Monday, March 25, 2024

A Rant or Hope?


Great Blue Herons - Waterman Rookery - 2023

This might be a wordy post...the image is from last year, yet this morning we have 2 Great Blue Herons on the Waterman Creek Great Blue Heron Rookery across the valley this morning.

I'm hopeful, but a backstory follows.

Last year the rookery failed...for the first time since it was colonized back in the 80's and 90's. It failed last year largely (my speculation) because of the drought we've fought since 2020. Their local fishery/food source failed...the Waterman quit flowing in the late summer of 2022. With remaining small stagnant pools freezing to the bottom during the 2022-23 winter, there was a system fish die-off. Although the Waterman began a small flow in 2023, it once again stopped flowing shortly before Labor Day in 2023. Then in October we received an amazing 6.5" 2 day rainfall and the Waterman once again began to flow. The fishery had some months to experience resurgence but just how long will a self sustaining condition actually take?

The rookery "tried" last June it was abandoned...when around 30 pairs of birds give up - something is wrong. That can't be argued.

Water is much too taken for granted in Iowa. A fairly significant stream stops flowing two years in a row, yet no one seems to notice? Well maybe nitpickers like myself...

In December of 2022 the Des Moines Register ran an article on the Ocheyedan River...a 2 mile stretch of the river ran dry for the first time in recorded history. This event was apparently man made and technically illegal. But who noticed? Apparently someone needs to notice for any story to surface. Thankfully someone did notice and it was reported. But has the situation changed? Maybe, or its going to be glossed over and forgotten because yesterday it started raining - Finally.

"IF" things return to a "historic norm", maybe we won't see degenerative siphoning of our stream's water tables. But our resources are not finite...hear how much the proposed Carbon Pipelines will require to take from our water tables and aquifers? It is staggering!

The Waterman never had the type of struggle it now has with water usage from it's existing water table. When the upstream Ethanol plant was built back around 16-17 years ago, not a noticeable "visible" change in the creek was apparent. But the Geological Survey no longer measured stream flow of the Waterman, so who would notice?

Once the drought began in 2020 here, things started slowly 2022 it was obvious the Waterman system was in trouble. When a stream - for the first time in memory - quits's mouth at the Little Sioux completely bone dry; there is a problem.

Could a new drain on a water resource, like the Valero plant in Hartley exacerbate the issue? The Valero web site states it produces 140 million gallon of ethanol per year, and it takes 3 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of ethanol. 420 million gallons of water per year from the water table along Waterman Creek. How much of an impact on a drought stricken stream and it's ecosystem would taking away 450 million gallons a year make??? I'm not a hydrologist nor a scientist but when a stream goes dry like this, all stresses have to have a cumulative causal affect.

While the Ocheyedan River drying up in that localized section of it's stream was attributed to the siphoning off "for sale" to another state, it may not have been noticed had the drought not have happened.

But the drought did happen and while we are "Maybe" climbing out of that drought - that doesn't mean we can just go back to business as usual and not protect our natural water resources. It has proven to us to not be finite!

So much of our natural heritage is hidden from view...what is in that stream? We see water and assume all is well with the world. But we are being assaulted by nitrogen and herbicide runoff, the loss of invertebrates and viable fisheries, as well as amphibians and turtles - so its very likely "all isn't as it seems".

Case-in-point - the 50 mile fish kill in the East Nishnabotna River south of Red Oak just last week, due to a huge fertilizer spill, apparently an untended valve just gave it all to the river......all man made destruction. 

Everything in nature is many times has that got to be said? Are we all so far removed from the natural world now that we don't give it a passing thought any more???

If there are no longer invertebrates, micro-organisms, fish, amphibians, OR WATER in the streams - then we lose everything else above ground and the Waterman Rookery is now serving it's own sad purpose as being the proverbial "Canary in the Mine".

Two Great Blue Herons showed up this morning...they were sitting together on one of the few abandoned nests from last year.

I have hope. Is there still time for them? It all starts somewhere. There has to be some skin in the game or we are all going to lose something, piece by piece...

(Great Blue Heron and Nest photograph - ©Bruce A. Morrison)


Tuesday, January 9, 2024

A Most Uncommon Year it Was...


Winter Blue Jay - photograph ©Bruce A. Morrison 

A New Year has been with us for a bit over a week and I'm still pondering what just happened...for one, last year was over before it began...for another thing, it was good and not so good at the same time.  Confusing huh.

