The snow is gone; birds are singing through open windows, and 90 degree temperatures are forecast as this week’s column is written. Those special days of spring could flash by quickly now, and leave us at the start of another Iowa summer. Wildflowers are still blooming in the woods, but their time is limited. Tree leaves are expanding rapidly and woodland wildflowers must set their seeds before the closing canopy of leaves grabs all the sunlight. Morel mushrooms, too, may flourish now that warmth has returned with ample moisture present. The time between early “little grays” and late “big tans” may be short this year, though. Like the wildflowers, morel mushrooms are pretty much done by the time trees reach full leaf.
Cold temperatures of recent weeks have slowed spring’s progress, but not stopped it. The first baby robins have hatched and Canada goose goslings are following their parents around Hickory Grove Lake. Migrations that temporarily stalled will progress rapidly now. Shore birds and waterfowl that have been with us for an unusually long time will soon be on their way to Canadian nesting areas. Recent precipitation has filled area wetlands, though. Excellent habitat conditions are present at Ada Hayden Park, Jim Ketelsen Greenwing Marsh, Cooper’s Marsh, Larson Marsh, Colo Ponds, Hendrickson Marsh, Bob Pyle Marsh and several private wetlands. It’s likely that some blue-winged teal, mallards and a few other species of waterfowl will nest here in Story County in response to the improved conditions.
Try visiting one of the public marsh areas some warm evening in the near future with your binoculars. The visit could be worthwhile, even without binoculars, because wetlands have their own symphony of sounds unlike those heard in other habitats. Some, like the boink, boink, boinking of an American bittern or the various grunts and hoots of coots are hardly musical, but interesting nonetheless. You might also hear the happy kon-ka-reee of red-winged blackbirds around the fringe of the wetland. Larger wetlands with tall vegetation standing a little farther out above deeper water might even hold a few dazzling yellow-headed blackbirds, with their loud chainsaw wailing.
The late Mother Teresa was quoted as saying, “God is the friend of silence. Trees, flowers and grass grow in silence. See the stars, moon and sun, how they move in silence.” Whether in a woodland, wetland or prairie, if you stay long enough into an evening you may be treated to calming winds, the retreat of sounds and the coming of silence. True silence is hard to find in this world of beeps, buzzes, bells, horns, sirens, tire howl and other human-made sounds. Railroads, at least, have periods of quiet between trains, but it takes several miles to dampen the unending noise of a road like I-35 or Highway 30. Unfortunately, some of our better natural areas, like the Skunk River Greenbelt, cannot escape that noise at any time of day. Try Bob Pyle Marsh northwest of Story City, Robison Wildlife Acres or the Jennett Wildlife Area south of Nevada, Hendrickson Marsh northeast of Collins or the deep old rail cut east of the Skunk River on the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail for a sampling of natural sounds unmasked by human noise. With luck, patience and maybe the help of a flashlight, you might be treated to the rare treat of silence in busy Story County.
(Steve Lekwa is retired director of Story County Conservation.)