.......and Reflections

Monday, June 20, 2011

Iowa In The Slow Lane

I have birded very little in Iowa. The birds are pretty much the same as back home, more or less, and my expectations were not high. None the less, I chose to take the less traveled, scenic, and not so scenic routes across the State west to east to prove myself wrong. In all fareness, it was hot, humid, and windy and not the best birding conditions.

I stopped first at Desoto National Wildlife Refuge that lies just into Iowa in the Missouri River Valley. It is a nice refuge with habitas that represent what the valley was like before it was farmed, irrigated and developed. As you can see from the pictures there was no entry. I spoke to two U.S. Geologic Survey employees who were exiting the gate. I asked them how long the Refuge has been closed and they said three weeks. They then proceeded to tell me that the Refuge will be closed the rest of the summer. It will take at least that long for the water to receed. The damage of standing on the habitats for that long will be devastating.

So it has gone this whole trip, this one being different than all the previous. Almost everywhere I went the story was the same: swollen, raging streams, ponds blossomed into lakes, wetlands where dry prairie grasses once prevailed, rivers that sprawled far beyond the banks, and snow too low and snow too deep. The birds and the birding were affected by the extreme wet conditions.

In a small town a few miles down the Missouri Valley, was "business as usual" like any small town, except every building in town was fortified by thousands of white sandbags. Heavy earth moving equipment scattered around the town were idle now, near many plastic-covered and newly-created levies. Seems the water has made its mark on wildlife and people too.

So I headed on up to higher ground to Prairie Rose State Park, Iowa. this is a place I discovered some years ago. It is close to the Interstate and provides a lake, wetlands and upland habitats typical of the rolling hill country. It wasn't very birdy but I saw many eastern birds here that I have missed since birding the west.

Nebraska transitions from vast Sand Hills to ranches and farmed valleys, irrigated for agriculture. It is, overall, more natural than it is developed. Iowa is just the opposite. The rolling hills are planted with crops far beyond the eye can see, border to border. I am struck by this change. It is almost impossible to imagine man's impact on the American landscape, past and present.

I will write more about why the places I visited are so special and why it is so important to preserve, not only the places, but our natural and wildlife heritage. But I want to pass on an observation that illustrates what I am trying to say. For about the last 13 days my world has been full of sining and calling Meadowlarks, mostly Western Meadowlarks.

The Western Meadowlarks' constant chorus became the baseline of every day's trip. These birds defined my "middle of nowhere" experience far more than I had realized.....until today. I started birding around 8:00 this morning and ended about 6:00 pm. I heard one single singing Eastern Meadowlark the entire day...the entire trip across Iowa. Man and his land management has replaced the meadowlark in the east. And somehow the east will forever be changed. This is why I go to such extremes to seek out wild places.

Tomorrow my tired, weary body will be home but my heart may never return.

No comments: