Author Archives: Pamela

Freshwater Mussels of Iowa

Photo by Chris Wendel 

Freshwater mussels are known as bivalves (mollusks with two shells). They live in the lakes, rivers and streams of Iowa. Currently Iowa has 42 species, down from an original count of 54.  North America has approximately 300 species of mussels. In Iowa, nine mussels are endangered and six are now threatened.  Currently, mussels are the most imperiled animal across North America and deserve our protections. The most species exist in the mid-western states but are in decline here as well.

Mussels are an indicator of water body health and are vulnerable to poor water quality due to pollution, sedimentation and impairment.  Dams can also prevent travel of host fish species, thus trapping the species dam to dam.  Mussel populations improve when dams are removed.

Mussels are very tough, temporarily in impaired waters and are great at water filtering with an average of 9 to 10 gallons of water per day per mussel being filtered. It makes sense to help and conserve them so they can help purify our 750 impaired rivers and waterways of Iowa. They can be very long lived, living 10 to 100 years in the right conditions.  They develop growth rings on their shells similar to tree rings.

Mussel babies called Glochidia, get attached to their specific host fish by assorted methods by the female mussel. They live on the gills and fins of fish for weeks or months, then are released to the water body bottom to live out their life filtering water and enjoying the nutrients that float by.  They will not travel far during their lifespans and sometimes you can see their path in shallow water.  If you see one in shallow water, it makes sense to move them to deeper water. Do not try to bury them, let them place themselves back into their preferred position.

Many river animals rely on mussels for food. They are muskrats, mink, otters, raccoons, turtles, fish and birds like crows, geese, egrets and heron.  As a result, you will see many dead shells on banks, sand and gravel bars.

During the early 1900’s mussels were over harvested due to the large pearl button industry in Iowa. Buttons were punched out of shells creating blanks that became buttons.  Button factories were located in Lansing, Muscatine, Guttenberg and many along the Iowa river. Over harvesting lead to much mussel decline.  As a result, laws were created and plastics replaced the pearl button craze. There still exists mussel poaching, with shells being sent to the Japanese cultured pearl industry.

It is best to not collect or dig out these vulnerable species and instead, enjoy looking at and comparing dead mussel shells on sandbars while you recreate. It is illegal to possess live or dead threatened or endangered mussels of Iowa. Stiff fines up to $50,000 can result. Mussel species are difficult to identify, so be careful if you do.

Keeping Your Canoe Upright

One goal of an enjoyable canoe trip is keeping you and your gear dry. That means keeping your canoe upright. Here are some easy tips on how.

One tip a canoe paddler can do is kneel down in the canoe. If you’ve sat in the seat all of your canoeing life, you’ll immediately notice how much more stable the canoe is when you kneel down.

Spread your knees so they touch the area where the sides and floor of the canoe meet. Now rest your rear on front of the seat. It’s that easy. No need to kneel the whole trip, but it’s a good idea when going through rough water.

Don’t want to kneel on those tender, bare knees? Wear knee pads, the kind volleyball players wear. Or, toss a thin closed-cell pad on the floor of the canoe in front of you. If you find kneeling to your liking, you may want to glue the pad permanently to the floor of the canoe.

Canoes sometimes flip when paddlers get into their boats. No worries when you use this technique: Stand beside the canoe. Now place one hand on the left gunwale and one on the right gunwale, so you have a steady hand-hold on both gunwales. Now, place one foot on the floor of the canoe. Here you’ve got three points of contact with the boat. Now shove off with your other foot that’s on shore, then sit or kneel down.

On a river in a canoe or kayak, most obstacles that are going to cause trouble are located on the outside of bends in the stream. Going into a bend, keep to the inside of the bend because the current is naturally going to push you to the outside.

It’s easy to get distracted chit-chatting your way downstream, enjoying the scenery and wildlife. Pay attention to what’s downriver. If you see a rock or tree ahead, plan far in advance how you’re going to avoid it. Don’t wait until you’re 10 yards upstream from trouble to plan your moves.

Most importantly, wear your life jacket so you’ll live to enjoy a lifetime of river adventures.

Article courtesy of Guest Author Flip Putthoff

Species 101: American Cliff Swallow

The American Cliff Swallow can be seen under the numerous bridges in Iowa with gourd shaped sheltered nests built of dried mud nesting along with a few nests or in extensive colonies.  Paddlers and boaters see these sleek, fast iridescent birds swoop to catch insects across rivers, then, fly straight into their nests to feed their little ones or eat “on the wing”.  Insects are their main diet along with occasional berries.

