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January Nature Notes

posted on 1/4/22

Naturalist’s Nature Notes – January, 2022

“One touch of Nature makes the whole world kin” -William Shakespeare

Happy New Year! What a great time to consider a family plan of daily outdoor outings through the winter months. Fifteen minutes of Vitamin N (nature) can be exciting, refreshing or bring about new perspectives. Young and old alike, need a bit of winter’s breath. Once fifteen minutes doesn't seem like enough, gradually increase your time outdoors! Here are a few ideas to do outside that may allow us to focus on mind and body and move away from some winter “blahs”.

Besides layering and keeping your feet, hands, and head dry, create a basic backpack of items that my help in some of your discoveries: A notebook, pencils, a ruler, a magnifier and, a clear box. You may want to stick in a few extra pair of dry gloves and whatever else might help you. Keep it simple, don’t weigh yourself down with too many supplies. It is fun to journal your findings outside. Did you see tracks? Were they big or small? Can you draw a picture of what the track looked like? Did you find some winter bugs to “take a closer look?” Can you find some trees or plants that may provide winter foods for animals and birds? How many different sounds did you hear…was it natural or man-made? How about making a scavenger hunt list and taking a photo of your findings with your phone, tablet, or camera? Can you write a poem or story about something that you found?

January seems way too early for some of our birds to consider nesting. When it comes to actual nesting times, the drama of defending territories can cause quite a rumble. This is the time that some of our birds get a little ruffle in their feathers.

Eagles are fashioning their nest to lay eggs as early as February or March. Another resident bird of prey is ready to nest during the latter portion of January into February - the great horned owl. Some know this owl as the “tiger of the woods” because of its fierce attitude. The great horned is Iowa’s largest and most adaptable owl and considered Iowa’s earliest nesters, commonly laying two to three eggs in late January or early February. Great horned owls are monogamous (one male and one female and neither has any involvement with other nesting birds) and defend their territories beginning in late fall. These cat-like owls typically nest in large trees like cottonwoods and oaks, but use nests built by red-tailed hawks, eagles, crows, squirrels, and herons. It’s likely that great horned owls nest early due to the availability of unoccupied nests. There seems to be some discrepancy on who may be the earliest nesters in Iowa, the owl or the bald eagle.

Eagles are considered prolific nest builders, possibly building more than one nest within their territory, but that territory only holds one breeding pair. One nest may be used for a year but then another may become the chosen nest site the following year. Stick carrying and additions to a nest usually begin in late fall and continue into early spring. If you ever observe the building of an eagle’s nest, they can easily transform into a very massive piece of real estate seemingly overnight. Nests can be seven feet wide and up to ten feet deep. Some nests have weighed in as much as two tons.

When unoccupied nests are located, it is of great opportunistic skill to adopt (or snatch) another’s nest. An established pair of birds, whether an eagle or bluebird, do not want to return to their nest and find unwanted guests.

Iowa has been getting some glimpses of Snowy Owls. Although, it is not an “irruption event”, sightings of these Arctic Tundra visitors can be a jaw-dropping experience. Snowy owls are active during the day (diurnal) and can be spotted in large open areas, such as our agricultural fields, fence posts and telephone poles, or just “sitting” on the ground. If you would like more information re: the Snowy Owls, please let me know. Just remember, if you have the good fortune of seeing one, please give them LOTS of space. All species of wildlife, especially wildlife visitors that find themselves in a habitat very unfamiliar to their home base, need lots of space. All the unfamiliarity’s causes a lot of stress.

Time to get outside! Be safe and happy earth walking!