Have you seen them yet? Little birds displaying very dark smooth backs and light gray or, white bellies hopping around under your bird feeders? If you have, WINTER is coming.
These little songbirds, a species of New World grayish sparrows, are slate-colored juncos which have come to Iowa to escape winter in Canada and Alaska. They enjoy our “warmer” winters and will stay until March or April, and then migrate back to cooler summer climes. They are fun to watch, hopping around, chatting and foraging with their flock-mates. Juncos have a hierarchy, and the earliest arrivers are the highest mucky mucks of the flock. But even with their exalted positions they like to hang around in mixed flocks of chickadees, sparrows, and kinglets.
They will be happy to come to your feeders, especially if you offer hulled sunflower seed, white millet, and cracked corn. In the wild they primarily eat seeds and grain so you could also offer garden flower seeds. Zinnias, cosmos, coneflowers and marigolds are flowers you could grow in the garden and their seeds left on the flowerheads over winter. These seeds could also be placed on a low platform feeder or replace regular birdseed in hanging feeders. They also enjoy mealworms, non-salted roasted peanut pieces, peanut butter, and nyger seed.
It is a good thing they are so cute as you know they will be followed by cold, wind, and snow. Start looking for these little “storm clouds”, because they’re baaaack!

Halloween is upon us bringing thoughts of spooky and creepy things like jack-o-lanterns, black cats, and bats! But did you know that little brown bats are very important to healthy ecosystems? These little critters eat insects, LOTS of insects! They can eat over 1,000 insects in an hour so you can see how they are very important to farmers as they protect plants from pests and reducing the need for pesticides.
Little brown bats are native to Iowa and most of the nation, but the population is declining. In fact, they are an endangered species of mouse-eared microbats. It has a small body size, about the length of an adult’s thumb and the weight of 3 or 4 pennies, but its wingspan makes this little guy seem huge! The wingspan can be from 8 to 11 inches! If one happens to appear in your house, you might not notice his long, glossy fur that can be golden, reddish, olive, or dark brown; or his dark little face, and his darling little mouselike ears, while running and screaming, covering your head with your eyes closed. (More on this happenstance later.)
These little critters roost in trees, rock outcrops, and structures like bridges during the summer. They need to live where there are insects to eat, and clean water. Their lifespan is usually around six or seven years and give birth to one pup a year. During the winter they hibernate in buildings, (sometimes your attic, see the paragraph above), abandoned mine shafts, and caves throughout Iowa, and especially in southern and eastern Iowa.
If you were to find a bat in your house, STAY CALM. They want out as much as you want them out. First to remove the little guy, (if everyone has not already run screaming from the room), get everyone out of the room. Second, turn off the ceiling fan and all the lights. Turning off the lights will help the bat find a way out as they are nocturnal and can see very well in the dark. Third, make sure the bat is closed off in one room so it will be easier to find a way out. Open any windows and screens, this will help the bat can find it’s way out without any help from you.
HOWEVER, and remember to STAY CALM, if the bat cannot find it’s way out you may have to catch and release. First never handle the bat with bare hands. Wear thick work gloves-but not cotton, as most bats can bite through cotton. Bats will most likely land somewhere they can hang-behind curtains, upholstered furniture, on hanging clothes, or in house plants. Carefully place a plastic tub or similar container over them. Gently work a piece of cardboard or stiff paper under the container, (this works for big creepy spiders as well), trapping the bat inside. Now you are ready to release the bat outdoors. Because most bats cannot take flight from the ground, tilt the container or allow the bat to climb a tree trunk or other vertical surface.
Now I know you’re probably thinking, “But what about RABIES!?”, you should be happy to know little brown bats rarely test positive for rabies, however, if you are bitten seek medical help immediately.
Bat numbers are declining in Iowa because of loss of habitat. Work to improve bat habitat in Jefferson County Park, Gantz-Hewitt Timber and Whitham Woods will be started soon. This work will include clearing invasive brush undergrowth including but not restricted to Bush Honeysuckle.
So, I hope this helps take the creepiness away from bats…stop running! STAY CALM! Unless you are an insect, then you need to worry.
Written by Diana Flynn

