referring to the winged borders on the fruit
Foeniculaceum: meaning “like fennel”
Parsley family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)

Monday, December 28, 2009

This Week in Iowa Nature: Dec 28

Scan the sky for bright constellations: the Northern Cross (Cygnus the Swan), Gemini, Aquarius, Cassiopeia, and others.

Jean C. Prior and James Sandrock, The Iowa Nature Calendar

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays from the University of Iowa Press!

Midwest Nature Quote of the Week: Dec 22

Of all the dynamic forces of nature, the most relentless and persevering is the force of erosion. Continuously the power of flowing water is washing away the crust of the earth. Erosion is an endless and inevitable process, and it will never cease as long as any point of land juts above the level of the sea. Looking at the earth and its resources from a cosmic standpoint we can all ask: “What is the difference if our soil is being washed away and our lands flooded. Such things have always been and always will be. We cannot change the laws of nature.”

Robert Marshall, The People’s Forests

Friday, December 18, 2009

Last Minute Gifts for the Nature Lovers in Your Life

If you're still looking for that perfect gift for the holiday, please stop by the University of Iowa Press annual Holiday Sale!

Here are a few of the nature titles we have on sale:


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Plant of the Week: Dec 16

Prairie smoke
Geum triflorum Pursh
other common names
: old man’s whiskers, Johnny smokers
Geum: the ancient Latin name used by Pliny for this group
Triflorum: from Latin, meaning “three-flowered”
Rose family: Rosaceae

Monday, December 14, 2009

This Week in Iowa Nature: Dec 14

Saw-whet and long-eared owls roost in coniferous groves; "whitewash" on tree bark may indicate their location, while the ground beneath may yield owl pellets of bones and fur.

Jean C. Prior and James Sandrock, The Iowa Nature Calendar

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Plant of the Week: Dec 10

Besseya bullii (Eat.) Rydb., also called Wulfenia bullii (Eat.) Barnh.
other common names: 
Bull’s synthyris
Besseya: named for Bessey, a well-known botanist
Bullii: named for its discoverer, George Bull
Snapdragon family: Scrophulariaceae

Photograph by Thomas Rosburg, Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, Second Edition

Monday, December 7, 2009

An Interview with Nancy Overcott

How long have you been studying and enjoying birds? What other insects or plants or animals are you especially interested in?
In 1978, I moved with my husband to an area in southeast Minnesota known as the Big Woods. Our sixty-two acres of deciduous forest stood in the midst of limestone bluffs and springfed steams. The birds in the area soon drew our attention and we began to identify some of them when we placed two feeders in our yard. By 1985 birds had become a necessary part of my life. Along with them, I began to pay attention to wildflowers and butterflies, which have also become special interests of mine.

What has changed in the outdoor world since your first days of watching birds? What’s better, what’s worse?
Spring and fall migration continue to be exciting times, but the number and species of birds have declined mostly due to loss of habitat. I once looked forward to waves of warblers, small, active neotropical migrants, and over the years identified thirty-three species in or near our woods. I still see warblers but usually just one or a few at a time. Populations of some species, however, have stabilized due to intense efforts by conservationists to protect habitats and educate the public.   

What advice would you give to younger birders? What are the particular challenges of watching birds in the Midwest?
Start with a field guide and the best pair of binoculars you can afford. Place feeders near your house and learn to identify the birds that come to them. Birds are everywhere. Look for them in your neighborhood, along streams, and in parks, forests, and fields. Join a bird club if possible. There you will find helpful, experienced birders and opportunities for field trips.

In the Midwest we see many species of birds but we don’t have the great numbers that are found in tropical areas, for example. We have some species like black-capped chickadees that are here year round. The challenges come with learning to identify birds that are here only in winter, only in summer, or only during migration. Other challenges include putting up with bugs, rain, heat, and cold and traipsing through difficult terrain.

What are your favorite natural areas in Iowa and the Midwest? What areas do you return to constantly, and what’s your favorite newly visited area?
Cardinal Marsh, a 566-acre Iowa State Wildlife Area in northeast Iowa near Cresco, is one of my favorite places. There I saw my first white-faced ibis, common moorhen, and least bittern. Pool Slough in the northeast tip of Iowa outside of New Albin is another favorite, as is Red Oak Road, along the Mississippi near Lansing, Iowa. In southeast Minnesota where I live, my favorite places are the Hvoslef Wildlife Management Area, a variety of backcountry roads, and my newest discoveries, which are sections of the Root River Trail system.