We had entered our 4th straight year of drought here; the spring and summer weren't what we needed to change that, but still there was some moisture at opportune helped the garden, and helped the farmers "just" enough to quell our tendency to dwell on our circumstances.

The Herons returned to the rookery here, the neighbor's fields were prepared and planted, and the pastures started greening up - things seemed "normal".  How we've grown to expect things to move along as we are so accustomed!  

Then drought repeated...the Herons abandoned their rookery for the first time since the nesting colony was established well over 20 years ago. (The Waterman dried for the first time in memory in 2022, and went into winter with a vulnerable fishery pooled up in small isolated pools - which froze to the bottom in the 22-23 winter temps.)  The Waterman quit flowing once again this past summer after Labor Day.

The small birds of the yard and pasture were still a joy; we had Bluebirds nesting again for the first time since the drought began in 2021.  However it was the first year we've witnessed Tree Swallows failing to nest here.  We arrived here over 20 years ago and became accustomed to 20-30 Barn Swallows patrolling the acreage; this year we had 6 pairs, down from 7-8 last year.

Some notable plants in our pasture, having gone dormant 3-4 years past, still did not reappear.  However our gravel esker hillside still offered up amazing color, albeit shorter stature and blooming time.

"Another" year saw historical warm global temperatures.

The world once again roiled in turmoil. 

As summer progressed, our family suffered joy and great loss. 

As fall came into it's time, we saw warmer temps and an unusual gift of 6.5" of rain in 2 was appreciated and celebrated by everyone here!  It got the Waterman flowing once more, however small the flow may be - its a good thing.

Then the warmest November and December I've ever remembered myself.  The ground stayed receptive (unfrozen) and we got an inch and a half of rain here on Christmas Eve day and Christmas day!

We did manage a south pasture burn in November; I had been picking seed all fall and had finally decided to broadcast it over the top of the south pasture on the 23rd of December.  Hopefully this planting will see fruition!

And now we start this second week of the New Year with a return to what we are always accustomed to here - frigid temperatures and snow.  Lets keep that sowed seed covered!

Yes it was an uncommon year - at least for us.  We are thankful for the Blessings from it, and pray for all those around us who have loved and lost, toiled, reaped and harvested.  May this New Year be kind to you and may you be kind to others.  We are all of one family and this world is our only home.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Thanksgiving Time All Around


"Autumn in the Waterman Valley" photo - ©Bruce A. Morrison

It has been a hard year for many; continues to be so for the planet - yet I want to be thankful for what blessings our family has received...not just this year but throughout our lives.

Firstly I am thankful for my life, my family my friends and neighbors...for this place that we were brought to over 20 years ago now.  Georgie never liked uneven years; although I never gave it much thought, I don't think she was far off on this one.  But although we lost loved ones, or suffered some hardships, we are so thankful for every blessing!  We have no guarantees in this life, but I am grateful everyday for taking breath and witnessing the beauty of it all!

I have been absent from the blog since mid-summer; I will throw in a smattering of what keeps our spirits going, with a few descriptions where warranted.  Happy Thanksgiving to each of you out there!

Bumble Bees and Tree Crickets enjoyed our pasture in late summer as much as we did!  


The Monarch roosts returned in late August.
Bald Eagle activity always picks up here beginning in late summer - this one in the yard!
Drought still a concern in September as the Waterman quit flowing again this year...


The trail camera watches all the traffic passing the barn at night.
Things change, and then change again - this was fleeting - gone now.


Lots of friends return or pop by for a visit! 

Georgie and I were able to burn the south pasture for the first time in 3-4 years due to an amazing rain event that lasted about 3 days!  I hope to plant seed I've been collecting for the past month or more...waiting for a "lasting" winter event before seeding that pasture.

The Waterman is flowing once more but is still in need of a return to normal rainfall.

So much has been put to bed here and just awaiting winter.

I hope this finds you and yours well - ready for a celebratory Thanksgiving feast or just a grateful break to reflect on what is good and welcome in your lives.

Think about those things - this world cannot exist unless we are good to one another.  Isn't that what life is about?  There is no "them" and "us"...we are all of one family.  There are no "scores" to be kept nor settled, no "even" to be gotten.  Ponder the good in your lives and spread it out to those in need - they are your brothers and sisters...we are all one...

...Being Thankful.


Saturday, July 8, 2023

July Only Comes Once a Year...


