A Tallgrass Journal

Vol. 3 No. 3

Summer's Presence on the Tallgrass...

It's a very interesting exercise, that of patience. Most of us know what it's like to run down to the hardware store or garden center, and buy a bag or two of lawn grass seed. Then bring it home and spread it out on the bare spots in the yard, turn the lawn sprinkler on and kick back and watch it grow over the next 2-3 weeks. We feel we're being patient if we wait 5 or 6 days to see signs of successful germination, and we feel we're being extremely patient if it takes 2-3 weeks for a successful "filling in".

I think I'm at least "that" patient, but sometimes have a great deal of high anxiety when waiting on a prairie planting!

Prairie grass and forbs aren’t like that lawn variety…maybe it’d be nice if it were?! But patience is required when you broadcast in December and you find yourself taking daily trips out on the site…maybe for other reasons, and you can’t help yourself…you’re looking closer and closer each trip - where are those plants???! Will they come up???! Is it too dry???!! Oh the agony of it all.

I try to cheat this anxious period whenever I can. Last Fall I’d been selling artwork through a local native plant dealer/grower. Whenever they sold a box of cards or a print or whatever, I ‘d take trade in live plants from their nursery! I’d choose varieties that “would have/should have” existed on our site before the advent of brome seed and agricultural herbicides…cheating??? Naw, just impatience!

But, it has been interesting and (believe it or not) pretty exciting, finding things that are finally showing up! I found myself down on my hands and knees the past couple days planting some plugs I actually “stooped” to buying and lo and behold, I began seeing “them”…they were all over the place! I've seen it before but still amazing!

Here and there, small 1/8, ¼, ½, even 1 inch and larger plants were coming up from the local seed Georgie and I collected last September through November!!

Here’s comes the really tough patience test…waiting to be able to confidently tell, just what the heck they are! (groan)

Now, my problem, since the few years I've been mooning over the prairie, seems to be a diminished memory of recognizing early formed plants. Maybe my age is showing? Never the less, I'm ecstatic over the unfolding drama here on the pasture.

I do recognize the easy give-aways - like Black-eyed Susans and Gray-headed Coneflowers, Purple Prairie Clover, compass plants, and Stiff Goldenrod. But maybe that Compass Plant is really Liatris aspera?? Is that Solidago rigida really what I thought it was. A quarter to three quarters of an inch or so can be a tricky stage!

Just recently (as I'm doing this writing), prairie friends from Alton, Iowa gave us some very small Thimbleweed - this Anemone cylindrica is something I'm very familiar with, but I have to admit that I'd of never guessed, not in a million years, that that's what all those tiny 3/8 inch tall plants were! Thank you Margo and Rein for sparing me the strain my patience would have suffered had I not known what they would be "when they grew up"!!

It must be summer! One bird that has finally shown up in the prairie for the year is the Common Nighthawk. Once this “Nightjar” family member appears, you can be fairly sure the warmer evenings are upon us for the long haul.

This bird is a ground nester, but the presence of man has altered some of it’s behavior. Commom Nighthawks tend to prefer large flat building roofs for nesting habitat. They apparently find the gravel covered roof membrane, so common on large buildings, very similar to their preferred nesting sites before modern industrial buildings came along around a century ago. About the only problem they experience in this adaptation is extreme temperatures during periods of some summers that can literally cook their eggs! They have eliminated nearly all predation by selecting rooftops, however, so I guess it all pretty much evens out(?).

Back a good time ago (as a kid), I grew up in a neighborhood with a large 2-story elementary school building that had long flat gravel covered roofs. During those long summer nights we would watch and hear the Nighthawks dive bombing insects high above the building and neighborhood. Their constant nasal calling between erratic wing beats, was a signature we all recognized. Every night we would fall asleep to their calling, and the booming sound of their stoop, as they fell toward the roofs of the neighborhood houses, the school building, and yard.

