Gifts of spring: wildflowers and mushrooms

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — May warm weather has assisted in the emergence of life from the soil. At this time of year, morel mushrooms are one delicacy that is much sought after by some folks. Divulging where the “secret” spots are for finding morels is not considered good behavior. Meanwhile, wildflowers are emerging from forest and prairie land soils especially after good rains have fallen and warmer air temperatures become established. Life is renewed by Mother Nature every year. Now it is our turn again to venture out and about to enjoy these gifts of spring.

Springtime is most welcome to everyone. After a long cold winter, we all can bask in the warmth of the spring season, appreciate new plant and animal life, look forward to planting season for farmland or garden areas, and even appreciate those mundane tasks of mowing lawns. At this time of year lots of emerging new life is all around us, and this week I’ll take you on a mini-tour of some of nature’s best offerings.

To start off, lots of migrating birds are filtering into central Iowa. Baltimore orioles are hitting grape jelly dishes on a regular basis. White-crowned sparrows were here during the previous two weeks, and now they have moved on toward summer nesting grounds of the high arctic and Alaska.

Red-breasted nuthatches are few but good to see again as they patrol feeding stations. Also arriving have been eastern hummingbirds, indigo buntings, chipping sparrows and rose-breasted grosbeaks.

Larger birds like Canada geese are super abundant and sitting on eggs in the nest. Soon, the first hatches of goslings will appear later this month. Wild turkeys are another large avian critter.

Hunting season for wild tom turkeys is winding down with the last day of the season being May 15.

As of mid week, turkey harvest data shows 69 turkeys registered by Marshall County hunters. Statewide the number stood at 10,746. These numbers will grow only a tad more by Sunday evening. Grundy County hunters registered two tom turkeys, and meanwhile in some border Mississippi River counties, harvest numbers are in the high 200s and even into the 300s.

Our local bald eagle active nests, about 12 of them, are going to produce an average of two eaglets per nest. They are hatched at this time and being fed by the parents in a growing demand for fish, rodents, and rabbits.

Great horned owls and barred owls have their young hatchlings to care for, and food sources that owls hunt include rodents, rabbits and whatever else those silent night shift hunters can gather.

Sandhill Cranes are not too common, but we have them in Marshall County. The wetland complexes between Marshalltown and Albion hold at least one pair of cranes who occasionally can be seen, or heard, in that vicinity. Great blue herons in their rookery complexes are hatching little herons at this time. All is good.


Morel mushrooms are popping to the surface of woodlands and other select places. Today’s image of a medium sized morel was more a case of accidental bumping into it than the result of dedicated hunting.

This scribe was just enjoying a hike this week, and when I looked down, this morel greeted my eyesight. So I made images of it and its fellow fungi, did not pick them, but left them for the spores they will produce by the tens of thousands. Perhaps next year, this “secret spot” will yield a harvestable quantity.

Morel mushrooms are members of the genus morchella that include several distinct species. The yellow or gray colored mushrooms are most common. Mushrooms can be mysterious for botanists who want to learn all they can about how these fungi live and reproduce.

It is not an easy task. For starters, growers who have attempted to commercially raise morel mushrooms have not deciphered the secrets of how these organisms’ life cycle may or may not develop. Fungi as a group have yeast, molds and fruiting bodies.

The morel in today’s image is the fruiting body that produces spores for future morels, but this is just one stage of its life. Spores, if landing on suitable soils, leaf litter or other substances, will grow mycelium underground. That produces hyphae which are elongated filamentous cells.

At the right time in the spring, hyphae may make primordial and very small fungal growths. It is from this that the fruiting body we so actively seek may grow into its recognizable shape.

The mysteries of nature are marvelous happenings. Biologists and any interested folks enjoy those mysteries and marvel at the outcome, even if we do not or ever will fully learn everything we think we can learn about mushrooms.

If you should look carefully into a field guide for mushrooms, edible or not, the book is thick and filled with photos and text on thousands of fungi types. Learning all about them could lead to a full time career in the botany department on a university campus.

Morel mushroom emergence is a timing thing. One can associate the blooming of dandelion flowers as one indicator. May apples are another flower to look for with their umbrella leaf patterns covering a single white flower bud on the stem.

Apple tree blooming is on this list as well as Columbine woodland flowers. With all these natural happenings of spring all at the same time, it is just morel mushroom time again. Enjoy.


Today’s other photograph is of the red bell-like flower of the woodland plant known as wild Columbine (aquilegia canadensis). It has showy, drooping, bell-like flowers with backward pointing spurs.

Those spurs contain nectar that attracts hummingbirds and long-tongued insects. It produces flowers from April to July. Leaves are compound arrangements of four to six inches with lobes numbering between nine and 27, each having three lobes per leaflet. It can grow from one to two feet tall in woodland settings.

Mother Nature knows how to show off her best, and wild Columbine is just one of many. Enjoy.


Walleye fish hatchery workers of the Iowa DNR have completed the first phase of growing new fish for 2022. During April, in spite of cool weather, rain, snow, wind and a few other nasty windy days, crews at Iowa’s Great Lakes region accomplished a tremendous goal: to collect more fish eggs than they did in 2021. They met and exceeded quantities to allow for a good working base in hatcheries this spring and summer.

Walleyes were caught at Clear Lake, plus East Okoboji, Rathbun, Spirit and Storm lakes from April 5-14. Their final tally was 796 quarts of eggs at the Spirit Lake Hatchery, and 900 quarts were obtained at Rathbun.

Storm Lake has 205 quarts of walleye eggs, and Clear Lake had a total of 292 quarts. How many walleye eggs is this? The answer is 1,696 quarts capable of at least 145.3 million walleye fry (newly hatched fish).

New incubator equipment that recirculates city water (dechlorinated) from Spirit Lake’s city water supply provides clean invasive species free water for the eggs to hatch. Heat pumps regulate water temperatures to ideal norms for the young fish.

The end result of 2022 Iowa fish hatchery work will be 1.2 million walleye that are in the two inch long stage of growth. Later this year, many of those fingerling walleye will be released into lakes, rivers and streams across Iowa.

Also on the schedule are holding back some fingerlings to grow them up to six to nine inches in the hatchery setting. The goal is to raise 311,000 walleye to this size.

Iowa has little natural reproduction in most lakes and rivers. That is why hatchery-raised fish serve such an important role for re-stocking efforts. Stocking locations are determined by biologists into natural lakes, interior rivers, flood control reservoirs and selected man-made lakes.

Fisheries crews also netted northern pike, 195 of them from Spirit Lake that produced 1.6 million fry. Ninety three muskellunge were also captured and are being held until they are ready to spawn.


On Sunday, May 15 at the Izaak Walton League, is a sporting clay bird shoot. Registration begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. Ten stations of 10 birds each will await the shotgunners who attend.

The fee is $40 per adult with lesser fees for youth. The Ikes grounds are located at 2601 Smith Ave., or two miles south of Iowa Avenue. Food will be available on site for purchase.


Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


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