Conservation Board Celebrates 50 years of service to the citizens of Jefferson County
On November 7th of 1972 the citizens of Jefferson County voted to establish a local conservation board to develop parks and recreation areas. Look for our upcoming articles and throwback pictures to commemorate the development of our parks and a few of the individuals who’s contributions helped make it happen.
The origin of Iowa’s county conservation system started back in 1934 when a group of people, which included renowned conservationists such as Ding Darling and Aldo Leopold, developed a plan that would provide outdoor recreational opportunities to local county residents.
From this idea, the first attempt was made in 1942 to pass enabling legislation. It wasn’t until 1955 that the county conservation law passed in the general session. Since then, all 99 counties in Iowa have established a county conservation program.
Jefferson County voted into existence their county conservation board program in 1972. Conservation Board members appointed by the County Supervisor to serve over the past 50 years have included Wayne Parsons, Gene Parker, Bill Briggs, Dean Johnson, Norman Baird, Carl Zillman, Bill Baker, Terri Diers, Ron Myers, Keith Wells, Kathy Tollenaere, Cory Klehm, Wayne Atwood, Gavin Stever, and Molly Mosinski.
Four Directors have been employed by the Board over the last 50 years: Joan Sturdavent (1973-76), Jim Bashor (1977-83), Dennis Lewiston (1983-2019), Shawn Morrissey (2019-present).
According to Chapter 350 (originally Chapter 111A) the purpose of county conservation boards is “to acquire, develop, maintain and make available to the inhabitants of the county public museums, parks, preserves, parkways, playgrounds, recreational centers, county forests, wildlife and other conservation areas and to promote and preserve the health and general welfare of the people, to encourage the orderly development and conservation of natural resources and to cultivate good citizenship by providing adequate programs of public recreation.”
The purpose established for county conservation boards is extremely broad; therefore, allowing each county to establish a program that meets the needs of the local public.
Since its inception, the Jefferson County Conservation Board has acquired and developed 12 areas encompassing just over 1400 acres. Also, in that time it has provided environmental education programs for multiple generations of school kids as well as numerous other public programs.
Thanks to the past and present board members for their dedication and countless hours of donated time to provide outdoor recreation opportunities to Jefferson County residents. Also, thanks to the County Board of Supervisors for their overall support in establishing these recreation areas. And last but not least, thanks to the citizens of Jefferson County who have endorsed and supported this conservation effort and have helped make the program a success.
Written by Shawn Morrissey

Frank Redeker stands beside the American Bison head he donated to the Jefferson County Park Nature Center. Redeker also donated a full-sized Porcupine mount, a Bison hide, and an Elk hide. These new items will be used for educational purposes in the Nature Center. In celebration of these donations, ‘Bison Week’ is being planned for the end of October. Various programs will be held throughout the week to better understand this keystone species.

The Jefferson County Conservation Board is working with the Iowa DNR to improve bat habitat in Jefferson County. This is part of a larger project to improve bat habitat across southern and eastern Iowa as well as Illinois.
North American Bat populations have been experiencing massive population declines due to a variety of factors including disease (White Nose Syndrome) and habitat loss/fragmentation. Bats have a low reproductive rate which makes it hard for populations to recover.
Nine species of bats are found in Iowa’s fields and forests. Bats are an extremely important part of our ecosystem because they help control problematic insect populations including corn rootworm and mosquitos.
Portions of Jefferson County Park, Gantz-Hewett Timber, and Whitham Woods were identified as potential bat habitats that would benefit from habitat management. Management plans were developed and funding for the projects was secured by our area DNR Forester. Practices such as prescribed burning, removing invasives in the understory and replanting of native species will help transform these woodland habitats to meet the needs of our native bat species.

Dobsonfly

An insect with looks that only its mother can love

Have you ever been outside at night under a street light and seen or been buzzed by something and you thought “WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THAT?!”. That insect as big as a Pterodactyl (okay a mini one) might be a Dobsonfly. Is it 4.5 to 5 inches long, with HUGE 1” mandibles, four veined wings, and wavy antennae? Okay, that is Mr. Dobsonfly. How can you tell? Mrs. Dobsonfly is a bit larger than the Mr., but her mandibles are shorter and stouter. The male has weak mandibles and can’t bite you but she most certainly is able to give you a painful bite if not handled carefully (like nope). They will both try to intimate by raising their head and spreading their jaws (that would work for me), but neither will go out of their way to harm you. And even if you are “silly enough” to get bitten her bite is harmless. Dobsonflies don’t transmit any diseases and there aren’t any lasting effects (other than learning a lesson). PSA: as a defense of last resort the threatened Dobsonfly can emit an irritating, foul-smelling defensive anal spray. Well, that is…interesting.