Common Nighthawk's have really taken to nesting on gravel/tar covered commercial type building roof tops.

Where did these birds fit in prior to prairie settlement of Europeans? I don’t really know myself, but it would be interesting to study the subject more. All I can do is give my personal take on the birds. I have seen Nighthawks spend the mid day summer hours resting in three habitats: on the ground in short grass and gravelly areas, on dead tree limbs, where their familiar habit is to sit parallel (lengthwise), to the limb, or on fence posts.

I really suspect that Common Nighthawks just might be more common (?) in the Tallgrass region now, than they were 150 years ago…just conjecture on my part of course, but maybe not a far fetched idea. They “are” ground nesters…they prefer open gravel/ground…and likely nested in shorter grass areas along gravel swales, sand or gravel river and creek bottoms, and the like.

I’ve seen Common Nighthawks everywhere we’ve ventured – from the Gulf to Canada, so apparently they’re adaptive birds and go wherever the bugs are! As far as the Tallgrass is concerned, we’ve seen and heard them from Texas to the Kansas Flint Hills, and through the upper Great Plains. I’m sure they were as at home on the Tallgrass as anywhere.

Common Nighthawk's in extreme open areas can be found resting during the heat of the day on old fence posts, like this one seen in the Flint Hills of Kansas.

The bird belongs to the family of “Night Jars”…this family is comprised of a few very similar appearing birds such as the familiar Whip-poor-will, Common Poorwill, Chuck -Will's-Widow, and others. Interestingly, those are named for their call, while the Common Nighthawk is named for it’s swooping and diving behavior and (maybe) it’s “apparent” size when seen in the sky. It isn’t as big as it appears in the hand, but it has fairly long wings for it’s body size. An amazing acrobat to watch in it’s nightly diving performance! As a kid witnessing their display, I always fancied the white spot under each wing to be a star like seen on American fighter jets of the 40’s, 50’s-60’s.

Night Jars were once called “Goat Suckers” as a family group. This term is no longer commonly used, but related to the mysterious behavior of these birds (which by the way they have very large/odd shaped mouths), and to the primitive beliefs and superstitions that these birds would come into the farmyard after dark and suck the milk from the goats! Pretty bizarre reasoning I’d say!

Common Nighthawk's are ground nesters...this individual was sitting on a clutch of eggs in a city parking lot, under the protection of some neighboring shrubs and via it's own camouflaged pattern of plumage. (taken back in my B&W photo days)

I guess birds that are often invisible by day, and call out in crazy phrasing all night long, had a mystic air about them that lent attributes of strange folklore claims!?

There is a very good web site that you can visit to hear the call of a Common Nighthawk if you are convinced you have neither heard or seen one. It is: http://www.enature.com/audio/audio_hitlist.asp?familyID=223 Just click on the "Common Nighthawk" audio link, and turn on your speakers. Who knows, maybe you’ll recognize it’s call…Its night music for your summer listening. God’s creation at it’s best; enjoy it!

More Trouble in Paradise?
I have often expressed concern with the fragility of the Monarch resource of our continent. The populations have been subject to more than on recent climatic cataclysm of late, in the mountain forests of northern Mexico. The mere social economic climate of the region should be of greater concern to us all.

The Butterfly list at IA-BTRFLY@yahoogroups.com, recently reprinted an article by GINGER THOMPSON for the New York Times. The article, "Where Butterflies Rest, Damage Runs Rampant", was published: June 2, 2004. The article was very alarming; I found it "extremely" alarming, in fact.

The gist of Times report is that in San Luis, Mexico, illegal loggers are pillaging timber in a federally protected forest that is the well know winter haven for the monarch butterfly.

The report states that when the hoards of tourists go home each spring, after the butterflies leave the reserve, this reserve is overtaken by organized crime. Mexican authorities say that heavily armed mafias chop down the trees at an alarming rate equivalent to a small forest a week.

