Posts Tagged: Mississippi River

Science, You’re Super: Bird Migration

Geese

By Aryn Henning Nichols • Photo by Joyce Meyer Photography
Originally published in the Fall 2012 Inspire(d)

It’s a familiar fall scene: you hear the honking first, then see the v-shaped flock fly over – geese heading to some exotic locale for the winter. It’s obvious why “snow birds” – ironically human – head to warmer climes to avoid the frigid Northern winters, but what about these birds? Why do they migrate back and forth each year, and how do they even know where they’re going?

Approximately 1,800 of the world’s 10,000 bird species take this annual, large-scale movement between their breeding or nesting (summer) homes to their non-breeding (winter) homes each year. (1) Like many things in life, food is the main motivating factor. Birds that nest in the northern hemisphere hang out in the spring to take advantage of the plentiful insect populations, budding plants, and large quantity of places to set up “nest”. As winter sets in and the availability of insects and other food options declines, the birds head south – simple as that. (2) Many of these birds that breed in North America migrate to areas south of the Tropic of Cancer (Southern Mexico, Central and South America and the Lesser and Greater Antilles in the Caribbean Sea) in the fall (August-October) and then winter there until April when they head back to their old stomping grounds up North to breed and raise young. (3)

There are three different types of bird migration: short (moving from a higher to lower elevation on a mountainside), medium (moving a distance that spans several states) and long-distance (generally moving from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere). For short-distance migrants, the reason really is as simple as a need for available food. But the origins of long-distance migration are a little more complicated. What “tips” the birds off that it’s time to get moving varies – days getting shorter and colder, dwindling food supplies, or it even something in their genetic predisposition. (2)

In the period before migration, many birds display higher activity or Zugunruhe – German for “migratory restlessness”. Even cage-raised birds with no environmental cues (e.g. shortening of day and falling temperature) show signs of Zugunruhe, further leading scientists to believe migratory tendencies might be genetically predisposed. (1)

Birds also eat more food pre-migration, storing it as fat. Fat is normally three to five percent of the bird’s mass, but some will almost double their body weights as they pack it on for the trip! The ruby-throated hummingbird, for example, weighs only 4.8 grams but can use stored fat to fuel a non-stop, 24-hour flight across a 600-mile stretch of open water from the U.S. Gulf coast to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico! But most songbirds don’t fly to their non-breeding grounds non-stop. They stop a number of times to rest and feed in places called stopover sites. Some birds stop only one day to rest and feed, and then continue their migration. Others will remain at stopover areas for weeks, storing up more fat. The arctic tern may hold the longest distance migration, made possible because they stop over various places to eat fish and feed along the way. The tern migrates about 18,600 miles each year! Amazing! (3)

It’s not just the distance traveled that is amazing, though – the “how” of the travel is pretty wild too. They don’t come equipped with GPS, but somehow migrating birds can cover thousands of miles, often on the same exact “bird highway”, year after year. Even first year birds may migrate – without a guide – to a winter home they have never before seen and return in the spring to their birth land. (2) They use the age-old compasses in the sky to navigate the way – the sun and stars – and also something really cool: the Earth’s magnetic field! Yes, you read that right! Birds apparently have tiny grains of the mineral magnetite just above their nostrils, which helps them find what direction is true north by using the Earth’s magnetic field.

Beyond that, day flyers navigate using the positions of the sun and night flyers find their way by following the patterns of the stars. And – get this: In their very first year of life, those birds memorize the position of the constellations in relation to the North Star! Some birds can also use their sense of small to help find the way. (3)

Many, if not most, birds migrate in flocks, which for larger birds, can conserve energy. Geese save from 12 to 20 percent of the energy they would need to fly alone – and some even fly faster in flock formation! (1)

In the spring, we’ll see them heading back up the “road” home, and now, when you gaze up at the first honk, know it might even be the same exact birds you saw this fall!

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Aryn Henning Nichols was constantly amazed as she researched this Science, You’re Super. How cool are migrating birds?!?

References:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_migration
  2. http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/studying/migration/
  3. http://www.zoosociety.org/conservation/bwb-asf/library/BirdMigrationFacts.php

 

Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

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Photo: Chimney Rock lookout – Courtesy of INHF.

