Monday, June 29, 2015

Come along with me….to save energy!

Heading out to the campground this weekend to celebrate the 4th of July?  Enjoy fishing, boating, hiking or just relaxing around the camp fire and sharing stories.  But before you step out the door this weekend remember to get rid of your phantoms!  Phantom energy that is! 

Phantom energy, also called phantom load, vampire power or vampire energy is simply the energy that is “sucked” by appliances and other electronics when you aren’t using them.  Most electronics and appliances use energy just by being plugged in.  That cell phone charger left plugged in until you need it again?  Using energy.  The toaster that only gets used in the morning?  Using energy all day long.  DVD players, televisions, iPods, you name it, all use phantom energy just by being plugged in.  And while the energy used by each individual electronic or gadget may not be much, when you add up all those little pieces you get 10% of a home’s electricity use.  Simply by unplugging all unused electronics and appliances in your home you could save a month’s worth of electricity use every year!

Before you head out the door this weekend take a moment to rid your house of phantoms!  Unplug the toaster and other appliances, unplug the TV, DVD and iPod and turn off any power strips.  Have a fantastic time outside.

Tips for Saving Energy
  • Use a power strip with an on/off switch to plug in a group of items — for example, cell phone and MP3 chargers. When you unplug a device from the charger, just flip the power switch off.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to lower utility bills and manage your heating and cooling systems efficiently.
  • Air dry dishes instead of using your dishwasher's drying cycle.
  • Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes.
  • Open your blinds or curtains on sunny winter days to let the sun shine into your home.
  • Save hot water by taking short showers instead of baths.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Celebrating Iowa Catfish


Celebrate National Catfish Day (June 25) by learning more about Iowa’s most abundant and widely distributed sport fish.

Catfish are opportunistic bottom feeders that are active at night. They eat all types of living or dead animal and plant material and are most often attracted to odoriferous or "smelly" morsels of food. They depend heavily on their sense of smell and taste to locate food.

Their characteristic barbels are highly sensitive to touch and contain taste buds as well. Catfish have taste receptors all over their bodies. It has been estimated that an adult bullhead has perhaps 100,000 nerve sensory sites on its body.

Iowa Catfish
channel catfish: abundant in most Iowa rivers and have been stocked in nearly all lakes and reservoirs; spawn in the late spring and summer in secluded, often enclosed, places along the bank or bottom – the male guards the eggs until they hatch; eat at all times, but are most aggressive night; an important part of the commercial fishery catch in the Mississippi River

flathead catfish: one of the largest catfish- commonly reach twenty pounds; a "big-water" fish found mainly in the border rivers and large interior rivers; usually in deep pools with mud bottoms; spawn in secluded hides during June and July – build nests and guard the eggs and young; feed mostly at night; an important part of the commercial fishery catch in the Mississippi River

blue catfish: primarily a “big river” fish; spawn in June and early July – construct nests similar to those of channel catfish; omnivorous and eat everything that is available; adults weighing up to 20 or 25 pounds are common

black bullhead: most common of the three bullhead species; abundant in most natural lakes and some man-made lakes; spawns in May or early June usually in weedy or muddy shallow areas; strictly omnivorous – eating nearly every conceivable thing in the water

yellow bullhead: found in clear streams, rivers, overflow pools, lakes and reservoirs; prefers streams with permanent flow, but avoids strong currents; spawns in May and early June in water from 1 1/2 to 4 feet in depth - nests are constructed by the male and the female deposits 2,000 to 7,000 eggs

brown bullhead: found in swamps, ponds, inland pools, lakes, reservoirs, impoundments, and the backwaters and tributaries of larger rivers; prefers clear, cool, well-vegetated waters with bottoms of sand, gravel or dark muck; spawns early in the spring, usually late April or May - male fish fan out a saucer-shaped nest in the mud or nests in natural cavities where the female deposits eggs; feed eagerly on nearly anything available, either living or dead - travel in schools and feed on or near the bottom; seem to be hungry at all times of the day and night

tadpole madtom: found in large interior rivers and the Mississippi River; females usually mate several times during the June through July breeding period; most active at night – eats insects and occasionally algae and other aquatic plants; have a poison gland at the base of the pectoral fin that secretes a mild but painful venom when danger is threatened

slender madtom: found in major tributary streams of the Mississippi River; live entirely in riffle areas of small or medium size streams

stone cat: largest of the madtoms; found in swift-flowing streams; spawns in the spring in areas of darkness, such as under rocks or in bank hides - builds a nest and guards the eggs and young; prefer stream riffle habitats, but are also found under rocks or weedy shorelines of lakes and ponds

freckled madtom:  an endangered species - added to Iowa’s species list in 1984; prefers medium-sized creeks to large rivers of low to moderate gradient with clear to moderate turbidity and silty-gravel or sand-gravel substrates; often found in riffles and pools where organic debris such as leaves or twigs tend to accumulate

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Students Recognized for Iowa State-Fish Drawings

1st place Grades 4-6
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources partnered with the Wildlife Forever® State-Fish Art® Contest to host an Iowa State-Fish Contest in conjunction with the annual “Take It Outside” Art Contest.