When police and village leaders threaten to stop them, they are ambushed. Most villages end up left alone to defend their property, some fight, but most villages surrender their trees. Apparently police and government environmental officers are also attacked, and rarely enter villages like San Luis.

The article quotes a former minister of the environment, Victor Lichtinger, as saying that deforestation remains an insidious problem, fed by the rural poverty, enjoined by organized crime, and festers from tensions created by generations old land disputes.

Although the article mentions that President Vicente Fox sent military troops into the area in May to restore order, things look extremely dismal for the reserve and it's future, and ultimately, the Monarch's future.

I don't have any other words to say except we all must support worldwide natural heritage foundations such as the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and other groups that can positively impact countries around our troubled planet...we are all in this together.

Prairie Events

I want to invite anyone to submit information on events from states other than Iowa, that may be of interest to everyone for future journal issues! Please email me with any event information and I'll add it as Journals are published. Please keep in mind that, for the next year at least, A Tallgrass Journal will be published quarterly.

The Iowa Prairie Network recently listed a series of events through the summer, fall, and winter. You might consider book marking this page for future reference if you find any of interest.

June 21 (Monday): Kettleson - Hogsback Hike, 7 AM, Dickinson Co. Meet at Kenue Park in Spirit Lake to carpool to site. Hike guided by County Conservation Board Naturalists. Contact: 712.338.4238

June 24 (Thursday): Doolittle prairie walk, 7 PM, Story Co. Join Lloyd Crim and prairie enthusiasts for an evening stroll through Doolittle Prairie Preserve. From I-35 exit 123 (Roland), go west on E-18 about 1/2 mile, then south 1.5 miles on (gravel) 560th Ave. Follow lane west to the preserve. Contact: Lloyd Crim 515.432.5026,lcrim@opencominc.com

June 26 ( Saturday): Buffalo Day, 9AM-3PM, Jasper Co. Neal Smith Nat’l Wildlife Refuge signature event, held in conjunction with Prairie Days in Prairie City. Contact: (515) 994-3400, http://www.tallgrass.org/

June 28 (Monday): Silver Lake Fen tour, 7 AM, Dickinson Co. See June 21 listing.

July 5 (Monday): Gull Point State Park, Barney Peterson Trail tour, 7AM, Dickinson Co. See June 21 listing for more information.

July 8 (Thursday): Lake Hawthorn Hike, Lake Hawthorn Hike, 6:30 PM, Mahaska Co. IPN board member Pam White leads evening hikes at the lake the second or third Thursday of the month, May - September. Meet at the boat ramp parking lot on east side of the lake, on Victoria Ave, one mile east of V13 and 2.5 miles south of Barnes City. Contact: Pam White: pam-white@usa.net

July 9 – 11 (Friday-Sunday): Joint IPN and Iowa Native Plant Society annual meeting, Chariton. See http://www.iowaprairienetwork.org/

July 9-11 (Friday-Sunday): Dragonfly Society of the Americas Annual Meeting, Winnesheik Co., Decorah, IA. Contact: www.windsofkansas.com/dsa2004.html

July 19 (Monday): Horseshoe Bend County Recreational Area tour, 7 AM, Dickinson Co. See June 21 listing for more information.

July 22 (Thursday): Doolittle prairie walk, 7PM, Story Co. See June 24 for details.

July 24 (Saturday): Prairies of Butler County, 9AM - 3PM. IPN board member Greg Houseal and sidekick Daryl Smith will lead a tour of Butler Counties unique prairies. Contact: Greg Houseal gregory.houseal@uni.edu

July 24 (Saturday): Operation Wildflower 2004, 8AM - 5 PM, Story Co. Federated Garden Clubs of Iowa present lectures and an Ames area prairie tour. Contact MJ Hatfield, 2505 Tullamore Ln, Ames, IA 50010 or mjhatfield@oneota.org

July 26 (Monday): Caylor Prairie Tour, 7 AM Dickinson Co. See June 21 listing for details.