Nancy Overcott, co-author with Dana Gardner of Fifty Common Birds of the Upper Midwest, Fifty Uncommon Birds of the Upper Midwest, and Birds at Your Feeder: A Guide to Winter Birds of the Great Plains

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Plant of the Week: Dec 2

Heuchera richardsonii 
R. Br.
other common names
American sanicle, rock geranium, ground maple, cliffweed
Heuchera: in honor of Johann Heinrich von Heucher, an early German physician and botanist who specialized in medicinal botany
Richardsonii: in honor of Sir John Richardson, an early North American explorer. (Several varieties of this species occur.)
Saxifrage family: Saxifragaceae

Photograph by Thomas Rosburg, Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, Second Edition

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Northern Cardinal - Dec 1

Plant of the Week: Nov 30

Camassia scilloides 
(Raf.) Cory
other common names: 
blue camass, eastern camass, Indian potatoes, swamp sego, wild hyacinth
Camassia: from the American Indian name of the plant, quamash
Scilloides: from Latin for “like Scilla,” an 
Old World genus of bulbous plants with leaves much like those of this species
Lily family: Liliaceae

Photograph by Thomas Rosburg, Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, Second Edition

Looking for a Great Holiday Gift for the Nature & Booklovers in Your Life?

Please check out the Holiday Sale at the University of Iowa Press's website.

Use Promo Code: IAHOL09 (This is case sensitive, so be sure to make those letters capitals!)

Sale prices in effect through January 1, 2010

An Interview with Michael Lannoo

How long have you been working to conserve natural areas and their inhabitants?
What was the catalyst that brought you to appreciate amphibians in the first place?

It was at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, in 1977, when I was 19, where I first meshed who I was with what I wanted to do with my life, which was to become a field biologist. And as a corollary I became interested in amphibians, especially tiger salamander larvae, because they were the top aquatic predators in my favorite ecosystems, wetlands. In fact, in 1982 I was fortunate to discover that Okoboji wetlands support cannibal morph tiger salamander larvae, an uber top carnivore. In 1988, I realized a huge professional dream when the director, Dick Bovbjerg, invited me to join the Lakeside Lab faculty. And with the exception of a couple of years when the administration of Lakeside did not understand the essence of Lakeside, I’ve been on the faculty ever since. Lakeside Lab has a rich history of biological investigation, and when the first alarm bells about the serious nature of amphibian declines started to ring, Lakeside, with its long history of field investigation and its magnificent gazetteer, had the best data available to address the issue for the midwestern United States. It was also about this time that I began understanding the incredible ecological damage that state-supported fish management practices was doing to Okoboji wetlands. And although remnants of these practices persist today, extensive habitat restorations in the Okoboji region have made this area one of the most extensive and exciting wetland regions in the United States.

How do you merge your teaching and your writing with your hands-on research and fieldwork? 

I don't view teaching and writing and research as separate activities. They just sort of spring naturally from some always varying combination of the core of who I am and the shell of what I've experienced, and they feed forward and backward on themselves to keep building who it is I am and what it is I do. The great thing about being a tenured full professor is that I have the freedom to unabashedly pursue my interests, whether they are in temperate, tropical, or polar ecosystems, or whether they are based in fieldwork or lab work. My last book was on malformed frogs and how, in this investigation, the scientific method got ambushed by personal ambition. My next book is about two great biologists, Aldo Leopold and Ed Ricketts, and how combining their approaches (Leopold’s ethic and Ricketts’ method of engagement) provides the modern environmental movement with the tools it needs to change the world as we now know it in the only direction it can change and persist, which is in ecosystem-based sustainability (as opposed to economic-based profitability). My teaching and fieldwork feed forward to influence my writing and research, while my writing and research twist backward and influence my teaching and fieldwork. I’m not alone here; Norman Maclean wrote, “A long time ago I realized that I would not see something unless I thought of it first.” The thinking stuff and the doing stuff, while appearing to be separate activities, actually feed each other to produce some sort of spiraling forward, to produce what I would loosely call a career.

What has changed in the outdoor world since your first days of trying to study and protect frogs? What’s better, what’s worse?