The male and female both prepare for their young.  Once their 3 – 6 eggs are laid, the incubation period lasts 14 -16 days by both parents.  The babies fledge at 21 -23 days.  Old nests that have been repaired and re-patched with dried mud is often used. Feathers and dried grasses placed inside create a soft location for their brown dotted, pale pink eggs.

These birds have an almost constant chattering and squeaking vocalization that is magnified and echo under the bridge structures.

They are some of the earliest birds to migrate leaving Iowa in the mid to early August to winter in the southern parts of South America. Migration occurs in the daylight hours in flocks. They will return again from March through May with the male first choosing the nest.

Info credits to: www.audubon.org and www.birthwatchingblog.us

Photo Credits to Wikipedia: 1894 Painting, American Cliff Swallow  

 

Turtle Turtle, Where are you?

 Photo Credits to: Iowa State Fair 4-H Top 20 Photo Winner:  Haidyn Snyder, Waverly, Iowa

 

Turtles are declining in Iowa and remain at best a very vulnerable, fragile population. They have many challenges facing them. It includes habitat loss and destruction through drought, flooding, and human disruption. Other challenges are a long harvest season, over-harvesting by Sport and Commercial hunters and an unquenchable export business to Asian markets.

Iowa’s 750 impaired polluted waterways, low hatch-ling survival, and high nest predation by several species of common animal predators will continue to keep these beloved reptiles vulnerable.

During nesting timelines, there are a large number of car-turtle collisions for the egg laying females as well as being easy targets for capture for pet use when crossing roads, parks and common areas.

It takes 7-11 years to reach sexual maturity for females, so their loss is magnified. Once they are gone from a habitat, it is difficult to re-establish them.

There is hope for a future readjustment to their long harvest season and high possession limits.

Bill #HF2357 requires the Iowa DNR to complete a turtle study to see if the current regulations provide a sustainable population.  The study will be provided to the Iowa Legislature by January 1, 2021. Let’s hope it is not too late.

Dams, Then and Now!

Littleton Dam and Mill, 1800’s.  Wapsipinicon River, Buchanan County 
Photo Credits to Robert Ungs 

 

Dams have had their place in Iowa history. Originally built out of timbered wood, they were used to power various mills such as flour, gristmills and sawmills. Their power was later harnessed for hydro-electric needs and timber was replaced with concrete structures.

Most dams have seen their value depleted and a need for removal due to age, human safety and are a barrier for fish reproduction and do create a decline in vulnerable mussel species.
Some municipal water supplies are assisted by dams as well as some recreational pools. By and large however, dams have served their purposes long ago and rivers can be set free to their original wild and natural ways.

 

Littleton Dam removal:  winter, 2019. Photo Credits to Iowa DNR 

Littleton Dam:  summer, 2019. Conversion, currently in process. 
Photo Credits to Pam Wolter 

Jefferson County Conservation and Iowa DNR Water Trails Events

Birmingham, with the State Hygienic Laboratory, allows participants to carefully touch
or closely investigate the fish from the river.

With Bike Van Buren drawing people to Van Buren County, Jefferson County Conservation and the DNR Water Trails planned two additional programs to enhance the weekend. On Friday, August 16th the Full Moon Float was held at Lacey-Keosauqua State Park on the lake. Saturday morning, August 17th was the Aquatic Life of the River program at the Boat Ramp at Bonaparte along the Des Moines River.

Naturalist, Brittney Tiller led the Full Moon Float as she discussed the stories of the night sky. The sky was overall cloudy but there were enough breaks in the clouds to see several different constellations. Nineteen people attended the paddle with an even mix of kayaks and canoes. Tiller led participants across the lake, stopping several times. With each stop, participants heard stories of various constellations, stars, and planets.  Participants were able to see the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, and Jupiter. Tiller shared stories of the constellations even though they were not able to be seen through the clouds.   The stories behind the constellations spanned several thousand years and many different cultures. Participants were held captive by the oral history of the stars, much like the people groups who created the stories or the nations that once called the Des Moines River home.

The following morning, Mike Birmingham and his team from the State Hygienic Lab brought their equipment to sample the river. They used various techniques to sample the river, but the most exciting was the electroshocking boat. While using this boat, they were able to net several different fish species such as flathead catfish, walleye, bigmouth buffalo, smallmouth buffalo, quillback, shortnose gar and sturgeon. After shocking the river, the boat returned to shore to allow participants an up-close view of the fish. Over forty participants were able to watch from the boat ramp as Mike brought up the different species of fish. Participants from various ages, locations, and backgrounds all attended the program.