August 1 (Sunday): Wiegert Prairie Farmstead Fallfest, 10AM-4PM,Pochahontas Co. The 37 acre Wiegert Prairie is located one mile north of Kalsow Prairie on 280th Ave. Contact: Pocahontas County Cons. Board, 712-335-4395

August 2 (Monday): Frdea Hafner Kettlehole tour, 7 AM, Dickinson Co. See June 21 listing.

August 7-8 (Saturday-Sunday): Go Wild, a Celebration of Native Plants and Native Lands Madison, Wisconsin. Note: precedes NAPC (next listing), in same location. Contact: (877) 394-9453, www.for-wild.org

August 8-12 ( Sunday - Thursday): 19th North American Prairie Conference, Madison, Wisconsin. See www.napc2004.org

August 19 (Thursday): Lake Hawthorn Hike, 6:30 PM, Mahaska Co. See July 8 entry.

August 26 (Thursday): Doolittle prairie walk, 7PM, Story Co. See June 24 listing.

August 28 (Saturday): Rock Creek State Park prairie remnant tour, 10 AM, Jasper Co. INPS-sponsored tour led by John Pearson and Roger Thompson. Meet in the parking lot for the beach, located at the south end of the park road, on the west side of the lake. Contact: mark.leoschke@dnr.state.ia.us

September 11 (Saturday): Stream, savanna and prairie restoration workday, 10 AM - supper, Allamakee Co. Join IPN board member Kirk Larsen on ambitious multi-habitat 98 acre restoration. Contact: larsenkj@luther.edu

September 16 (Thursday): Lake Hawthorn Hike, 6:30 PM, Mahaska Co. See Julu 8 entry for details.

September 18 (Saturday): Moravia Prairie Hike, 10 AM, Appanoose Co. Previous IPN president Gene Kromray will lead a tour of this remnant prairie, located a few miles east of Moravia. Contact: Pam White: pam-white@usa.net

September 18 (Saturday): Prairie Pick’in, 9AM - Noon, Cedar Co. Help pick prairie seed at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. Contact: Dan Peterson, (319) 643-2541or visit their website at www.nps.gov/heho

October 1 (Friday): Volunteer prairie work day, Monona Co. Join IPN board member David Zahrt on the autumnal equinox (in conjunction with a Cider Festival) to work on prairie restoration in the Turin Nat’l Natural Landmark and Special Landscape Area. Contact: David Zahrt

October 9 (Saturday): Ding Darling Day, 10AM-2PM, Jasper Co. Neal Smith Nat’l Wildlife Refuge will have stewardship activities and a children’s art contest. Contact: (151)994-3400, http://www.tallgrass.org/

October 10 (Sunday) Second Annual Martha Skillman Birthday Hike and Pie Tasting. Enter a contest to decide the location for this event this year. Must be in IPN Region 6, have blooming gentians, and be near a site for the pie tasting. Valuable prize to the winner. Send entries to Pam White: pam-white@usa.net.

December 18 (Saturday): Volunteer prairie work day, Monona Co. Join IPN board member David Zahrt on the winter solstice for prairie seed processing in the Turin Nat’l Natural Landmark and Special Landscape Area. Contact: David Zahrt

February 8-10, 2005 (Tuesday-Thursday): Prescribed Fire Conference, Ames. Contact: Inger Lamb: ingerlamb3@mchsi.com

The Iowa Praire Network and the Iowa Native Plant Society are having a joint meeting in Chariton, Iowa on July 9-11. If interested, register by July 5 by calling Inger Lamb at 515 963-7681, Sibylla Brown at 641 446-7358, or Skylar Hobbs at 641 774-2438.

There has been a good deal of discussion on the Iowa Native Plants listserv recently about introduced problem plants, and their eradication/threat to native plants and ecosystems. I wrote about Leafy Spurge last year some time and have been keeping my eye out for it and another real trouble maker, Garlic Mustard.