Red-headed Woodpecker - photograph - ©Bruce A. Morrison

Of course it does!  I guess I'm trying to be metaphorical...or maybe melancholy?  Even I don't know.  Maybe getting older has me thinking about things too much.  I was so used to saying to myself things like "I've got to try and see those next July."  Or maybe "We really should take that trip to (fill in the blank) next summer.  I'm not quite there yet but so many things are now out of my reach - they were great ideas but now no longer in the cards.  Especially things like that long hike or trek I always thought would be great to do...even some places I've long had permission to walk with my camera are beginning to be out of the question any more.  If you haven't reached that place in your life, it is sobering when they confront you, and you realize fully, I shouldn't have kept putting it off.  That is "life".



Lately, when I'm up to it, I have been trying very hard to take each moment and have fun with it.  When I was younger, I was busy with things that seemed important.  Now I know so much of it wasn't.  And now, everything is (important).


Female Eastern Bluebird - photograph - ©Bruce A. Morrison

We have had such a fun year with nature here on our little postage stamp sized acreage.  Every day I try and watch and catch things before they pass. 


Cottontail Rabbit...rabbits make Georgie crazy! - photograph - ©Bruce A. Morrison

Echinacea angustifolia in our pasture - photograph - ©Bruce A. Morrison

Pearly Crescentspot (Phyciodes tharos) - photograph - ©Bruce A. Morrison

Asclepias tuberosa in the pasture here - photograph - ©Bruce A. Morrison  

Now I haven't caught everything with the camera or easel of's just not possible.  But what I miss stays with us in other ways - the Yellow-billed Cuckoo which calls from high in the grove, we know its there as it sings for us each day.  Then there's the Eastern Wood Pewee that we also hear each day; we do see it "fly catching" from the lower branches around the yard, but often we only hear it talk to us.  

The morning chorus has been amazing.  I used to try and record it with audio equipment in past years...maybe succeeded in a small way but could never do it justice!  Always first seems to be the Robins, then the Catbirds and Mourning Doves, then the Chipping Sparrows and the Orioles and Meadowlarks and Dickcissels, House Wrens, and so many others...sleeping with the windows open is a blessing!

We have noticed those missing this year...we no longer hear the night time calling of Sedge Wrens, and this year no juvenile Great Horned Owls or summer Redtailed Hawks.  Although the Great Blue Herons returned to the Waterman Creek rookery this spring - they abandoned the rookery in June and none raised their young here.

Not every year is the same..some things change, and not always as we'd wish.  Although we still have our ash trees here in the acreage and in the valley out front - there are farmsteads only a 5 minute trip from us that are losing all of theirs as I speak.  We are not far behind. 

But I will try and take in and enjoy in any way I can what is given to us each day as it happens...each day is a gift!  There is so much to see and do and July only comes once a year.

Be good to one another out there - we truly need each other.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

June is "Dickcissel Month"...Just Say'n


(color pencil drawing - ©Bruce A. Morrison)

I got an idea last summer, reveling in all the Dickcissels living along our road and pastures. Nothing deep or serious mind you...and selfishly - something just for my own fun. I have to keep reminding myself - if you aren't having fun, then knock off what your doing and get to is too short! 
I don't exactly recall why or how I came to this idea? Maybe it was all the perseverance these birds were being educated to each day - forming and raising families...staking their territorial claims and announcing that every day...all day long. Its really quite something to see and hear throughout the summer months.
I decided to just have fun and dedicate this artwork to them...all the graduates of Prairie Hill Farm - Class of '22. They wouldn't all pose for their class pictures but I got a few of them...mostly the guys of course, but a couple girls showed up as well.
Making this reminiscent of an old country school class composite did present some issues for me.  Color pencil is not a good tool for lettering nor graphics...I almost gave up the silly idea half way through, even before getting to the birds. I should've farmed that part off to someone who is actually "Good" at lettering and our Daughter-in-Law Amy, she's a "Natural" at design and lettering - just look around our house!
The birds were fun - as was the central image representing their "school grounds"...putting everyone in a oval was "not" fun...not an easy shape constraint for my tired eyes and hands.
But here's to the "Prairie Hill Farm Summer Academy - Dickcissel Class of '22" - of whom many graduates returned this year and every year, to school their young and bring them up to be proud little Dickie Birds (as someone once called them)!!!
(color pencil drawing - ©Bruce A. Morrison)
I decided to declare June as "Dickcissel Month", in honor of these little birds and the memory they leave behind after they head south at summer's end.   I still have a glimmer of a seed to sprout a more serious Dickcissel piece someday...maybe a painting, who knows?
But I still remind myself not to take things too seriously, and have fun in the moment!
Be good to one another out there - we truly need each other.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Mid June...Not Bad!