The State-Fish Art Contest uses art to ignite children’s imagination while teaching them about fish and fishing. Entries showcased students’ favorite Iowa fish in its natural habitat. All entries were original hand-drawn artwork. Winners were selected based on portrayal of theme, creative expression, originality, visual appeal, and artistic merit. 
1st place Grades K-3

Individual winners:
Grades K-3
1st Place – Emma F., Homeschool
2nd Place – Jonah V., Homeschool
3rd Place – Carley F., Adair-Casey Community Schools

Grades 4-6
1st Place – Benjamin S., Homeschool
2nd Place – Nathan P., Mid-Prairie Home School Assistance Program
1st place Grades 7-9
3rd Place – Anessa S., Benton Community Schools

Grades 7-9
1st Place – Helen H., Ames Community Schools
2nd Place – Gretchen M., North Polk Community Schools
3rd Place – Carmen A., Benton Community Schools

Grades 10-12
1st Place – Hunter F., Twin Cedars Community Schools

1st place Grades 10-12

Artists who placed first in their age group are invited, along with their families, to attend the 17th Annual State-Fish Art Expo held in conjunction with FLW during the Forrest L. Wood Cup bass world championship on August 21-22 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Every participant received a Certificate of Recognition. Winning entries will be displayed during the Iowa State Fair at the DNR building.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Endangered Species Day

Celebrate Endangered Species Day (May 15) by learning more about Iowa endangered and threatened animals and plants. Printable fact sheets are available on the DNR Education website.

Iowa’s wildlife has changed tremendously since Euro-American settlement (160 years ago). Many species have been extirpated. Others’ populations have dwindled to the point they now are listed as endangered. Still others have increased in number and range size. Many once extirpated have been reintroduced and now have stable populations. Wide ranging species (e.g., black bear, wolf, mountain lion, moose) occasionally reappear in Iowa as their populations in nearby states increase.

In Iowa, 47 animals and 64 plants are listed as endangered (populations are low, scientists feel the species could become extinct). Another 89 plants and 35 animals are listed as threatened (populations are declining, may become endangered). A species can be listed as endangered or threatened at the state or federal level, depending on the extent of the area where the population is declining. Federally endangered species found within a state’s borders automatically are placed on the state list. Endangered species lists constantly change.

Many endangered or threatened species are specialists (have very restrictive habitat needs, eat only a few foods, or require specific kinds or sizes of habitat). The leading cause for a species becoming endangered or threatened is habitat loss.

Helpful Resources
LivingOn The Edge: Profiles of Federally Listed Species in Iowa
Iowa'sThreatened and Endangered Species Program
U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service
EndangeredSpecies Coalition


Monday, May 04, 2015

Iowa DNR to Release Trumpeter Swans at Four Locations

Trumpeter swans will be released by the Iowa DNR at public events at four southern Iowa parks. Events will be held rain or shine.

May 6:
Lake Icaria Recreation Area, 9:30 a.m., at East boat ramp; four swans to be released
Summit Lake, 1 p.m., boat ramp on south side of Hwy 25; four swans to be released

May 7:
Viking Lake State Park, 10 a.m. at beach; two swans to be released
Lake Anita State Park, 2 p.m.; two swans to be released

The public is invited and encouraged to attend. The event includes a 20-minute swan/wetland presentation, a unique opportunity to touch and view the swans up close, and a historic photo opportunity with the kids. As the largest North American waterfowl, these magnificent all-white birds can weigh up to 32 pounds with an 8-foot wingspan.
Trumpeter swans were once common in Iowa, but were gone from the state by the late 1880s. By the early 1930s, only 69 trumpeter swans remained in the lower 48 states. The trumpeter swans being released are part of the DNR’s statewide trumpeter swan restoration effort, with hopes that they will help restore a wild free flying population to Iowa. 

Iowa’s Land Before Time: Prehistoric Life Still Around Today

Take a peek into Iowa's prehistoric past with these "living fossils" that still exist in Iowa today.

