Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tips for Owl Calling

February’s full moon is nicknamed the owl moon, as the crisp night air is filled with the calls and hoots of mating owls. Crunch the snow and trek into the woods with a child—or the young at heart—to practice calling owls.

Use the moonlight reflecting off the snow-covered ground to illuminate the surroundings as you follow the sound of an owl’s call. Move slowly and patiently to glimpse owls silhouetted on leafless trees by shimmering moonbeams. When an owl calls, try to mimic the sound and see if you get a response.

All eight species of Iowa owls are found here in the winter. The great horned, screech and barred owls are most common. The short-eared is on the state endangered species list and the barn and long-eared are on the threatened list. If you glimpse one of these, you are lucky indeed.

Very common, most often heard in summer, spring and fall. Search along forested areas in river bottoms across the state, except northwest Iowa.


Common. Small, but slightly larger than a saw-whet owl. Found year-round in Iowa. Nocturnal, but will respond to calls day or night. Nests early spring and summer.

The only owl that nests underground, often using old badger or fox dens. Most recorded sightings are in northwest Iowa.

Endangered. A prairie species, find them hunting over open grasslands. A summer nester and one of the last to nest. “We have a small breeding number during the summer, but more short-ears are in Iowa during the winter, when they move south from prairie areas in Canada,” says Doug Harr, who heads the DNR’s nongame program.

Great Horned
The largest and easiest owl to find, they hoot in a series of five or six in late December and January to attract mates. By following the sound, you can see them sitting in an old red-tailed hawk nest, incubating eggs, even during a snowstorm. Often lay eggs by early February. Their owlets take a long time to mature, so they are the earliest nesters, doing so to take advantage of an early food supply for their young. Owlets can hunt on their own by summer, perfect timing to catch early populations of rabbits and rodents.

Threatened. Find in conifer groves in winter and sometimes in groups. The only owls that form flocks. Usually found in the same location year after year.

Not here during summer, when the all-white snowy resides in the Arctic. “They come down when the food base of lemmings and mice has a population crash,” says Harr. That happens about every four years. “Not responsive to calls, you will just happen upon them sitting on a fencepost or on a frozen clod of dirt in an open field. A ground nester, they like to get on a perch to scan for prey.” Most are found north of Interstate 80.

Northern Saw-Whet
Our smallest owl, “Probably a lot more common than we realize, this owl is very secretive,” says Harr. Often found in winter in red cedar trees. They perch close to tree trunks and sometimes close to the ground. Unafraid of people, they can be approached within a few feet. “This is a species that we are just starting to understand more about,” says Harr.

Barn Owl
Rare, with less than ten known nests in the state. “There are probably more than that, but they are hard to find,” says Harr. An oak savannah species, they thrived when fire and natural free-roaming grazers such as elk kept the forest floor open, with knee-high grasses. A rare and quickly disappearing habitat, the oak forests are now often choked with above-head tangles of brush and woody plants. Barn owls have a distinctive heart-shaped facial shape. Often found in abandoned barns, they are a year-round resident and a spring and summer nester.

Children and adults will enjoy listening to various owl calls online. Visit the famed Cornell Lab of Ornithology at
www.birds.cornell.edu and search for owls.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of
Iowa Outdoors magazine.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Winter Themed Games

Keep your students active this winter with these fun winter themed games.
Penguin Waddle Race
You’ll need:
2 or more players
1 blown-up balloon per child
Start and finish lines (pieces of string, etc.)
  • Players line up, pretending to be penguins.
  • Each player puts a balloon between his or her knees.
  • When the “Go!” signal is given, players race toward the finish line-waddling like penguins!
  • If a player drops a balloon, they must start the race over.
  • The first player to cross the finish line with a balloon between their knees wins. 
Iceberg Hopping
You’ll need:
2 or more players
6-10 paper or plastic plates to act as icebergs
  • Arrange plate “icebergs” in a line, spacing about 12 inches apart.
  • Penguin players line up and take turns hopping from plate to plate. They must land with both feet on each iceberg. If they don’t, they “fall into the ocean” and are out of the game.
  • Players who make it to the last iceberg must hop back across the icebergs. Space the plates a little farther apart for each new round until all but one penguin, the winner, has toppled.

Snowball Tag
Mark off a play area with cones (snowball fight area). Place several mats in a nearby area (snow angel area). Give each student two yarn balls. Scatter extra yarn balls in the "snow fight" area. Students have a "snowball fight" by throwing the yarn balls at each other below the knees. Students may not hold more than 2 snowballs at a time. If a student is hit by a "snowball," he/she must go and make a "snow angel" where the mats are located.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Enjoying Iowa's Winter Outdoor Activities

Being prepared and wearing the right clothes can help your family enjoy all the best Iowa’s outdoors offers in the winter.

Always keep an eye on the weather and wind chills and limit your exposure to the elements when needed. 

Follow these basic tips for staying warm during your winter adventures. 

