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Thankful for the Great Outdoors

November 17, 2012

GREEN CASTLE's water is slipping away, trickling through a special spillway tube gate. The once 16 acre surface area lake is shrinking on purpose as a management strategy. Sometime in 2013, when the water is as low as it can be go, DNR fisheries crews from Solon will complete the task of fish removal. Unfortunately all species of fish in this body of water will also have to go. A complete starting over plan is what is called for. Once the common carp is gone, the lake can be allowed to refill. Then a new stocking of prey and predator fish will begin.

Fisheries biologists have had lots of experience with small lake environments. Lakes, just as in land management schemes, are never static. Things always change and over time, the balance that once existed between game fish predators and game fish prey goes wacky. Drawing upon their knowledge of what works and what doesn't, there comes a time when "pulling the plug" so to speak is the only option left. Start over. Lower the lake substantially, kill any remaining fish, refill the lake the following year (or two) and restock with appropriate numbers of desired fish.

In the meantime, Marshall County Conservation Board director Mike Stegmann is investigating what his staff, and perhaps what a contractor with special equipment, can do for at least some silt removal from the lake basin, and consider building additional fish habitat structures such as islands or submerged rock reefs. Rest assured that there will be improvements to the shoreline and basin areas for that time when water is allowed to refill the lake.

Article Photos

Water continues its slow decrease at Green Castle. This image was made earlier this week and it helps illustrate exposed shorelines. The purposeful drawdown of water is part of a management decision by the Marshall County Conservation Board to rid the 16 acre lake of common carp. The drawdown will continue into the winter. 

Green Castle was acquired in 1977. A total land area of 116.5 acres exists in this tract. The lake itself, when full, has a surface area of 16 acres and a volume of about 150 acre feet of water. Water is always a magnet for outdoor recreation. Development began in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with three shelter houses built and an interior park roadway system graded. Three silt dams were also built as part of a defense against silt washing in from the watershed. No doubt those small silt ponds have helped the main lake stay as good as it has for the last 35 years. Last year extensive remodeling was completed at the area's largest shelter house, Gander Lookout. Green Castle also has an eight acre bison pasture, trumpeter swans and native wildlife living within its prairie grass areas and extensive tree planting.

It will take lots of time and money to fix Green Castle aquatic environment. For the public, this little piece of advice is appropriate. Be patient. Do go to Green Castle for fishing this fall and winter. When the ice gets thick enough, there will be fish and some of them should be very hungry. Stay tuned for updates.


HOMES for wildlife come in many forms. Some dig burrows underground and build grass lined sleeping chambers below frost line. Examples are 13 lined ground squirrels and woodchucks. That will help them survive a long winter through hibernation. Foxes, coyotes and river otters use burrows as more temporary hideaways because they do not hibernate, needing to venture out for food. Deer have shed their summer un-insulated hair coats for the new growth of hollow hair coats that act as a warm blanket to retain body heat during the cold winter to come. And resident birds have to take shelter where they can find it ... hollow trees, thick conifer windbreak planting, bushes and weedy draws or prairie grasses.

I've come to know and see quite often one particular nuthatch. It has a home to go to each night. A dead elm tree is that home, its top broken off by wind and time. Dutch elm disease has already claimed the life of the tree. But even in death, this standing barkless snag of a tree trunk has a useful purpose. The tree snag stands about a dozen feet away at my eye level from a deer hunting tree stand I use. While waiting for a cruising deer or two to hopefully pass the stand, I have a lot of time to observe all kinds of other wildlife interactions of the forest. Near the top of this elm snag is an old woodpecker carved hole. It is this hidden chamber that the nuthatch calls home. Like clockwork each night, about 15 minutes after sunset, I hear first and then see this little ball of gray, black and white feathered critter arrive at its doorstep, make a quick inspection, and then dive into the cavity where it can safely spend the night. The nuthatch is home. Fifteen minutes or so later, I climb down from the stand, walk out of the dark forest, drive to Albion and then walk through the door to my home. Warm and secure, the nuthatch will become active again at sunrise. So will I. We each have our place to call home.


Beware of Barred Owls? Well, yes, if you happen to live in Washington State. It has happened several times where people out jogging on park trails have been attacked by owls. And the prime target seems to be ladies with hair pulled back into a pony tail. While jogging, the hair swings back and forth with the pace of the runner. On more than one occasion, barred owls have attacked the moving hair piece and left bleeding scalp cuts in the heads of the joggers. Rangers are not sure how to keep owls away from joggers. Sharp talon bearing birds of prey fly in silently and leave the same way. My guess is that joggers will have to wear a bicycle helmet and stuff the pony tail inside it. Strange but true. Be careful out there.


It rained last weekend. Did anyone notice? Yes we did. It was a gentle rain that soaked into thirsty soils, like a dry sponge left outside. I was asked by a friend if the Iowa River had any rise in its flow after the rain. I didn't think so was my answer. But I knew how to check it out. A website maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers has hard data from sites on all the rivers of the United States. A quick check with the Rock Island district and then onto the Iowa River basin showed that the Iowa River did not even flinch. It held steady. There was no runoff from the rain. The rain came slowly and the soils absorbed it easily. Good job Mother Nature. Can we have some more rains like that before freeze-up? She will let us know in due time.


THANKSGIVING is next week. For many families it is a time to celebrate and give thanks for friends and good food. Wild turkey taken by a hunter or store bought turkey all cook up about the same. It is an American tradition that dates back to 1621. Sixty-seven percent of American homes will serve turkey at Thanksgiving. Our domestic turkey is descendent from wild stock from Mexico and Central America. Male turkeys are called Toms and females are called hens. Benjamin Franklin was a great American statesman who lobbied for the turkey to be our national emblem. (The Bald Eagle won this battle.) How many feathers does an mature turkey have? ... about 3,500. A turkey can run 25 mph but if airborne, can fly 55 mph. Abraham Lincoln, while President of the United States, specified that Thanksgiving should be observed on the fourth Thursday of November. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to move the Thanksgiving holiday to the next to last Thursday in November to create a longer Christmas shopping season. He did not win that battle. And lastly, what is the fastest way to defrost a frozen turkey? ... submerge in cold water. What is the fastest way to consume a turkey? ... share it with family members and good friends.

The National Wild Turkey Federation is 40 years old next year. They organized on March 28, 1973 in Fredericksburg, Va. They have a long history of successful upland wildlife conservation cooperative efforts with state conservation agencies. To date, more than 17 million acres of habitat have been secured through cooperative programs with state, local and federal wildlife departments. The NWTF has raised over $372 million since 1985 for habitat. Into more than 99.5 percent of that habitat, stocking of wild birds has taken place. From the humble beginnings of the 1900's when only 30,000 wild turkeys existed in all of North America, we now have more than 7 million birds in 49 states plus Canada and Mexico. The NWTF is working hard to continue to defend and preserve our hunting heritage.


A BIG THANK YOU is in order to the Tama County Soil and Water Conservation District for an award they presented to this scribe last Wednesday. I was given the "Friend of Conservation Award" for my assistance to them for kids competing in a grocery bad coloring contest. The winner each year gets a plane ride with me over the land where they live and work. It is fun to do. My award was preceded with recognition to other land owners or tenets for Owner Operator, Wildlife, Windbreaks big and small, Rural backyard and Urban backyard conservation. Scholarships were given to students studying fields of varied conservation subjects. And local 4-H conservation projects were also recognized. A big salute is in order to the Tama County Soil and Water Conservation District.


Lost time can never be found.



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