- Hit the Trails
- Honey Fest
- Nature Center
- Nature's Noel
- Plant Sale
- Summer Camp
- Syrup Fest
Aside from being one of our great naturalists at the Nature Center, David Brenzel is also an archaeologist and digger of mammoth bones. We were fascinated by his adventures last season and he tells us of the first dig of 2013. It continues to amaze me the things he digs up!
I’m just back from Oskaloosa and our first dig of 2013. A break in the weather allowed us to get the excavator in last week to expand the pit and we didn’t waste any time bringing in a crew to resume digging Saturday. The first outing of a new year is always more about repairing winter damage than finding new bones, and such was the case this time. We expended a lot more effort rebuilding our amphitheater-style stairs in and out of the pit than looking for bone. We did, however, uncover about a dozen new large fragments under the tusk we found last November, and confirmed from a deep test pit that the bone-bearing layer extends at least another foot deeper. The bones aren’t laying flat on a single horizon, demonstrating we are still in the plunge pool where these things were dumped en masse 5,000-odd years ago. Dr. Frank Weirich of the UI Department of Geoscience and College of Engineering will return later this month to resume the search for the primary deposit with his state-of-the-art ground penetrating radar and Dr. Art Bettis, also from UI Geoscience, with his drilling rig.
The really exciting find Saturday was a layer of twigs and branches exposed by spring floods, contemporaneous with the bones and spruce log that we extracted last year. The log was radiocarbon dated to 14,000 B.C. A date on the mammoth itself is expected any day now. (Dating wood is easy; bones are another matter and one has to practice patience waiting in line for a bloke in New Zealand to get to your sample.) It’s not a date we’re after though this time, or more wood, but seeds and leaves. UI Geoscience Professor Emeritus Dick Baker is analyzing our plant macrofossils. He found spruce, larch and fir needles in the last (spruce log) sample and wants more sediment to get a better picture of this ancient ecosystem. Woolly mammoths aren’t supposed to be living in this kind of landscape–this is mastodon and giant sloth country. Woollies are thought to have migrated north with the tree line to find their favored forage of grasses and sedges. But here they are, in a boreal forest. Obviously these guys didn’t read the textbooks. The world has plenty of woolly mammoth bones but undisturbed sites with an entire ancient ecosystem preserved with the bones that can tell us how these beasts lived are as rare. There’s nothing else like it in Iowa. Other scientists can try to learn how and why mammoths died, we want to know how they lived and how these surprisingly modern-looking ecosystems functioned with 8-ton pachyderms tromping about.
To those Nature Center members who came out and helped dig last summer and discovered the second mammoth–yes, we’re going to schedule another outing for members this season. Give us a few weeks to get more of the schedule locked down. We’ll announce a date soon.
See…another great reason to be a member of the Nature Center!
Given the temperature this morning, it’s hard to imagine summer camps start up next week! It hasn’t been exactly summery yet but everybody at the Nature Center has been scurrying around getting ready to greet our kids on Monday morning. We have such fun with our campers. There are always a few tears and some trepidation amongst our littlest campers on the first day – much like the first day of school – but by Tuesday, they’re bursting through the door anxious to get started. Many of our second and third graders are old hands who have been anxiously awaiting camp for weeks now.
Camp is a great opportunity for kids to discover that learning doesn’t always happen sitting at a desk and listening to a lecture. At nature camp, they run, dig, splash, explore, and even laugh while they learn. They get exercise, sunshine (we hope), make new friends, and often learn as much about themselves as the bugs they study. For many, it’s the first time to hold a fishing pole, to eat a mulberry right off the bush, to feel quicksand. The time to establish a connection with nature is during childhood as it can lead to a life-long interest and maybe even a career.
The Nature Center undergoes a major transition today. Although carefully planned and well thought out, change always brings butterflies. Here are Rich’s thoughts…
Today, the Indian Creek Nature Center’s third Executive Director will assume his duties. I welcome John Myers to the position and hope he finds it a pleasant and rewarding challenge. First director Curt Abdouch began in December 1974 and moved to Washington, DC to take a position with the National Wildlife Federation in early 1978. Barb Binhammer was acting director for about six months until I began on August 22, 1978.
I’ve had a good 35 year run here, after 40 months as Director of the Dillon Nature Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, and a spell as a biologist in Alaska in the early 1970’s. I am relinquishing all day-to-day operations but am not retiring. I step into the new position of Executive Director of Development and will soon move to a downtown office where I will focus on fundraising for about a year until I formally sever my employment relationship with the Nature Center. I am moving offsite to stay out of John’s hair as he makes changes he feels are prudent and in the best interests of the organization. Also, being offsite should help channel operational questions and comments to John instead of me.
