What advice would you give to beginning naturalists?
Jean: Explore patches of nature around your neighborhood or farm that catch your eye. Watch and listen for the birds, animals, and insects that live there or come to feed and drink there. Keep a journal of what you observe or hear over a week’s time or during a season. Find a friend or a group of people interested in doing these things too. Local nature centers and county conservation boards are great places to start. Begin a collection of books that will help you identify features and inhabitants of the natural world. Iowa’s natural high points are not a matter of elevation, size, or abundance. Without dramatic mountains and canyons, midwestern naturalists have to focus closely to pick out variations in topography and habitat. Further, the Midwest is one of the most altered landscapes in the country because its climate, soils, and topography are so well suited to agriculture. Iowa’s remaining natural areas are relatively small and widely scattered. There are, however, natural gems throughout the state to be discovered and appreciated all the more.
Jim: Choose the right parents! Or relatives, friends, teachers! Anyone who will introduce you early to the outdoors and the natural world. Get outdoors early, late, in all seasons—look—listen—learn! If you find something that interests you—birds, plants, insects, lichens, rocks, clouds—get an appropriate field guide at the library or bookstore (field guides make great gifts), and read and study it. Sturdy binoculars (another fine gift) will help greatly. Go! Do! Learn on your own! There are plenty of things to see in your own neighborhood—then take on the county, the state, and the world!
What are your favorite natural areas in the Midwest?
Jean: My favorite natural areas include creeks and rivers—especially where rock outcrops occur, sites along the Upper Mississippi River valley, sites among the glacial lakes of north-central Iowa, and within the Loess Hills of western Iowa. These are places I returned to constantly for many years. Beyond Iowa’s borders, each year we return to the north shore of Lake Superior and the Platte River country of central Nebraska. And in recent years, Jim has introduced me to scenic birding loops throughout Van Buren County and Lacey-Keosauqua State Park in particular.
Jim: Whenever I can, I go to the Sand Hills of Nebraska, the Flint Hills of Kansas, the woods and lakes of northern Minnesota, the coast and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, and Van Buren County in southeast Iowa. But, hey, that’s just me.
Jean C. Prior and James Sandrock, The Iowa Nature Calendar