Things come on fast once the weather turns hot and even more so if the rain actually starts.  We aren't out of the drought "woods" yet but it has improved from the past 3 years...very grateful for that!

The Dickcissels are back this June and are a happy lot once again - I swear we have one every 50 feet down the road and several in the pastures as well...its great!  They are even nesting in the pasture here - very fun!


And the Bobolinks did show up in the pasture across the road...occasionally they'll chase one another across the road to our place so we can get some enjoyment out of their company!  It was a special time when they nested on our place and when we'd see them up the county blacktops and highway pastures as well, but, again...I am grateful for what we still have.

The spring prairie flowers are happy with our rain too, and the heat is moving them along faster than I can keep up...every time I find something new blooming, its finished before I know!!!
One evening I was down in the SE corner of the north pasture shooting the While Wild Indigos and just as I started walking away a beautiful female Ruby-throated Hummingbird was suddenly right in front of me - feeding on the White Wild Indigos!   The light was subsiding as it was mid evening, but I had the camera on the tripod already and managed some nice photos of her - really fun!

 We are always fortunate to have Meadowlarks in our neighborhood.  I do have difficulty telling "Eastern" from "Western" - UNLESS they sing...Western Meadowlarks are so much more vocal and melodious than Eastern's are...and we get Westerns here quite often each summer.  
One day a week or so back I was in the studio working and heard a beautiful Western Meadowlark belting it out, and it sounded so loud I thought it must be on the barn roof.  I stepped out the door and it was right in front of me on the grass across the driveway...maybe 20 feet away!  We've never had a "Lawn" Lark before!!!  Crazy neat!  I stepped back in and grabbed the camera only to see a Robin dive bomb it...maybe it was stealing his thunder?  But it flit just another 20 feet or more toward the crib so I walked over by the barn's corner and took a few pictures of it in the fresh mowed grass.  I watched it pull a worm up and it commenced to beating it into submission...maybe that's why the Robin didn't want it around - encroaching on its food supply?!
It sang in the yard for another day or two but is now back to it's normal perches around the pasture and down along the road.

Another fun change this year has been the Eastern Kingbirds.  We always see them down along the road...flitting from fence wire to fence post to electrical wire and back.  This year they have taken up residence in the yard!  During noon time Georgie and I would be sitting at the kitchen table having lunch and we watch the Kingbirds flycathing right outside the kitchen windows!  We noticed the favored perches the birds would use to dart out and catch bugs on the wing.  One spot was an old Common Mullein stalk from last year...made a great perch for them.
I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to get some closer shots of these guys...I set up the tripod out side and set the camera on it with a electric remote transmitter/trigger.  While I sat eating lunch that day I was holding the trigger in one hand and eating with the, click, click - "Wow that was a good one!"  
Went through quite a few shots and missed quite a few too, but very happy with the birds!

The days are moving quickly now, even though there's more daylight time - it's still packed with chores and work...inside and out.

I hope you have a good summer ahead good to one another!


Wednesday, May 10, 2023

They Just Keep a Comin'!

Wood Duck Drake - Visiting the "Mrs."
Have I ever been lax!!!  Well, not really, just shirking my blog responsibilities I guess.  It is so easy to get behind on things - especially when Spring arrives with all its distractions and perks!!!
They just keep coming!
Waterman Creek Great Blue Heron Rookery

Nest Building Time
First it was the Great Blue Herons returning to the Waterman Rookery across the road from us.  I'd fretted all winter about them; they'd had so many set backs here the past two years.  Two Derechos in a 7 month period destroyed 2/3's of the rookery...but nest building has taken place in April...not as many birds but around 30-36 we believe at this point.
After the rookery grabbed our attention then the other bird travelers got our attention.  This year was a banner year for Trumpeter Swans!  We observed flocks every day here for nearly 2 weeks - so neat to see that here.

As of today nearly all our spring visitors and summer residents have returned...I believe the Eastern Kingbirds, Bobolinks and Dickcissels are the main characters yet to return, but I know there are others - they just keep a comin'!
Enjoy your Spring and be kind to each other!

(All images - ©Bruce A. Morrison)