John will be responsible for overseeing education and facility matters. He will report to the board, supervise staff, and be responsible for operational fundraising and financial management. I’m charged with helping a wonderful group of volunteers locate $7 million for a new headquarters building and endowment. I would enjoy talking with you if you’d like to set up an endowed fund or help with the building campaign; other issues go to John. I will attend major events, may lead an occasional program, and will continue writing Nature’s Notes and other items for The Gazette, but otherwise plan to keep a low profile. The Nature Center has a superb staff, outstanding board, and wonderful volunteers. It is financially sound and has a beautiful land base.
I thank you for your support all these years. Please continue supporting the Nature Center through John and other staff. ~Rich
Naturalist Jennifer Rupp loves, loves, LOVES astronomy! There’s a big event coming up. Let her tell you about it….(and be sure to watch the awesome video she’s linked to)
I had the best mentor in Astronomy a kid could ask for growing up. His methods, patience and ideas influence the way I think and plan for teaching others about astronomy to this day. I used to ask him questions incessantly. One of my favorite topics was aliens. “Have you ever seen a UFO?” I would ask. “The folks who aren’t familiar with the sky are usually the ones who see ‘space ships’. They don’t realize that they may be seeing something that’s supposed to be there!” he would reply.
Well everyone, be prepared. Near the end of this month, and the first part of June, there will be something happening in the Northwest for all to see! And no, they aren’t UFO’s! They’re three of our solar system’s planets in the sky together. Mercury (the planet so close to the sun that it never appears in the sky very high), Venus, and Jupiter will appear near each other, and over time move closer before going their separate ways. Keep in mind, this is all three dimensional, so they only APPEAR near to each other. Some days, there will be an astronomical conjunction. That means that they appear on the same lines either in Right ascension or Declination (basically the latitude and longitudinal coordinates of the sky). It will be an impressive sight. If you’d like more information, you can find a video depicting the phenomenon, as well as much more information about exciting sky happenings here:
Keep an eye on the Indian Creek Nature Center’s calendar for family friendly astronomy programs.
Consider joining an astronomy club in your area! It will open your mind, and help you realize that the sky is more than two dimensions! For all of you here in Cedar Rapids, the local astronomy club can be found at: http://www.cedar-astronomers.org/ .
Jan waxes poetic about the beautiful wildflowers springing up around our grounds…
The fairyland quality of the vernal woods draws many wildflower lovers. Oak-hickory woodland floors are sprinkled with subtle hues of ephemeral wildflowers dancing with the wind. Ephemeral means “here today, gone tomorrow” – the perfect description of these hardy, mostly perennial wildflowers who rush through their entire growing season in the brief window of spring when sunlight can reach the forest floor just prior to tree leaf-out. Once the tree canopy fills with leaves, these gentle little beauties have completed their bloom cycle and disappear, returning to dormancy to wait for next spring.
No time to wander the woods? You can enjoy many of these amazing little flowers along the trails near the barn. Here are a few of my favorites and their interesting stories.
As you approach the barn, enjoy the welcoming bluebells along both sides of the walkway. Around the rocks at the side of the front door fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves have poked through the ground cover. Wild ginger is preparing to bloom but don’t expect a dazzling show. Its maroon colored cup-shaped bloom will hide under the fuzzy leaves and embrace the ground where it invites a pollinator inside to dine. Beetles and slugs are the invited pollinator guests.
From the vantage point of Prairie Gate Bridge behind the Sugar House you will see a dense patch of lancelet-shaped, speckled, dusky green leaves poking through the oak leaf litter. This is trout lily or dogtooth violet. Look closely for the delicate white star-shaped blooms. Some years there are none but this year trout lily has sent up its flowers. A plant has to be seven years old before it flowers. Trout lily has two strategies for ensuring future generations. One is by flowering and producing seed but the other strategy occurs underground and is asexual. The patch continues to spread when the deeply buried bulb sends out long shoots to produce new plants. Hundreds of plants may grow in the dense patch.
On the sides and banks of this ravine you will find many other species: spring beauties, nodding trillium, bloodroot, anemone, windflowers and bellwort. By mid-May the umbrella-leafed mayapples will be sporting their waxy-white blossoms. Red columbine will nod in the breeze inviting arriving hummingbirds to feast on nectar tucked deep within the tubular flower. Often bumble bees raid this sweet treat. Too large to fit inside the flower and unable to reach the nectar, bumble bees bite into the base of the flower and steal nectar without returning the gift of pollination to the plant.
Enjoy your walk and visit often. As the seasons unfold, there is always something new to behold.