Overall both programs were successful at educating the public on two different topics both while getting people outside.

Article provided by Jefferson County Conservation

Big Lakes, Big Water, Big Wind, Big Waves

Article by John Pearson, Iowa DNR 

Photo by Pam Wolter 

Paddling on big lakes can be immensely rewarding for their access to beautiful, expansive landscapes and intimate viewing of new suites of wildlife, but it needs to be done with full respect for the power of wind and waves that are unique to big water.   Many paddlers first learn their boat-handling skills on rivers and creeks where currents, rapids, strainers, and sweepers are the main features and hazards with which to be reckoned.   With the glaring exception of paddling laboriously downstream against an upstream headwind, wind is not typically a big issue on rivers, tucked away as they often are in narrow, wind-buffered valley bottoms protected by tree-lined banks and bluffs.  Venturing out onto the open, exposed waters of big lakes, however, presents a new set of hazards with wind being chief among them.  River paddlers who wish to explore the beauty of big lakes need to be aware of the special challenges of wind and waves that are likely to be new to them.  Let’s explore how to do that!

Iowa’s big lakes include the flood-control reservoirs of Red Rock, Rathbun, Saylorville, and Coralville, the navigation pools of the Mississippi River, and large natural lakes such as Spirit Lake, West Okoboji Lake, Storm Lake, and Clear Lake in northern and northwest Iowa.  How big is big?  Lake Red Rock leads the list with 15,000 acres at normal pool, swelling to 70,000 acres during periods of high water; it is informally known as “Iowa’s inland sea” and can feature dangerously sea-like conditions of big waves and crashing surf.  Rathbun Lake is a close second with 11,000 acres at normal pool and 21,000 acres at flood pool.  More important than the mere acreage of a lake is its “fetch” – the distance that wind can travel unimpeded by topographic blockage or tall vegetation.  The longer the fetch, the greater its potential to generate big waves.  At flood pool, Lake Red Rock presents over 25 miles of open water to winds sweeping in from the northwest.  By the time waves reach the southeast end of the lake, they have been building in size and strength for many miles.  Even the “smallest” lakes listed above – Clear Lake (3600 acres) and Storm Lake (3400 acres) – are several miles in diameter and can build to sea-like conditions under strong winds.  I have personally witnessed waves several feet in height pushed across Lake Red Rock and smashing onto its rocky shoreline on windy days when even the most skilled, intrepid, and dare-devilish kayakers choose to watch the spectacle safely from shore!

Almost needless to say, beginning paddlers and paddlers experienced only on rivers and small, quiet lakes and ponds should not venture out into the dangerous conditions of big winds and big waves on big lakes.  I say “almost” needless because all too often paddlers newly venturing onto big lakes find themselves in conditions beyond their comfort level and boat-handling skills.  Sometimes this can be due to false confidence (“I can handle this”), but often it is the case that new paddlers set off in conditions that are initially benign but unexpectedly change into something more dangerous.  Here are ways to avoid that pitfall and to enjoy a safe and rewarding outing:

Use a boat designed for the conditions you will encounter – Different boats are designed for different uses.  While open canoes can safely traverse calm water, they can swamp in big waves; they should be used only in calm conditions near shore.  Although having a closed deck to shed overwashing waves, recreational kayaks (with unpartitioned hulls) can also completely fill with water upon capsizing; like canoes, they should be used only near shore where paddlers can easily swim to safety after capsizing.  Sea kayaks, partitioned with front and rear bulkheads, are the boats best suited for paddling on big lakes because their closed decks shed overwashing waves, remain afloat after capsizes, and can be rescued without going ashore.  Given that conditions may change during the course of a trip from calm to rough and that paddlers may wander from near shore to far from shore, sea kayaks are the most versatile vessel for paddling on big lakes.  However, sea kayaks can be expensive, so paddlers may opt to use more affordable recreational kayaks or canoes.… which is fine, just be sure to use them only for the calm, near-shore environment for which they were designed!