Crisis can bring out the best in people, and some very fine people have emerged to fight on behalf of amphibians; I am glad and privileged to count many of these folks among my best friends. As a result of their work we now know the causes of amphibian declines, including habitat loss, disease, global warming, introduced predators, and competitors. The real work now lies in convincing society that the things individual people do—day in and day out—will influence the impacts of these causes, not only on amphibians but on the world as a whole; the world their grandchildren will inherit. In short, what’s better now than twenty years ago is that we now know what’s wrong; what’s worse is that because amphibian declines persist unabated, we have fewer pieces remaining to build upon.

What advice would you give to beginning conservationists? What are the particular challenges of being a conservationist in the Midwest?

Take all the courses you can at the Iowa Lakeside Lab or some other field station. While modern society claims to be about image (which is, they say, everything), the world outside of People magazine is still being run by folks who know things and do things. A test: take some average environmental sciences majors and put them outside somewhere—forest, prairie, wetland—and start asking them questions about what they see. You quickly come to the conclusion that they don’t know much about these worlds. But these days, in an impossibly tight economy, it is the people who know something about these worlds who are getting jobs. Maybe not great jobs, but at least they have their foot in the door, and at least they’re staying in the business. At some point in our human history, if society as we know it is to persist, people who know and understand ecosystems will become among its most valued members.

There is always potential in crisis. Take a superficial look at the Midwest and all you see is corn and soybeans (and it gets you wondering about the effects of pesticides on you and your family). But there are natural jewels here, also, that will persist, even though just about everyplace that can be converted from a natural area to a human-dominated one has been. So we’re pretty much near or at the bottom, with only one direction left, and that gives us a glimmer of hope. In this light it becomes interesting to watch and participate in the activities of land trusts, organic farming, and re-wilding efforts.  As long as we keep enough original pieces, we keep hope.

What are your favorite natural areas in the Midwest? What areas do you return to constantly, and what’s your favorite newly visited area?

The Okoboji region of northwestern Iowa is my all-time favorite place; if we could ever afford to retire, Sue and I would like to live there. Other places touch specific parts of me. In Iowa, searching out prairie rattlesnakes in the Loess Hills is special, as is the view of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers from the bluffs above McGregor. I love all four corners (so different) of Minnesota and the Prairie Coteau region (full of wetlands) of northeastern South Dakota. Recently, because of some work I've been doing close to home, I've come to favor the mine-spoil prairies of the southern Midwest. These are not natural, but really, what is these days? These ragged prairies, on land that several decades ago had absolutely no ecology, remind us that you can have nature even if it is not pristine.

Michael J. Lannoo, author of Okoboji Wetlands: A Lesson in Natural History, editor of Status and Conservation of Midwestern Amphibians

Pileated woodpecker - Art by Claudia McGehee

Pileated woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus

This crow-size woodpecker is known for its flaming red crest; males have red mustaches as well. They prefer thick woodlands with older trees; look for their triangular nest holes in dead trees. Strong legs help them hang from the sides of trees, drumming with their beaks in search of insects. With well-developed vocal cords and the ability to drum and tap, woodpeckers are well equipped to communicate.

Claudia McGehee, A Woodland Counting Book

Friday, November 20, 2009

Midwest Nature Quote of the Week: Nov 20

True prairie was not a matter of location, but of composition. The lie of the land had nothing to do with whether it was prairie or not; if it was tallgrass prairie it included the tallgrass communities. Some prairie was flat, but much of it was rolling, and some was broken and rocky. But it needed tallgrasses if it was to qualify as true prairie—the most easterly of the great American grassland societies that sprawled between the Rockies and the eastern forests.

John Madson, Out Home

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Plant of the Week: Nov 18

Wild strawberry
Fragaria virginiana 
other common names
: none known
Fragaria: from Latin fraga, meaning “having scent,” probably referring to the fragrance 
of the fruit
Virginiana: meaning “of Virginia”
Rose family: Rosaceae

Photograph by Thomas Rosburg, Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, Second Edition

Monday, November 16, 2009

This week in Iowa Nature: Nov 16

November 16 - 19: Away from the city lights, scan the eastern horizon for the annual Leonid meteor shower, bits of cosmic debris streaking through the night sky.