Know your layers.
Dress properly to shed layers when heating up and add layers when cooling off. Kids should wear snowpants.

Start with a wicking layer.For the wicking layer against skin, wear synthetic long underwear to transfer moisture away from the body. Avoid cotton as it absorbs sweat and doesn’t insulate when wet.

Warm up next.Over the wicking layer, wear fleece, wool sweaters or down jackets. 

Top it off.
To protect yourself from the wind, rain or snow, top with a parka or outer shell layer to repel wind and snow.

Don’t forget the extras.You’ll want sunglasses to reduce glare, especially off of bright snow. Wear thick, warm socks of wool or fleece and snow-proof boots. Bring warm hats and gloves, lip balm, hand and foot warmers, and water bottles insulated in a heavy sock to prevent freezing. A scarf or facemask helps cut the ever-present prairie wind. And don’t forget that sunburns are still possible on a bright winter day or through the clouds, so bring sunscreen, too.

Make Your Own Snowman Bird Feeder

Add bird and wildlife foods to your snowman to make this seasonal rite of passage fun and functional.

Keep Frosty chilled by building him on the shady north sides of buildings. “A lot of feeder birds need a perch,” says the DNR ’s Tim Gedler who not only manages Walnut Woods State Park, but is an avid birder. He advises adding twigs to the snowman.

To attract dark-eye juncos, white-throated sparrows, mourning doves and field sparrows, spread mixed seed on the ground. “They are ground feeders,” he says.

Use these tips to adorn your snowman with treats for birds and wildlife:
1. Peanuts provide a nutritious diet for birds,including black-capped chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmice, woodpeckers, jays and cardinals. Unsalted brands are safe for birds. “Whole peanuts in the shell are absolutely the number one food for bluejays,” says Rick Crouch, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Davenport. Use peanuts for buttons and eyes.

2. "Carve out some niches to place chunks of suet,” says Gedler, or from sticks hang the high energy snack in onion sacks. Place suet high, out of reach of dogs. Don’t use bacon grease, which is too salty and full of preservatives, says Crouch,who adds that suet chunks make great teeth, eyes and ears for any snowman.

3. Smear peanut butter onto an old corn cob to use for a nose. Also add to pine cones, then dip and roll the cone in seeds. Tie ribbon or twine to the cone to hang around the neck and arms.

4. Providing high oil and fat content is easy with black oil sunflower seed, which is less expensive and easier to crack and digest than the striped variety.

5. Dress your snowman with food strings of popcorn and cranberries to increase the food variety and attract colorful birds. Chickadees and nuthatches will feed on the popcorn,wintering robins, cedar waxwings, woodpeckers and cardinals will eat the cranberries, and blue jays will dine on both. Use unsalted, unbuttered popcorn.

6. Load a wide-brimmed hat with sunflower seeds, raisins and cracked corn. A light colored hat will absorb less heat so Frosty can keep his cool.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2007 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Spring Trees For Kids Grant Applications

Trees For Kids applications are available online for schools and communities to involve youth in planting trees on school grounds and other public property.  

In 2014, Trees For Kids Grants were awarded to 40 schools and communities which planted more than 1,600 landscape trees, and involved over 5,200 youth. 

Trees For Kids grants pay up to $5,000 for landscape trees and mulch for schools and other public areas.  Trees may be planted in either spring or fall.  The deadline for submitting a spring application is March 2, 2015.

Each planting project is required to have an educational component with the youth, and Project Learning Tree training is also provided to educators to create lesson plans and utilize curriculum with the planted trees.

Trees planted around schools and in neighborhoods have been shown to give youth increased levels of concentration, lower levels of aggression, lower levels of obesity, and fewer symptoms of ADHD. Communities are made more livable by having a healthy, diverse tree canopy. 

The Trees for Kids and Trees for Teens grant program is funded by Iowa Department of Natural Resources Forestry Bureau, MidAmerican Energy, Black Hills Energy, Alliant Energy, Iowa Bankers Association, Trees Forever, Iowa Tree Farm Committee, and the Iowa Woodland Owners Association.

For information about how to apply for a spring Trees For Kids grant, contact the grant coordinator at laura.wagner@dnr.iowa.gov, 515/281-6749. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Winter Trudge

Bundle up your students and take them on a trudge through the snow to get a close up look at trees in winter. Have students lie under each tree and look up. 

Observe the trees, the sky through the branches, and search for animal homes noticing similarities and differences in evergreen and deciduous trees.  

Measure the snow depth under each tree and use snow shovels to dig for tree treasures (pine needles, cones, etc.) that can later be used  for exploration and manipulatives in the classroom.

Winter Songs
Snowey Pokey
You put your right mitten in, You take your right mitten out,
You put your right mitten in and you shake it all about.
You do the Snowey pokey and you turn yourself around.
That's what it's all about.
Note continue with additional verses:
You put your left mitten in
You put your scarf in
You put your right boot in
You put your left boot in
You put your hat in
You put your snowself in

Tickle Tree
This is my tickle tree,
As you can plainly see,
It will tickle you,
As it has tickled me.
So if you are not careful, this little tickle tree,
Will make you say Hee, Hee, Hee.

