Friday, June 11, 2010

An Interview with Jean C. Prior & James Sandrock: Part 2

Tell us about the challenges of creating The Iowa Nature Calendar.
Jean: Our greatest challenge was winnowing the number of entries we could include for each month from the amount of material we had collected. This sorting process was guided by our effort to provide a stimulating range of natural history topics and to represent the diversity of Iowa’s geography. As we discussed options and checked facts, it was also important to contact people working in other fields of natural history where our own expertise was thin.

Jim: To pare down all the information we had assembled to fit the allotted space for individual months was a challenge—eliminating Good Stuff was painful. It was a challenge to include as many things from the plant, animal, mineral, geological, topographical, and historical worlds as possible. To include all the areas of Iowa took some research and planning. Should we create a second Iowa Nature Calendar, we could present some of the historical moments in Iowa nature, such as those associated with what Lewis and Clark saw when they camped on the Iowa side of the Missouri River, the experiences of Marquette and Joliet along the Mississippi, the observations of Julien Dubuque and his lead mine enterprises, and the forts established in Iowa during the nineteenth century—what natural phenomena did they observe where and when? The work of Orestes St. John and of other geologists and naturalists such as Shimek, Macbride, Hayden, and Sherman merits recognition in this century.

What has changed in the outdoor world since your first days of enjoying and protecting it? What’s better, what’s worse?
Jean: On the “better” side, there has been a steady improvement in public awareness of the natural environment, its importance in our lives, and its accompanying conservation, resource, and ecological issues—a shift that probably started in the early 1970s. This improvement continues as educational efforts increase and diversify, and as conservation organizations offer more opportunities for people to engage with the outdoors. Also, the natural sciences have opened their doors to reach a broader public audience, resulting in a better-informed public. I am encouraged further by the ingenuity to conserve, restore, and connect habitat tracts on scales ranging from backyards to thousands of acres. Volunteer “friends” of Iowa’s parks, preserves, and natural areas provide valuable on-site support. On the “worse” side, there is ever-increasing pressure on our lands and waters to provide for many different and often conflicting uses, not only here in Iowa but throughout the country. Lost habitats are irreplaceable and affect not only their native plants and animals but the quality of human life. As with the loss of the once seemingly vast prairie ecosystem in the Midwest, there is a failure to grasp the large-scale, long-term effects of seemingly minor actions to convert land to other purposes.

Jim: There is now more awareness of and interest in, for example, clean water, livable environment, and Matters Ecological in general. The current interest in the reestablishment of wetlands and prairies is heartening. On the darker side, however, is the continued loss of habitat for birds, for example, at both ends of their migration routes. I see fewer warblers in Lacey-Keosauqua State Park now than I did several decades ago.

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

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Plant of the Week

Prairie groundsel
Senecio plattensis Nutt.
scientific name, 2008
Packera plattensis (Nutt.) W. A. Weber & Löve
other common names: ragwort, groundsel, squaw-weed, prairie ragwort
Senecio: Latin name of a plant; from senex, “an old man,” referring to the whitish cast of many species or to the white hairs of the pappus
Plattensis: named for the Platte River region
Daisy family: Asteraceae (Compositae)

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

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

An Interview with Jean C. Prior & James Sandrock: Part 1

Jean, you’re a geologist, and Jim, you're a dedicated birdwatcher. Tell us how you became interested in the outdoor world.
Jean: The outdoors has been a magnet since childhood. I recall astronomy outings led by my grandmother in Massachusetts and finding fossil shells along mountain roads on the drives east from Ohio. Later memories include climbing Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire with my family and hiking with a national park ranger in Yellowstone. I was fortunate to have parents who enjoyed travel and were enthused by scenic vistas. Also, parts of our summers were spent on the Ohio shore of Lake Erie. The weather, waves, sand dunes, beach, and adjacent marshlands were always interesting and, over time, very influential.

Jim: Through birds! At the age of 50, abruptly and inexplicably, I became interested in, of all things, birds. (Note: Until I was 50, the “outdoors” and “nature” were what I saw through the window when I looked up from a book or when I walked to the library from my office.) On a clear, bright, March day sometime in the Middle Ages, I happened on Cone Marsh with a group led by Mike Newlon, who introduced me to the world of birds. There, to my astonishment, were many species of waterfowl, shorebirds, and passerines. Up to that time, I knew only “a duck,” “a sparrow,” “a hawk.” Suddenly, there were many types of ducks, sparrows, and hawks. Amazing! I became a birder who birded ferociously in Hickory Hill Park and southeast Iowa at first, then in Texas, South Dakota, Arizona, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, Canada, and Europe. And, during these birding expeditions, I grew more aware of and interested in the natural surroundings in which birds—and I—did our thing. From Jean, I have learned to view nature and the environment through a glass clearly, a glass that was not part of my life before looking through it at birds.

What other insects or plants or animals are you especially interested in?
Jean: Since coming to Iowa in 1965, I’ve had a strong interest in the state’s native prairie flora and fauna. I was fortunate to spend time in the field with naturalists from other disciplines while serving on the State Preserves Advisory Board and while participating in outdoor education field trips. These experiences whetted my interest in prairie plants as well as fens, forests, birds, and archaeology. Now retired from the Iowa Geological Survey, I especially enjoy our birding trips (both the birds and their habitats), those in Iowa and those along the Texas Gulf Coast and in Minnesota’s North Woods.

Jim: Most interesting, most magnetic to me are grasslands. For some unexplained reason, I feel more at home, more engagiert in and with nature when I walk in, drive through, or look at a large grassland. A trip through the Dakotas, the Flint Hills of Kansas, the Sand Hills of Nebraska is more gratifying than time spent in the Rockies, the Appalachians, or the Alps. The constellation of grassland birds, plants, insects, and mammals as well as their history and future holds charm and interest for me.

Jean C. Prior and James Sandrock, The Iowa Nature Calendar, illustrated by Claudia McGehee