Iowa Nature Calendar

Friday, November 13, 2009

Midwest Nature Quote of the Week: Nov 13

The original diversity has survived in the Loess Hills in large part because the rugged hills have remained relatively remote and isolated, resisting conversion to cropland, lawn, pasture, and settlement. More than 700 species of vascular plants have been identified in the Hills. Remaining native prairies are large enough to maintain viable populations of rare butterflies that have declined or disappeared on smaller prairie remnants elsewhere. The wildness of the region also allows safe refuge for wintering hawks, rare species such as bobcat, secretive lizards and snakes, and numerous other types of animals, many of which are uncommon or absent elsewhere in Iowa and Missouri.

Cornelia F. Mutel, Fragile Giants: A Natural History of the Loess Hills

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Plant of the Week: Nov 11

Bastard toadflax
Comandra umbellata (L.) 
Nutt. (includes 
C. richardsiana Fern.)
other common names: 
comandra, star toadflax
Comandra: from Greek, meaning “hair” and “man,” referring to the hairs of the calyx, which are attached to the anthers
Umbellata: like umbels, or umbrella-like flower heads
Sandalwood family: Santalaceae

Photograph by Thomas Rosburg, Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, Second Edition

Monday, November 9, 2009

Interview with Carl Kurtz

How long have you been working to protect and reconstruct prairies?
Our first prairie planting was in 1975 along a roadside; it is still in existence and continues to develop. We presently have about 250 prairie acres we own or help manage. 

What species of plants or animals are you especially interested in?
My focus is on species diversity of both plants and animals. We strive to attain the highest species diversity possible.

How do you merge your photography and writing with your hands-on reconstruction work?
Photography has been a way to record the successional development of prairie plantings and the seasonal changes in the prairie community. It has been a very good way to promote the prairie to the general public. 

What has changed in the outdoor world since your first days of trying to protect it? What's better, what's worse?
More prairies are now being planted than at any time in the past 150 years as wildlife habitat, buffer strips, wetland mitigations, and just for pleasure. Diversity is still not what it should be to produce the best habitat and long-term stability. 

What advice would you give to beginning conservationists? What are the particular challenges of being a conservationist in the Midwest?

If you are just beginning, be prepared to hang in there for the long haul—changes do not come about quickly on a landscape scale. But if you could look back 30 years, you would see that we have made tremendous strides. 

What are your favorite natural areas in Iowa and the Midwest? What areas do you return to constantly, and what's your favorite newly visited area?
My favorite natural area is where I live simply because it so accessible. We generally visit a number of local marshes and virgin prairies on a regular basis. These are areas which are close by and do not require a lot of traveling to get to. 

Interview with Carl Kurtz, A Practical Guide to Prairie Reconstruction

Friday, November 6, 2009

Plant of the Week: Nov 6

Prairie violet
Viola pedatifida 

G. Don
other common names: 
crowfoot violet; sometimes bird’s-foot violet, but this name is more common for another species, V. pedata
Viola: the classical Latin name for this genus
Pedatifida: from Latin, meaning generally “divided from a central point with the divisions also deeply cleft”
Violet family: Violaceae

Monday, November 2, 2009

Plant of the week: Nov 2

Wood betony
Pedicularis canadensis L.
other common names: lousewort, snaffles, beefsteak plant, high heal-all
Pedicularis: from Latin pediculus, meaning “louse” or “lousy.” Cattle and sheep grazing in pastures with this plant were once expected to become infected with lice.
Canadensis: meaning “of Canada”
Snapdragon family: Scrophulariaceae


Holly Carver & Allison Means on Dottie Ray

Everyone, be sure to check out Holly Carver and Allison Means from the University of Iowa Press talk about the new and exciting books coming out this fall on the Dottie Ray Show!
Wednesday, November 4 8:45 AM
Tune in to KXIC AM-800

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Short-eared owl - Art by Claudia McGehee

Short-eared owl, Asio flammeus

Short-eared owls hunt during the daytime, as well as at night, over the wide-open prairie. You can barely see their horn-shaped tufty ears.

Claudia McGehee, A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blue spotted salamander - Art by Claudia McGehee

Blue spotted salamander, Ambystoma laterale

Blue spotted salamanders like to hang out in moist woodland areas near ponds. When these little amphibians sense danger, they freeze, raise their tails straight up, and get ready to squirt an unpleasant-tasting liquid at any predator that comes too close. If an enemy grabs it, the salamander releases this defense liquid, detaches its tail—it can grow a new one—and slips away.

