Iowa was once a sea of 10-foot tall prairie grasses

Published 6:50 am Sunday, August 4, 2013

Column: Nature’s World, by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I can’t remember the last time I forgot something. The corn looks good at my place. That ground is so rich, I just hold the seed corn in my hand and the soil grabs it and plants it in the spring. I just had my hair cut high and tight like an effective fastball. I’ve been fixing up the house, mostly by paying to have it done. I got a new doorbell. When someone pushes the button, it sounds like someone is knocking. I put in a floor fan in my hovel. I wanted to put in a ceiling fan, but a floor fan was cheaper. I didn’t have to pay for a ladder’s time. I learned that by experience. It’s important to learn from history.”

Email newsletter signup

“So you’re not forced to repeat it,” I say.

“No, in case somebody from the future comes back and tries to bet me on things that happened, like Viking-Packer games.”

“Uffda!” I say.

“Like Pop always says, ‘When you talk to me, shut up!’ He also always says, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on you. Fool me four times, shame on me. Fool me five times, shame on you. Fool me…’”


He’s not a bird dog

Doug and Mary Bushlack of New Richland have a 120-pound dog. The canine has to shop at the big dog store. One day, Mary was curious about the various sounds produced by a house sparrow. Always a helpful husband, Doug played those sparrow sounds on his iPhone. The dog heard the bird’s call and panicked, looking for a place to hide. Then Doug played the whistled song of a cardinal on his cellphone. The 120-pound dog found a place to hide.


Getting a black eye from a blackbird

Reid Nelson of Sheboygan is an avid bicyclist. He was biking a trail past a cattail marsh. It was an area where red-winged blackbirds nest. Reid wears a helmet. Not all the time, but he does when biking. That’s a good thing. A male red-winged blackbird took after him, trying to drive Reid away. It could have rightly been called an attack. Reid pumped the pedals furiously in an escape attempt. At one point, Reid thought he had freed himself of his assailant. He turned his head slightly to look back and the blackbird got in his face. This is when things got worse. Reid swerved off the trail. He took a tumble, but neither he nor the bicycle suffered much damage.

The bird was satisfied. It no longer regarded Reid as a threat and it left the scene.

Reid will not be watching Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” any time soon.


Prairie past and present

I listened to Rick Pleggenkuhle of the Cerro Gordo County Extension speak at the 2013 Operation Wildflower Workshop held at the Worth County Izaak Walton building in Kensett, Iowa. Pleggenkuhle talked about Iowa once being a sea of 10-foot tall grasses. Prior to 1850, Iowa was 85 percent prairie and 90 percent of that was grass. It was possible to travel for a day without seeing a tree. Less than 1/10 of 1 percent of that prairie remains. The Hayden Prairie State Preserve, located in Howard County near Chester and Lime Springs, is a remnant of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Although it’s only 240 acres, less than a half-section of land, it’s the largest remaining parcel of tallgrass prairie surviving in Iowa outside of the Loess Hills on the western border of the state. The tallgrass prairie is an incredible place with plants like the compass plant having roots going 15 feet deep.


Q & A

“What percent of a bag of sunflower seeds is shells?” I read a study that said the weight of the shells in a bag of black oil sunflower seeds is approximately 35 to 45 percent. The weight of striped sunflower seed shells is approximately 40 to 50 percent.

“What is digging in my yard?” A conical mound is the work of a mole. The mole makes multiple tunnels near the surface that raise sod or soil. A pocket gopher produces a rounded mound, often heart shaped. A chipmunk digs a burrow with no soil piled near the small entrance along stone walls, rocks, foundations, steps, in brush, open woods or gardens. A thirteen-lined ground squirrel digs a burrow with a small entrance in open areas with short grass. A meadow vole creates a smaller entrance in open areas with heavy vegetation. Voles create surface runways in grass. Another smaller entrance is made by a shrew in open areas or woodlands, that tunnels under duff. A Norway rat places its entrance hole near or under buildings, woodpiles, shrubbery or rubbish close to a dependable water source (stream, sewer, etc.). Several may occupy one burrow. Muskrats burrow near lakes, streams or wetlands. Groundhogs make deep burrows with excavated soil spread around the entrance in the fields, woodlands, under decks or building foundations. Shallow excavations or divots in turf are the activities of a skunk, raccoon or squirrel. This is usually a result of a search for insects or, in the case of squirrels, caching or retrieving food such as corn or acorns.

“How long has the loon been the state bird of Minnesota?” Before the Legislature decided on the common loon as Minnesota’s state bird in 1961, several other birds were suggested, including the goldfinch in 1947, the mourning dove in 1951, the pileated woodpecker in 1951 and 1953, the scarlet tanager in 1951, and the wood duck in 1951.



When spiders build new webs, the weather will be clear.

Listen for the sound of the first cicadas. The first frost of the year will occur three months later.

An open anthill indicates good weather; a closed one, an approaching storm.


Thanks for stopping by

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” — Mark Twain

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” — Sign in Albert Einstein’s office




Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at