This fish is older than the dinosaurs – for real. Fossil records show
paddlefish have been around for more than 300 million years – that’s about 50 million years before the first dinosaurs appeared. Not only has the species been around a long time, but they’re a long-living group too. Iowa paddlefish commonly live for 20 years, with 30 years or more not all that unusual. Paddlefish are a remnant of ancient life, differing from other fishes by its elongated paddlelike snout, long gill covers and shark-like body form.

Chestnut lamprey
One of the creepiest looking “living fossils,” the
lamprey dates back about 360 million years. While this native lamprey may seem intimidating, it’ll do no harm to people. It is endangered in Iowa, so if you catch one, release it unharmed immediately. Its mouth acts as a suction cup and it uses its teeth to cut through a fish’s skin and scales. On the Mississippi River, it commonly attaches to paddlefish, common carp and northern pike. It rarely kills its host. It usually grows to about 12 inches long.

Pallid sturgeon
While rare to find in Iowa, the
pallid sturgeon hasn’t changed much over the course of 70 million years. It is endangered in Iowa, so if you catch one, release it unharmed immediately. You can tell a pallid sturgeon apart from a lake sturgeon or shovelnose sturgeon by its outer barbels – they’re twice as long as the fish’s inner barbels. Those barbels are U-shaped, with the inner two set out in front. It also has a smooth, not scaled, belly.

Common snapping turtle
As a nod to its tenure, the
common snapping turtle’s most distinctive feature is its long tail with raised Stegosaurus-like plates projecting along the midline. The snapping turtle is a large turtle with a big head, a long tail and a nasty disposition. It also has a much reduced diamond-shaped plastron (lower shell) that is connected to the carapace (upper shell) with two narrow bands on the sides. The rear marginal scales of the carapace have points that give the shell a jagged appearance. The only other turtle that can be confused with the common snapping turtle is the alligator snapping turtle, but it is larger and limited to the southeastern tip of Iowa in the Mississippi River. Adults usually have shells eight to 15 inches long and weigh up to 40 pounds. The common snapper is part of the Chelydridae family of turtles, which has fossils dating back to the Cretaceous and Paleocene time periods.

The next time you watch a dragonfly flutter along the banks of a pond, take note that you’re watching a sight that’s gone on for about 325 million years. While the ancestors of today’s dragonflies were much larger, the family line continues today. Dragonflies serve as indicators of good water quality.

Sandhill crane
sandhill cranes may show up in Iowa in April, but their ancestors have been here for quite a while. The oldest sandhill crane fossils date back 2.5 million years. In Iowa, you may be able to spot one in a marsh, wet prairie, lake or fen in the northern part of the state in summer. The sandhill crane lives in prairies and fields. It eats small rodents, frogs, insects, worms, snails, young birds and eggs, seeds, grass shoots, grain (especially corn), bulbs, berries, lichen, and aquatic plants. Its call is a low, loud, musical rattle.

Another Iowa migrant, the pelican has been around the block a few times – like for 30 million years. While it doesn’t nest in Iowa, you can see large numbers of them migrating through the state. The
American white pelican is huge – standing at 62 inches high – and is known for its eating style. This pelican eats crustaceans and fish by scooping them up while paddling on the water.

No need for a snail to be in a hurry when you’ve been around for 440 million years. Back then, our snails crawled along a sea floor. While the landscape of Iowa has changed drastically in that time, snails keep on, slow and steady. The
Pleistocene snail, a rare snail that lives on cool Iowa slopes in leaf litter, is considered to be a relic from the Ice Age.

Plants and fossils
While not animals, ferns and clubmosses have been around for 300 million years or so. And while they may not be living,
fossils exist throughout the state. Check out the Fossil and Prairie Center near Rockford or the Devonian Fossil Gorge in Coralville to search for yourself. Lake Red Rock near Knoxville and Pella is also home to an ancient floodplain – explore the iron-stained cliffs to look for fern and tree fossils from an ancient forest.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Drawing on Nature

Much of our understanding of science comes from interpreting visual images. The images that accompany scientific writing can enhance our knowledge of a subject and can add more precision to our perception.
Drawings that accompany field notes offer researchers several paths which to interpret their experiences. Incorporating drawing into research improves one’s observation skills.

 Take your students to an area of the school grounds or someone where they can see animals. Instruct your students to:
  • Find an animal – watch it as closely as you can; look at its color, form, and body shape
  • Close your eyes and try to reconstruct the animal in your mind
  • Using a pencil, try to draw the body shape of the animal; sometimes it helps to look at the animal-and not at the paper
Sketching is an important tool to focus observations. The more that students draw, the more they will see. Students who are more comfortable drawing should include writing in their notes as well, while students who prefer writing should include sketches and diagrams with their writing. Combining writing and drawing gives the pages less of the feel an art project and more of a place where information is collected.