Know your comfort level with wind speed – Always check the weather report before a trip and pay particular attention to current and predicted wind speed and direction.  Weather reports on commercial radio and television do not consistently provide this level of detail, so be sure to consult a source that does, such as the National Weather Service (NWS) broadcast on a dedicated weather radio or viewed on a website with hourly predictions.  Critical thresholds for wind are:

·         0-5 MPH – Flat water easy for any skill level

·         5-10 MPH – Beginners feel uneasy with small waves

·         10-15 MPH – Waves begin to build, beginners experience difficulty with boat handling

·         15-20 MPH – Wind and waves are an issue even for experienced paddlers

·         >20 MPH – These are strong winds with big waves, only skilled paddlers should be out

Pay attention to whether winds are predicted to increase later in the day.  Just because conditions are calm when you launch in the morning will not guarantee that they will not be rough in the afternoon when you are returning.  If you are comfortable only in wind less than 10 MPH but the wind is predicted to rise above 15 MPH, be sure to return well before the increase sets in (which may arrive sooner than predicted)!

Be aware of wind direction – Launch ramps are often located in protected bays where the effect of wind and waves are not pronounced, but paddling out of the bay into the open lake can expose paddlers to winds of unexpected strength from an unexpected direction.  Again, listen to a detailed weather report and link that information to the layout of the shoreline you will be following.  At Lake Red Rock, paddlers often launch from the ramp just east of Hwy 14 on the south shore.  When the wind is from the southeast, paddling northeastward along the shoreline will be in calm water protected from the wind by a high upland… until you reach Elk Rock Point, where the shoreline veers to the southeast and you will be confronted with a headwind.  If you are simply following the shoreline without paying attention to its  change in direction, you may find yourself suddenly committed to much rougher water than you expected or can handle.  Always anticipate a change in conditions as you “round a corner” and reassess if you (and everyone in your party) are able and comfortable with continuing.

Another hazard related to wind direction is when waves are blown onto cliffs, resulting in rebounding waves interacting with incoming waves to create a highly turbulent zone known as clapotis… or less formally as “washing machine waves”.  Coming from two directions, waves in this zone are wild and chaotic with crests and troughs often doubled in height and depth.  Capsizing is a real hazard here, combined with the threat of being pummeled against rock cliffs!  Although ominous, clapotis is usually localized at the base of cliffs can be easily avoided by paddling a route around and away from the rough zone.

Become skilled for paddling in rough water – Despite good intentions to paddle only in benign weather, new paddlers may unexpectedly get caught in rough conditions.  Be prepared for that inevitability by learning a full complement of basic strokes, braces, and rescue techniques:

·         Forward strokes, reverse strokes, sweep strokes, pinweeds, draws, and rudders – these will help you maneuver your boat to avoid trouble spots and to paddle out of them if you get caught.

·         Low brace, high brace, and sculling for support can prevent you from capsizing if you lose your balance.

·         Scramble rescue, paddle float rescue, and partner rescues will enable you to recover from capsizing with or without assistance.

The best way to learn these skills is to take lessons from trained instructors.  Yes, there is a cost associated with training, both in time and dollars.  Your skill level and safety are worth it!

Use good judgment – Big lakes are more variable than the small lakes and rivers you have likely experienced, more exposed to wind and their accompanying waves.  Watch the weather and be prepared to alter your original plan in the face of changing conditions.  Know your strengths, weaknesses, and limitations and always stay within your skill level… while raising that level for future outings through training and practice.  Be smart, be safe, and enjoy the beauty and challenges of Iowa’s big lakes!

 

Clean Water Advocates and Experts Gathered at Iowa Water Quality Summit

Clean Water Advocates and Experts Gathered at Iowa Water Quality Summit
Izaak Walton League Brings Community Together To Address Water Pollution Across Iowa

Des Moines, IA – Water pollution is a persistent threat in communities across Iowa. Last weekend, the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) brought together advocates, academics, and agency staff to discuss water quality challenges specific to Iowa and map out steps to create a state-wide volunteer network to monitor water quality and push for changes to improve water quality.

“Monitoring is the first step to improving water quality,” says Sam Briggs, IWLA Clean Water Program Director. “You have to know what’s wrong to be able to fix it. Our goal is to train more stream monitors across Iowa and provide a home for their monitoring results that the public can use to find water quality information for their communities.”

IOWATER, the state’s volunteer water quality monitoring program, no longer has funding to continue, so the League is working to find other ways for individuals and organizations to collaborate on a state-wide volunteer water quality monitoring program. The League partnered with our local Des Moines Chapter to host an Iowa Water Quality Summit.

“Iowa has over 750 impaired waterways and is one of the main contributors to the ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico,” says Mike Delaney, Conservation Director for the IWLA Iowa Division. “Public health and recreation continue to be threatened by polluted waters. Monitoring waterways is critical to gauge how we are doing – for better or worse.”