Claudia McGehee, A Woodland Counting Book

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Plant of the week: Oct 27

Hoary puccoon
Lithospermum canescens (Michx.) Lehm.
other common names: gromwell, puccoon, Indian paint
Lithospermum: from Greek lethos for “stone” and sperma for “seed”; named for the stonelike seeds
Canescens: from Latin, meaning “generally hoary or whitish,” referring to the hoary appearance of the plant due to the presence of tiny white hairs
Forget-me-not family: Boraginaceae

Photograph by Thomas Rosburg from Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, Second Edition

Monday, October 26, 2009

This Week in Iowa Nature: Oct 26 - 30

Clean out purple martin apartments, bluebird boxes, bird baths, and feeders before winter sets in.

From The Iowa Nature Calendar

Friday, October 23, 2009

Midwest Nature Quote of the Week: Oct 23

Some of the best streams of all are the small farmland rivers.  Modest places, rarely spectacular, but lending a measure of freedom and wildness to landscapes that are thoroughly plowed, cowed, and put to cash grain.  In many parts of our Midwest, South and Southeast—rich humid regions that are intensely cultivated—such streams are among best escape routes from the soul-bruising press of modern living.

John Madson, Out Home

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Photographs from the Scarth interview: Part 2

Michigan lily – Michigan lilies (Lilium michiganense) and Turk’s cap lilies (Lilium superbum) are often confused. One way to tell the difference is to look inside the blossom. The Turk’s cap has green triangles at the base of the petals. We sometimes find Michigan lilies in road ditches in northeastern Iowa. 

Sugar Maple leaf – Our maple tree usually turns soft yellow, orange, and red each autumn. Very rarely, it makes fantastic cell designs as it sheds chlorophyll just before dropping its leaves. This is a life-size section of a leaf taped to glass with western evening light behind. The tree is doing something similar this year so our collection of leaf abstracts is growing.

From Deep Nature: Photographs from Iowa

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An Interview with Robert & Linda Scarth: Part 2

What advice would you give to younger nature photographers?
Move slowly, walk quietly, look up, look down, and look underneath. It becomes a meditation exercise and you will begin to see more. Use the equipment you currently own in as many ways as you can find or imagine. To paraphrase what Yogi Berra is reputed to have said: “You can see a lot by looking.”

What are your favorite natural areas in Iowa and the Midwest?

Whichever was the last one we visited, especially if we are happy with our images. We keep The Guide to Iowa’s State Preserves book by Ruth Herzberg and John Pearson in our map bag, along with the Iowa County Conservation Board Guide, the Iowa Sportman’s Atlas, and an assortment of notes -- just in case we are in the neighborhood. We have similar notes for nearby states and gazetteers for almost all states.

What areas do you return to regularly?

Locally we often visit the Wickiup Hill Outdoor Learning Center and other Linn County Conservation Board properties. Our yard and garden provide many subjects. We think that we should bloom where we are planted. Rochester Cemetery in Cedar County is another regular site.

What's your favorite newly visited area?
Last spring we visited the River Terrace Prairie Scientific and Natural Area near Cannon Falls, Minnesota, and were amazed at the number of pasqueflowers on this gravel mound deposited during the last ice age.

What are the particular challenges of photographing plants and animals?
Controlling light and dealing with wind are the two biggest challenges for us. We often use square white umbrellas to diffuse light and block wind. The next challenge is working to produce nondistracting out-of-focus backgrounds for portraits.

Robert and Linda Scarth are the photographers of Deep Nature: Photographs from Iowa

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Plant of the week: Oct 20

Antennaria plantaginifolia (L.) Richards.
other common names: everlasting, ladies’ tobacco, immortelle, plantain-leaved everlasting
Antennaria: from the resemblance of the pappus to the antennae of certain insects
Plantaginifolia: from the shape of the leaves, which resemble those of the plantain
Daisy family: Asteraceae (Compositae)


Monday, October 19, 2009

This Week in Iowa Nature: Oct 19 - 23

Diving and dabbling ducks and mergansers appear on marshes along oxbow lakes, formed along abandoned river channels. View waterfowl at Cone Marsh, Forney Lake, and DeSoto Bend.

From The Iowa Nature Calendar