Creating a classroom nature comic book is a fun alternative to traditional field notes. Have each student record sequences of animal behaviors in the form of a comic book. Integrating the comic into recording a real nature event will help motivate students to accurately record their data.

Helpful web sites
Instructional videos on drawing and sketching in nature
John Muir Laws drawing templates:
Opening the Worldthrough Nature Journaling (includes instructions for drawing birds and flowers)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Celebrate Earth Week With Free Seedlings From Trees For Kids

To celebrate Earth Week, the Trees for Kids program is offering free seedlings to schools and communities across Iowa.

The first 100 schools and 100 communities to make a request through the State Forest Nursery will receive a “Create-a-Packet” at no cost.  Each custom packet consists of 200 bare-root seedlings, 50 each of four selected species. The seedlings are between 8 and 24 inches, depending on the tree or shrub species.  Size requests do not apply to this program.  

To take part in this offer, schools and communities should call the State Forest Nursery at 1-800-865-2477 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and mention the Trees for Kids Earth Week program. Each school building or community may order one free Create-a-Packet. Orders will be filled on a first-come first-served basis until 100 packets have been requested for schools, and 100 packets have been requested for communities, or 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 24, whichever comes first. This offer only applies to new orders.

Schools and communities receiving packets will be asked to e-mail at least one photo of the trees being planted and a short paragraph indicating where and why they were planted.  No other requirements are necessary to receive the free trees.

Recommended packet choices include:

Butterfly host packet
Seedlings selected as hosts for more than 16 species of butterflies.
Choose 4 of the following 5 species:
  • Black Cherry
  • Bur Oak
  • Hackberry
  • Redosier Dogwood
  • Silky Dogwood
Storm water management packet
Species selected for superior storm water interception, tolerance of wet conditions and water uptake, suitable for planting along streams, rivers and waterways.
Choose 4 of the 5 following species:
  • Silver Maple
  • River Birch
  • Bur Oak
  • Sycamore
  • Hackberry
Property edge planting
These trees and shrubs are selected because the make an excellent visual screen, block the wind and are attractive. 
Choose 4 of the following 5 species:
  • Redosier Dogwood
  • Ninebark
  • River Birch
  • Red Oak
  • Bur Oak
Anyone in Iowa can purchase Create-a-Packets from the Iowa State Forest Nursery to increase wildlife habitat, pollinator potential or diversify backyard woodlands.  Cost of a Create-a-Packet is $110, plus shipping and handling. Seedling choices can be seen in the Seedling Catalog.

Trees for Kids also provides landscape tree planting grants to schools and communities. For information about how to apply for a fall 2015 Trees for Kids grant, visit the DNR website or contact the grant coordinator at

The Trees for Kids and Trees for Teens grant programs are funded by Iowa Department of Natural Resources Forestry Bureau, MidAmerican Energy, Black Hills Energy, Alliant Energy, Iowa Bankers Association, Trees Forever, Iowa Tree Farm Committee, and the Iowa Woodland Owners Association.

For more information about ordering your no-cost Earth Week seedlings, contact the Iowa State Forest Nursery at 1-800-865-2477. 

Apply for a GreenWorks! Environmental Improvement Grant

Do you have an idea for a school/community native plant garden, a forest improvement project, a streamside restoration plan, a recycling program, or energy conservation project for your students? Need funds to implement it? Apply for a Project Learning Tree GreenWorks! grant! The deadline is September 30, 2015.
  • Grants must be completed in one year
  • Applicants must have attended a PLT workshop
  • The proposed project must involve service-learning.
  • The proposed project must demonstrate student voice.
  • The proposed project must involve at least one community partner.
  • The proposed project must secure at least 50% matched funds (in-kind acceptable).

GreenWorks! is the service-learning component of Project Learning Tree that engages educators, students, and their communities in “learning-by-doing” local environmental stewardship projects. Since 1992, AFF has distributed more than $1 million to fund more than 1,000 PLT GreenWorks! action projects in communities across the country.

“These grants help students take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to the real world,” said James McGirt, PLT manager of education programs. “Youth engage with the local community, and develop their critical thinking and leadership skills as they work to improve the environment.”

PLT’s GreenWorks! Guidebook offers practical ideas and pointers for getting a GreenWorks! project off and running.