Delaney opened the summit, followed by a warm welcome from Richard Galloway, President of the IWLA Des Moines Chapter. Sam Briggs shared information about how the League’s Clean Water Hub (cleanwaterhub.org) provides a nationwide database to share local water quality monitoring results. Due to the urgency of Iowa’s water quality problems, the League recently dedicated a full-time position staff person to Iowa to serve as the Midwest Save our Streams Coordinator. This is a huge step forward to help expand water quality monitoring efforts in Iowa.

Speakers, panel discussions, and breakout sessions incorporated knowledge, experience, challenges, and successes based on long-term programs. Presenters and panel members included Mary Skopec (Iowa Lakeside Laboratory), Steve Konrady (Iowa DNR), Chris Jones (IIHR), Dan Haug (Prairie Rivers of Iowa), Ted Corrigan (Des Moines Water Works), Susan Judkins (President, Watershed Management Association), and Rich Leopold (Polk County Conservation). Attendees left the summit feeling optimistic that collaboration will continue and expand with the support of the Izaak Walton League of America.

The Iowa Water Quality Summit followed two other important water quality events in Des Moines this summer. The League’s annual National Convention was held in West Des Moines July 16-19, and the Iowa Water Festival was held at the League’s Des Moines Chapter on June 23.

To learn more about how to get involved in improving water quality in Iowa, contact Save Our Streams Coordinator Zach Moss (zmoss@iwla.org) or visit www.iwla.org/cleanwater.

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Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League of America (www.iwla.org) protects America’s outdoors through education, community-based conservation, and promoting outdoor recreation.

Geode Paddle Event by Jefferson County Conservation

Article by Jefferson County Conservation

Photo by Jefferson County Conservation: Two participants paddle for the takeout. You can see the rocks weighing down the back end of the kayaks.

Over twenty people took to the water in search of geodes along the Des Moines River. The ‘Geode Paddle’ was held on Friday, August 9th starting at 10:00am. Although the paddle was only 3.6 river miles, participants enjoyed the shorter route which allowed them to spend most of their time searching rock bars for fossils and geodes.  The paddle began at Bentonsport and ended in Bonaparte. Ryan Clark, geologist with the Iowa Geological Survey, led the paddle as he discussed the geology of Iowa and why we find geodes in this stretch of river.

Clark began by sharing an overview of Iowa’s geologic history. This timeline helped for participants to have a better understanding of why the geodes are found in this area and what rock layer to be looking in. Once Clark completed his talk, Brittney Tiller, Naturalist with Jefferson County Conservation gave a brief safety talk and summary of the day. Participants began launching shortly after the talk wrapped up.

Clark explained that the geodes came from the Warsaw Formation which is a grayish shale that can easily be eroded. Participants would paddle a short distance down river before stopping at a rock bar to search for nature’s treasures. After two stops of searching for geodes, participants stopped at another rock bar. This one had more limestone present which meant geodes were not as prevalent however fossils could be found in nearly every rock. From horn coral, crinoids, and brachiopods, the fossils were in abundance. Participants were excited to have a great mix of both fossils and geodes in their boats to take home. Two more rock bars were hit before taking out at Bonaparte.

With a very long waiting list, high interest, and participants which had such a great time, this topic is clearly a participant favorite. Participants seemed to be amazed that this stretch of river had so much to offer. Overall this was an extremely successful program which should be offered again.

Kayak Paddle, How to Narrow Down Your Choice

How to choose? When trying out a potential new paddle here are some considerations to improve your purchase of the “best fit” paddle for you.

  • Practice using assorted paddles at a demo event
  • Use good posture to practice
  • Practice the torso twist as if you were paddling your kayak
  • Use proper hand positioning
  • Figure out if you are a high-angle paddler (hold hands above shoulder height) use a shorter. paddle or a low- angle paddler (hold hands below shoulder height) use a longer paddle
  • Decide on composition: Choices…plastic, wood or carbon using price considerations, weight and aesthetics
  • Blade size? Will you need to move a lot of water?
  • Consult a manufacturers chart using your torso height rather than general height. It can make a huge difference.
  • Consider feathering options for wind considerations
  • Consider shaft diameter depending on hand size. Do you have small hands? Use a smaller diameter shaft for grip comfort and less tiring paddling.

Article credits to: http://www.paddling.com; http://www.theadventurejunkies.comhttp://www.kayakingacademy.com