I do not believe I have come across Garlic Mustard yet, but have been told where it does exist up in this area. Garlic Mustard more or less just takes over an area and blankets it, usurping all the other plants around…apparently most common in woodlands. There aren’t many woodlands in NW Iowa but a few, so I’d hate to see it become a problem here. However, it is encroaching on some pioneer cemeteries, particularly in eastern Iowa, in Wisconsin, and Illinois. Many of these sites are native prairie remnants and volunteers have been trying to eradicate by pulling and other means less threatening to native plants nearby.

If you would like to learn more about this invasive and what it looks like, there is an excellent site at: http://www.invasivespecies.gov/profiles/garlmust.shtml

Now I’ve been keeping an eye on things for Garlic Mustard around the back grove, yard and pasture, but have not seen anything yet. I have, although, just had a very rude awakening to Leafy Spurge. I am probably lucky the infestation is the size it is…maybe 50 plants. I’ve already been cutting off stems with flowering heads and putting them in bags (never drop them on the site!), my next step is to treat with Garlon 4…I used it on Poison Ivy and had very good success…it’s going to be wiped on each individual plant, every week or 2 this summer…we’ll see what happens; I’ll keep you appraised.

There is a very good article written by Rich Pope, an extension entomologist with Iowa State University, that you might be interested in spending a few minutes reading. He speaks about Leafy Spurge and how it has now reached eastern Iowa as a common invasive.

The article can be found at: http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/pubs/nwl/2004/2004-1-leoletter.pdf

He speaks about Flea Beetles and Longhorn Beetles as the experimental control for this plant. This is not without risk, as other “natural” controls have been tried on plants in years past, only to find the “control” gets out of control! But Flea Beetles seem to be the best answer for the iron willed and prolific plant. The Western states that have been using the beetle control are experiencing very promising results; not total eradication, but high levels of control.

Introduced and “adopted” species are a real issue we all need to be aware of them. Did you know that Purple Loosestrife is illegal in nearly all states now? This includes the nursery “sterile” varieties, that ultimately do not live up to the “sterile” claim. Now, in Iowa, and many other states, the sale of any variety of this loosestrife is illegal, as is planting, or transporting!

This is serious business, and we all need to act responsibly, as there is no place for a plant in our environment just because “it is so pretty”, if it usurps the local habitat and degrades the natural heritage which belongs to all of us.

Leafy Spurge - Euphorbia esula
If you see a plant like Purple Loosestrife being offered for sale anywhere in Iowa, please report it to the state DNR.
Prairie Hill Farm notes...
The pasture out front reminds me of a young child's self-inflicted haircut. Passers-by probably think the mower operator needed a sobriety test!
I've never taken a liking to mowing new plants as they are coming up. Neither do I do this without reason, or without doubt in the back of my mind! But it is necessary!

The brome I suppressed with SELECT, early this past spring, has come back. Their numbers are significantly lower, as is their vigor. This can be witnessed by simple comparison in the pasture section on the north side, which wasn't treated. But, come back - it has, as also have the usual annual weed competition. So a bi-weekly mowing is needed. The seedling may not survive as well if they're buried under a 3-foot understory of grass and weeds. Competition for moisture later in the summer is likely as big a problem as the lack of sunlight.

I don't have a tractor, and the pasture is too steep to risk it anyway -- but I do have a riding lawn mower, so I lift the deck as high as it'll go and run over just the thick spots. What's left is this very patchy looking mess that makes no sense what-so-ever, when seen from the gravel road passing by. I'm sure we supply a bit of table conversation in the neighborhood!

I remember first doing this type of mowing at the very first reconstruction site I worked on back in '96. It pained me to cut the tops off of "perfectly good" forbs! But the grass and annual weeds will have any site buried under 3 feet or more of thick cover by late June to mid July if you don't mow. The chances for the forbs becomes very questionable by August if mowing isn't practiced.