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability,
and beauty of the biotic community.” -Aldo Leopold

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By Benji Nichols • Originally published in the Spring 2013 Inspire(d)

Fact: More than 90 percent of Iowa is farm acreage. Not surprising? How about this: Fact: Iowa has more native orchid species than Hawaii. Its true! Rare geologic features and natural diversity – like Iowa’s 32 species of native orchids – exist from the Loess Hills to the Driftless Region. Historic Iowa conservationists like John F. Lacey, Ding Darling, Aldo Leopold, and Ada Hayden have worked hard to keep them alive and present in our region. But with just 10 percent of Iowa land not involved in agriculture, how can we possibly protect these amazing assets?

Thankfully, organizations like the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation have stepped in, shouldering the work of early conservationists by preserving both land and resources in Iowa, as well as the access and use of them.

“The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation works diligently to protect the absolute natural treasures we have in our state and preserves them for tomorrow’s generations,” says Northeast Iowa native and long time INHF board member Kirsten Heine. “This includes remnant goat prairies high above on the Mississippi River bluffs, prairie pot holes in western Iowa, majestic oak savannahs, algific slopes that are home to some of our state’s unique flora and fauna, and in our own neighborhood the beautiful Upper Iowa River. These landscapes tell our ‘Iowa story’ and enhance the overall quality of life.”

Fact: The INHF, as a private not-for-profit group, has secured over 130,000 acres of natural resources in the state.

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Photo: Chimney Rock Lookout – Courtesy INHF

Since the early 1900s, people like Iowa Congressman John F. Lacey have worked to implement conservation legislation to preserve wild places – a method that has been built upon and improved by many. But few have accomplished large, permanent preservation like INHF.

“I see firsthand the tremendous efforts of natural resource protection by INHF,” says Terry Haindfield, a Wildlife Biologist with the Upper Iowa Unit of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Their ability to see the future with and without safeguarding the environmental treasures in Northeast Iowa inspires them to not only protect quality of life experiences for the present but maybe more importantly the forthcoming generations. Their efforts will be admired forever.”

The state of Iowa has come into a fascinating place in time, agriculture, property value, and land use. Despite being one of the most prosperous places to grow corn and soybeans, older farm owners are retiring, while young farm families are stretched to keep up with land values and crop prices. With 65 percent of farmland owned by folks 60 years and older, many young farmers are cornered into pushing conservation aside in the name of higher yields and more tillable land. As agriculture in Iowa experiences these transitions, INHF becomes even more important. They work to permanently protect unique land and resources, and improve land management and bring new conservation ideas and opportunities to the state – all while respecting Iowa’s agricultural heritage.

The entire concept of INHF – preserve natural resources permanently – may seem a little too big and audacious to grasp… until you realize you’ve almost certainly seen or experienced the work of INHF firsthand.

inhfweb“For over 30 years, INHF has been working closely with private landowners and public agencies to protect and restore some of the most scenic and ecologically diverse natural areas in Iowa,” says Brian Fankhauser, INHF Blufflands Program Manager. “For example, protection of a critical segment of South Pine Creek in Winneshiek County that supports the native strain of brook trout, and a 1,000-acre addition to Effigy Mounds National Monument are two of several significant projects INHF has helped complete in recent years for the Blufflands (i.e. Driftless) Region.”

Countless statewide projects range from coordinating large-scale land set-asides to invasive species management like pulling sweet clover or wild parsnip from remnant hill prairies to forestry projects like thinning oak woodlands for regeneration. Summer interns tackle hands-on tasks such as collecting prairie seed that will be used for future restoration projects, constructing fire lines for future woodland prescribed fires, and restoring cold-water trout streams.

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Photo: Trout Run Trail – Decorah, by Benji Nichols

Fact: Over the past 30 years, INHF has helped partners create nearly 600 of Iowa’s 1,000 miles of rail-trails.

The ability of an organization like INHF to accomplish such vast goals is in no small part due to exceptional leadership. Longtime (now past) INHF president Mark Ackelson is one of the most well known faces in Iowa preservation in recent decades. One of the many areas near and dear to Ackelson is the work of coordinating, guiding the building of, and promoting the use of hundreds of miles of recreational trail systems. INHF has helped launch such trail projects as the High Trestle Trail, Wabash Trace Nature Trail, Rolling Prairie Trail, to name just a few. The technical expertise and statewide perspective that INHF brings to trail-building projects is one of the driving factors in Iowa’s effort to be known far-and-wide for its trails. It is well worth the time to visit www.inhf.org just to see their fantastic interactive map of current trails and trail projects in the state, as well as their “Iowa By Trail” App.

