Eagle program and release on April 19

SOAR will be at the Red Rock Visitor Center on Saturday, April 19 at 3:00 pm for an eagle program followed by an eagle release. The program and release is sponsored by Ewing Development of Pella, Iowa.

Come learn why we're still talking about the impacts of lead on wildlife and people. Helping with the program will be Thora, our education ambassador eagle (see photo at left). Come learn about Thora’s story and what each of us can do to prevent other wildlife from getting sick from the effects of lead. Learn how one eagle encounter impacted a Knoxville-area resident.

A rehabilitated bald eagle will be released after the program at the South Tailwater Area, across the road from the Red Rock Visitor Center. 

The Army Corps of Engineers Red Rock Visitor Center is on County Road T-19 on the west side of the Lake Red Rock dam, near Knoxville, IA. Click here for a Google Map to the Visitor Center.

Gladys Black: The legacy of Iowa's bird lady

Adored by a generation as “Iowa’s Bird Lady,” Gladys Black introduced thousands of people to the wonders of birds. Her newspaper columns lured readers not with textbook descriptions but with folksy anecdotes. Her focus was always the same: protect our birds and their environment.

Larry Stone, who knew and worked with Gladys Black during his 25-year career with the Des Moines Register, will recount the legacy of “Iowa’s Bird Lady” in a program on Earth Day, Tuesday April 22, at 7 p.m., at the Pella Public Library.  The presentation, which is free and open to the public, is cosponsored by Humanities Iowa.

Stone and coauthor Jon Stravers, who also was a close friend and associate of Gladys, published the book, Gladys Black: The Legacy of Iowa’s Bird Lady. It’s a story not only of Gladys’s work with birds, but of her pioneering efforts in outdoor education. Gladys led kids and adults on nature hikes, sounded the alarm about pesticides, and taught respect for the Earth. Countless Iowans phoned or wrote her with their birding questions.

Outspoken and passionate, Gladys chastised bureaucrats, politicians, developers, or anyone whom she believed was harming the environment. She also spoke at pubic meetings or to smaller groups, and regularly wrote letters to the editor.

When Gladys died in 1998, the state lost not only an ardent bird lover and conservationist, but also a mentor who had touched hundreds of lives. Larry Stone and Jon Stravers knew Gladys for more than 20 years. Their book and their program share stories of Gladys and her place among Iowa conservation legends.

For details about the April 22 program, call the library at 641-628-4268.

To learn more about Larry Stone’s books and programs, visit www.LarryStonesIowa.com.

Stories of life wrapped in little packages
Owls are mysterious creatures to many of us. Why do we like owls so much? Only you can answer that for yourself, but owls do captivate the young and the old. Is it because owls are cute, fierce, are found worldwide, are the best natural rodent predator? Are we captivated by the dark and the winged ones that tend to the night?

Last month this website focused on our earliest of owl nesters in Iowa, their habitats and food preferences, and why they can be the earliest of nesters. Now, let’s raise your curiosity and take their food preferences and turn them into real life science, math, and writing opportunities.

Owls eat many different kinds of small prey and the fur and bones are all wrapped up in a tight little “mystery package” that are called pellets. Even though all raptors and other birds regurgitate pellets, an owl’s stomach acids are not quite as acidic as other birds. Owls tend to swallow their small prey whole, so the bones of the prey are not broken during the eating process.

Environmental educators may have their own name for pellets like ‘bird burps’ or ‘puke pellets.’

Many people, especially our youth, connect with stories of life in their community and like to be able to put real life science to task. Owl pellets can tell us the habitat preferences by where the pellet was found, food availability by identification of bones of animals eaten, and what prey is most abundant in the habitat (population dynamics). You may also find that when the pellet hits the ground it becomes an “ecosystem” in itself. Caterpillar droppings, larvae, moths, fungus may call the pellet home - what is actually living in an owl pellet?

Where might you find an owl pellet? Take a walk in a pine grove or a windbreak in the winter. Owls often roost within these groves for winter weather protection. Some people have owls that have taken up residence in a barn. If you are taking a walk and notice a lot of white-wash on the ground and/or the side of a tree, chances are that an owl has roosted in that tree. Search around the bottom of the trees and you may find one pellet, or you may find many. It is discouraged to go pellet hunting in owl nesting areas in January through March.


(Permission for use by Photographer, Pamela Underhill Karaz)

Owl pellets are considered sterile when leaving the bird’s mouth, but not once they hit the ground. Taking reasonable precautions to prepare for dissection, like wearing gloves and a mask, are quite important and also set the “scientist” mood. Washing hands and cleaning the work areas is important, as well. Safety first.

You really don’t need expensive equipment. Here are a few ideas:

  • If you know the location of where a pellet is found, find the area on a map,
  • A pencil for journaling and tracing around the pellet,
  • A ruler to measure the size of the pellet,
  • A small scale to weigh the pellet,
  • A toothpick is the essential dissection tool,
  • A paper plate works well to contain your work, and
  • Glue if you wish to glue the bones to a worksheet.

Owl Pellets

Please know that no matter how careful your owl pellet dissection is, it is very unlikely that you can put back together one whole prey skeleton. Here are downloadable educational worksheets for bone identification. 

Here is another site with owl pellet info and items that can be purchased for a classroom activity.