Usually one year is all that's required (mowing) on a new site. I have had to do it 3 years in a row on some though; conditions always differ, and dictate how one should proceed.

One difference with our pasture is that we didn't do a kill like you would a new site. Our pasture had 11 native grass species present when we took possession in the fall of 2002, we did not want to start over! So we have to work around things, and doing a fall burn last year was our easiest way around the problem. After burning the section, we bagged all the debris (cough, cough - messy work to be sure!), and left the site ready to receive the seed; broadcast in late fall/early winter; let the snow cover it, and here we are. But we can't just sit back. This summer will involve mowing, perhaps through September.

I was originally told (back in '95 before beginning our first reconstruction) that cutting forbs would cause injury to them, but found that not to be the case – as was also later verified by conversations with known reconstruction folks like Carl Kurtz of St Anthony, Iowa. As long as you can raise the mower enough (just causing "upper" interference of leaves), the forbs will re-grow. The most serious problem with mowing, I have found is windrowing of material. That is very serious and can suffocate healthy plants. I have to keep an eye on this in the thicker stands. Going back and raking out spots helps.

If I hadn't witnessed the results of a nice stand of plants many times before, I'd be sick with worry after clipping parts of upper leaves of new forbs with the mower! But they'll come on strong; time and patience are a necessary element now.

Lots of plants in the understory in our pasture are products of early winter broadcasting. Gray-headed Coneflowers, and if you look closely enough, Purple Prairie Clover, and Black-eyed Susans. Mowing the towering grasses and weeds around these plants, help ensure their survival, and eventually, successful establishment.
Although we broke up most seed heads, a few got by us for whatever reason. Here is an interesting view of an Narrow Leafed Purple Coneflower (E. angustifolia) head bearing small progeny around it's base. All seed broadcast was collected within a 30 mile radius - with the strong majority within 10-15 miles.
Did you notice anything different in the Prairie Hill Farm banner? Ya, Georgie and I have been busy this season with sprucing the place up. The white out-buildings never did much for me...looked drab during winter months especially, and hadn't been painted in many years. Well "barn red" was my color of choice, so the crib and chicken coup each got a couple coats and trimed in white. The barn is next in line, but is an unusual building in that it is stuccoed masonry over the original barn boards (with the exception of the west facing peak). The masonry needs some further patch work, which Georgie started last year, before we paint.

I don't know what is is about "barn red"? Maybe it's a throw back from summers on my grandparents farm; they had red barns and cribs, and sheds...iron oxide was a cheap and widely available pigment for many years. But I also suspect it's a "visual" thing. Looking across our valley throughout the year, I have constantly found my gaze gravitate toward some farm buildings a mile and a half away. They are a typical "barn red" and they offer a visual relief during long summers of vast green vistas, autumnal yellows and bronzes, and the long cold white landscape of winter. I have found the white buildings incredibly dull and uninteresting and uninspiring; now I delight in the "color"! Its more for mental health than preserving wood!

This is an incredible season we're entering. I do struggle with "seasons"; I truly love them all, they are "life". So I guess I'm just reveling in the moment...letting those small events affect my emotional being.

There is a heavy, thick presence to the air these evenings. The summer solstice is finally upon us, yet it has felt more like summer than spring for some time now. The songbirds are settling in as the very last moments of sunlight play across distant cloud tops. Sometimes on evenings such as this , everything seems somehow removed; I can find myself transported back, or just to another place.

A person can't help but sit in silence and drink it in for a time. Speaking can break the spell. It is best to listen, watch, and breathe it in.

I could go on about other players in this scene...the wildlife animating the fields, and pastures in the valley below us, but the evening stands on it's own; it is mesmerizing. It is what we wait for all our lives and it turns all too melancholy as it slips into night.

All our best to you, enjoy the summer on the Tallgrass!

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