But at its core, the long, steady view of INHF has been to work with private landowners and agencies to permanently conserve land for future generations. Each and every project is different, with the tools and knowledge of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation helping landowners find the right options ranging from easements to donations or sales, to best practices for sustainable land management. It was the great conservationist Aldo Leopold who said, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.” Whether it’s a family donating a piece of land for public use, or a group navigating the intergovernmental agencies involved in making sure over 1,000 acres surrounding Effigy Mounds will never be developed, the work of an organization like the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is truly never finished. But when the list of projects accomplished looks as long and beautiful as the list of Iowa’s wild orchids, it’s easy to feel like things are headed in the right direction.

Funicorn

Find out more about the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and these great projects at www.inhf.org, or by contacting them in Des Moines at: 515-288-1846 or info@inhf.org. And you don’t have to be landowner to support the INHF mission: Memberships are as little as $25 per year and include a quarterly subscription to the stunning INHF Magazine.

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BluffAbout The Author
Through high school, Benji lived with his parents amidst 165 acres of woods and blufflands just above the Upper Iowa River north of Decorah. This property, owned by the Sollien family, was put into a Forest Legacy Program easement in 2005 with the help of INHF. As part of over 2.3 million acres protected nationwide, it will never be anything but trees, bluffs, and wild land. Amen.

Making a Scene Pt. 3 – Tom Fassbender / Boats & Bluegrass!

The following is part III in a series entitled “Making A Scene” from the Fall 2014 issue of Inspire(d) Magazine.
Part I – featuring Tanya Gertz & the Luther College Center Stage Series can be found here.
Part II – featuring James Ronan / Dance and Stay Young can be found here.

Interview by Benji Nichols
Images courtesy of Boats & Bluegrass.

*Please note, the 2014, 10th Anniversary presentation of Boats & Bluegrass is sold out. We offer up a giant high five to Tom Fassbender and his crew for presenting such a fantastic event in our region. Buy your tickets early next year!

 

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BoatsBluegrass10yrsTen years ago Tom Fassbender threw together an idea to help promote a fledgling outfitter company – take some great regional bands, have them play on the backwater of the Mississippi near Winona, schedule some paddle time…see what happens. What was created is a source of local magic that has magnified into one of the best small festivals in the Midwest: Boats & Bluegrass. The 2014 edition features more than 40 bands, plus paddling trips, family outings, and all the regular festival fun. Located on Prairie Island, with camping just a skip and a jump from the festival site, this event has grown to be a regional favorite. Boats and Bluegrass runs September 25-28, 2014. www.boatsandbluegrass.com

How’d you get into presenting events?

I guess helping with events all started back in High School with “field parties” on summer nights.  So that puts me at about 25 years. I’ve always had a desire to make people happy. Music has always played a huge roll in that and in my life. I enjoy making places where people feel comfortable and can relax – so being able to present music really ties it all together.

Do you have a most “exciting” live moment? 

I have been blessed to see and be a part of many shows (good and bad).  I learned more from the bad ones than the goodTom_F_Stick ones, but I would have to say the one that has stuck with me the most was one of my first experiences at a show. I was maybe 12 and fighting my way to the front at an Iron Maiden show. I bumped into a big guy with long hair who stood over six feet tall – he turned and looked down at me and gave me what I thought was a big thumbs up. I returned the thumbs up, but before I knew it he had picked me up and swiftly plucked me on his shoulders – turns out I had accepted his invitation.  His desire to help a kid enjoy the show has stuck with me, and been a bit of a mantra for me.

If you could present one show with anyone in the world – past or present – who would it be, and why?

My first thought is Jerry Garcia, just on a selfish note. On a more practical note, I guess I would say Bill Graham (1960s promoting legend, owner of the Fillmore / Winterland /Fillmore East, etc). Over the course of his life he was able give the world the gift of music – not always in a way I necessarily agree with but I think he cared about the “show”. Today I think that can get lost, and it would be great to experience how he did things.

What are you excited about in the near future?

This year’s 10th anniversary lineup is exciting. We are also planning to release a live compilation album from this year’s Boats & Bluegrass festival to celebrate 10 years. I’m looking forward to working through this process and hope to release the album around the first of the year.

— The 2014 10th Anniversary presentation of Boats & Bluegrass is SOLD OUT. Congrats to Tom and his crew, and buy your tickets early next year. Cheers to supporting live music!

Benji Nichols is the co-owner of Inspire(d) Media with his wife Aryn, and daughter Roxie. He’s been making things noisy since the early 1990s and is even known to make a living at it occasionally. Currently he is a partner in the Courtyard & Cellar in Decorah, makes magazines, and rides bikes while not being a Dad. 

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