Naturalists and others in your community may have posters, worksheets and other information available to use in the classroom or home school sites. It’s a favorite activity among curious naturalists. You can take the pellet dissection to any level that fits your educational needs or inquiring mind - it can be a fun backyard mystery or even a college thesis.

Here is another option - a virtual owl pellet dissection. This is a highly recommended link for teachers, students, or anyone with a curiosity.

Other informative links about owl pellets you may like:

Learn about owls in Iowa...

Owls of Iowa

... and how owls are different from other raptors!  (Both are best viewed full screen.)

Birds of Prey Basic

Who Am I? for the week of 14 April

Mystery Critter #70

So, let’s get down to it. Put on those thinking caps, grab your friends and family, and let’s play Mystery Critter! And remember — no cheating!

    • I make my home in slow moving lakes and rivers;
    • I have been called gregarious, yet shy (what a combo!);
    • I have cousins you may be familiar with; and
    • I dine on insects, crayfish and clams.
What am I? Make your guess, and then go here for the answer and more interesting facts. Did you get it right?! If not, no worries — you’ll have another chance next week!

Thanks to The Grass Stain Guru for giving us permission to re-post past "mystery critter" posts here on this site! As a hint, we'll only pick out the "mysteries" that can be found in Iowa. 

Teacher workshop opportunities through the Iowa DNR - Click here for details.
Implementing Standards Through Site Based Projects (K-12 Educators)
June 24 & 25, 2014 (100% attendance is required for credit - Assignments due by July 23, 2014)
8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Prairie Heritage Center (4931 Yellow Ave., Peterson, IA 51047)

Exploring Iowa’s Natural Resources On-line Course (K-12 Educators)
September 8 – December 21, 2014

Leading Authentic Place-based Student Investigations: Water
September 15 - December 14, 2014

Attention Classroom Teachers!

Check out this teacher and student's site from the Quad Cities area focused on the Alcoa Eagle Cam. Registrations are now being accepted (open to all grades and levels) to be part of the second annual Eagle Eye to the World Global Project.  Check out the the project's second year website and also peek at what they did last year!

    FeederWatch Cams from Cornell

    Project FeederWatch has a new website and two new FeederWatch cameras.
    Citizen Science Opportunity

    Want to join a study about bird window collisions? Become a citizen scientist and join in. 
    Takes only a few minutes. Click here to learn more about the study from University of Alberta.

    Raptor Viewing Etiquette

    We should all observe good raptor  viewing etiquette, not only during the nesting season, but also during this time of migration. 

    Remember that raptors are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and bald and golden eagles have additional protections under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

    emerald ash borer
    Emerald Ash Borer state-wide quarantine announced


    Three cameras are placed below the Lake Red Rock dam, one pointed to the dam, one to the river, and one downstream towards Horns Ferry  Bridge. We only see one camera view at a time. Each camera also digital zoom, but there is no IR (infra-red) camera to provide night video.

    **There can be technical difficulties with the camera as the feed is at the end of the DSL line and doesn't always have the speed/capacity for good viewing.  Thank you for being patient.

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    In the news...

    Upcoming Programs and Opportunities
    April 22 Gladys Black: The legacy of Iowa's bird lady presented by Larry Stone, 7:00 pm at the Pella (Iowa) Public Library 
    May 15 Gladys Black: The legacy of Iowa's bird lady presented by Larry Stone, 6:30 pm at the Knoxville (Iowa) Public Library
    June 26 & 28 Marion County Hunter Education Class -- must attend both days.  
    Thursday, June 26, 6:00-9:30 pm and Saturday, June 28, 8:00 am to 3:30 pm
    Classes are free; held at the Marion County Sportsman's Club, 1702 Old Hwy 92, just east of Knoxville, IA
    Online Registration only: www.iowadnr.gov/huntered 
    Aug. 14 & 16 Marion County Hunter Education Class -- must attend both days.  
    Thursday, Aug. 16, 6:00-9:30 pm and Saturday, Aug. 16, 8:00 am to 3:30 pm
    Classes are free; held at the Marion County Sportsman's Club, 1702 Old Hwy 92, just east of Knoxville, IA
    Online Registration only: www.iowadnr.gov/huntered 
    Sept. 18 & 20 Marion County Hunter Education Class -- must attend both days.  
    Thursday, Sept. 18, 6:00-9:30 pm and Saturday, Sept. 20, 8:00 am to 3:30 pm
    Classes are free; held at the Marion County Sportsman's Club, 1702 Old Hwy 92, just east of Knoxville, IA
    Online Registration only: www.iowadnr.gov/huntered 

    Check these out!

    Iowa Young Birders - Check out this group formed in 2011 to help young people experience the joy and wonder of finding, seeing, and identifying birds!  The Iowa Ornithologists Union is helping to sponsor birding field trips for young people age 8-18 in conjunction with their spring and fall meetings. Check out the details and the Iowa Young Birders website for other field trip opportunities! <jealous!>

    Healthy and Happy Outdoors - Learn more about this new Iowa Department of Natural Resources initiative here. Register with the program and record your outdoor activities in Iowa parks and recreation areas with each recorded activity a chance to win outdoor gear in a drawing.  The site also has a search feature for finding outdoor activities in Iowa.

    Visit MyCountyParks.com to check out a park or wildlife area you might want to explore managed by one of Iowa's 99 county conservation boards! Look here for events and activities, too!

    This Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel outdoor editorial, View wildlife in wild - but online, too, has several links to other nest cams!