Sung to: "The farmer in the Dell"
The frost is on the roof  (point hands over head)
The frost is on the ground  (point to the floor)
The frost is on the window  (make a window with your hands)
The frost is all around  (make large circles with hands)

I'm a Little Pinecone
Sung to: "I'm a Little Teapot"
I'm a little pinecone
brown and small
I live in a pine tree, oh so tall.
When the cold wind blows
I dance and hop -
down to the ground with a

Who is Made of Snow
Sung to: "Do your ears hang low?"
Who is made of snow
When the temperature is low?
Who stands outside
When The ground is cold and white?
Who starts to melt
When the warm sunshine is felt?
Who is made of snow

Winter Art Projects

Mitten Symmetry Art

Fold construction paper in half then reopen, have children paint  with pine cones on one half of the paper then fold the two halves together again and  have them press all over it.  Open it back up and you have a symmetrical pattern.  After it dries, fold it together again and cut out a mitten shape--you should end up with a pair  of matching mittens.  Staple a string between them and hang them for display.

Snowman Name Graph
Use blue paper, have children cut out small circles from white paper and write the letters of their name on each circle.  Assemble the circles, spelling their names and one with a face into snowmen let them draw details and hang together.  See whose name makes the tallest and shortest snowman.  Arrange them from shortest to tallest and create a class snowman book.

Snowmen Pie faces
Using pie plates filled with snow, a baby carrot, button eyes  and chocolate chip mouth make snowmen faces in each pie plate and place different  places--freezer, outside, in room. Check your snowmen often and chart changes.  Discuss results of each location.

Scarf Patterns

Cut a long construction paper in half and tape to make a long scarf, let children create fringe on edges with scissors and glue shapes in patterns along scarf.

Friday, December 19, 2014

America’s State Parks First Day Hikes

DES MOINES – Iowa State Parks will sponsor free, guided hikes in five state parks on New Year’s Day as part of America's State Parks First Day Hikes initiative in all 50 states. 

America’s State Parks First Day Hikes offer individuals and families an opportunity to begin the New Year rejuvenating and connecting with the outdoors by taking a healthy hike on January 1 at a state park close to home. First Day Hikes offer a great way to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the New Year with friends and family. 

“We are excited to host First Day Hikes as part of this national effort to get people outdoors and into our parks.  First Day Hikes are a great way to cure cabin fever and burn off those extra holiday calories by starting off the New Year with an invigorating walk or hike in one of our beautiful state parks,” said Todd Coffelt, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources State Parks Bureau.  

Priscilla Geigis, president of the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD), said last year, state parks across the country hosted nearly 28,000 people who hiked 68,811 miles as part of America’s State Parks First Day Hikes. “Think of it as the start of a new and healthy lifestyle, for the whole family. Whether you’re staying close to home or traveling, join us at one of America’s State Parks on New Year’s Day,” Geigis said.

Iowa’s state parks boast a variety of beautiful settings for year-round outdoor recreation, and each First Day Hike will offer an opportunity to explore the unique natural and cultural treasures close to home. 

“Studies have proven that getting outdoors is one good way to relax and recharge the body, mind and spirit,” stated Lewis Ledford, NASPD’s executive director.  “We hope that hiking along a trail in a state park will become part of an individual’s or family’s regular exercise routine.”

First Day Hikes originated more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Mass.  The program was launched to promote both healthy lifestyles throughout the year and year round recreation at state parks.  Last year marked the first time all 50 state park systems have joined together to sponsor First Day Hikes.

Park staff and volunteers will lead the hikes, which average one to two miles or longer depending on the state park.  Details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain and tips regarding proper clothing are listed on the America’s State Parks website.  Visit www.naspd.org to find a First Day Hike nearest you.

In Iowa, hikes will be offered at the following locations and times:
  • Bellevue State Park, Jackson County – 1 p.m. – meet at South Bluff Nature Center
  • Brushy Creek State Recreation Area, Webster County – 1 p.m. – meet at Prairie Resource Center
  • Mines of Spain State Recreation Area, Dubuque County – 1 p.m. – meet at EB Lyons Nature Center
  • Walnut Woods State Park, Polk County – 9 a.m. – meet at Walnut Woods Lodge
  • Waubonsie State Park, Fremont County – 1 p.m. – meet at park office

For more information about the hikes, go to the events calendar on the DNR website.

America's State Parks is committed to promoting outdoor recreation in state parks as a way to address obesity, especially among children.  Getting kids outside and unplugged from video games and other electronic media creates a unique connection with nature that promotes physical and mental well-being and encourages creativity and stewardship of our shared resources.

MEDIA CONTACT: Todd Coffelt, Chief, State Parks Bureau, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 515-725-8485.