This fascinating prehistoric looking insect is one that has a complete metamorphosis referred to as ELPA. It begins as an Egg, hatches into Larvae, transforms into a Pupa, and finally emerges as an Adult. The egg is attached to structures, rocks, or trees overhanging a stream or river and hatches within 1 to 2 weeks. The newly hatched larvae (called Hellgrammites, more on them in a later creature feature) drop into the water and position themselves in a suitable feeding site under rocks. Hellgrammites, said to be great bait for small mouth bass and river trout, will feed and grow up to 3 inches in length taking up to 3 (more or less) years. When mature, Hellgrammites will migrate out of the water, sometimes as far as 50 feet, to dig a cell in wet soil, moss, or decaying vegetation to pupate. The pupa will stay in the cell for 7 to 14 days then the adult will dig its way out.

The adult stage puts the insect on a fast track. The male will live about 3-5 days while the female up to two weeks during which time it is thought that they don’t feed. (Explains why the female might bite, she is hangry!). Their mission of course is to continue the next generation. They spend most daylight hours in the canopy of trees or in thick vegetation near streams or rivers. But they are most active at night and are strongly attracted to light which makes them at risk during this time as food for bats, large invertebrates while during the day birds, and fish. Though they have large wings spanning up to 5 inches, they are not great fliers but can be found quite a distance from rivers or streams.

So, if you see a Dobsonfly in town, or get buzzed under a street light, YOU ARE SO LUCKY!

P.S. Dobsonflies while scary looking, are harmless to humans, animals, property, and crops. No control treatments are necessary. So, enjoy, take a picture, then please leave them alone.

Written by Diana Flynn

Not a murder hornet

Ah the soothing sounds of summer, the Nighthawk’s peent call and the buzzing of the cicadas. It is the latter sound that brings a fearsome looking creature to sandy and dry spots of your lawn or flower pots on your porch in late July and into August. It is large, 1.5 to 2 inches in length, large wings, and is curious (territorial) about your presence near their tunnels. But never fear, dear reader, these are Cicada Killers, and if that sounds ominous, unless you are a Cicada you are not in any danger!

These large native species of solitary digger wasps are in the family Crabronidae. They look like giant hornets or huge yellow-jackets but these wasps are not aggressive and as such is not likely to sting unless directly handled (yeah, like that’s gonna happen!). To identify look for a dull brown head, with a small yellow patch on the face. The thorax is dull brown to orange and there are three broken bands of yellow on its black abdomen.

The males have no stingers (whew!) and emerge first to establish territory and to joust with other males. When the females emerge (they have the stingers, more on that later) they will begin to dig tunnels. The tunnels are “nurseries” for their young. These wasps are not social insects, like honey bees, so several might share a good nesting site, but each female has her own tunnels.

Females locate a cicada, sting it to cause paralysis (that’s the reason she has a stinger), brings it back to her tunnels, either by flying, or coasting down from the tree as the cicada is bigger than she. The cicada will then be dragged and stuffed into the tunnel, with perhaps one or two more. She will then lay an egg under the left or right second leg of the cicada and seal the tunnel. The egg will hatch in a few days, and the developing larva will consume the cicada as it grows during the next two weeks. Once the larva is full grown, it spins a silken cocoon in which it will remain until the following summer. It will then exit the cocoon, enter the pupal stage and then emerge as an adult. When once again the fearful will shout, “Murder Hornet!”

Watch for this fascinating and wonderful creature but play it safe, especially if you are allergic to stinging insects. Try not to step on one, squeeze one in your hand, or harass the insect, as it might sting you. Just a note it will not go out of its way to harm you, (leave it alone) they are just participating in the circle of life.

Diana Flynn has happily joined the staff at Jefferson County Conservation as an office assistant. She has many years of office management and customer service experience and is looking forward to working with staff and park visitors. She will be in the office Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. 8:30 AM to 1:30 PM.

Summer Nature Olympics

Turn your child into a nature Olympian! Four weeks throughout the summer we will host programs at two different times allowing youth to practice and compete in an activity. We will score participants in each activity and have an overall winner from the summer. Participants can come to all four activities or just one. We ask that participants only come to one program a week. All sessions will meet at the Jefferson County Park Nature Center EXCEPT for Kayaking which will meet at Shelter #3 in Jefferson County Park.

Youth Entering 3rd through 7th Grade
$5 per session
1:00-3:00pm
Pre-registration required– Click on the date/ time you would like to register for

Spear Throwing (Choose 1)
Tuesday, June 7
Wednesday, June 8

Fire Starting (Choose 1)
Tuesday, June 28
Wednesday, June 29

Archery (Choose 1)
Tuesday, July 12 (FULL)
Wednesday, July 13 (FULL)

Kayaking (Choose 1)
Tuesday, August 2 (FULL)
Wednesday, August 3 (FULL)

Please note:

  • We ask that adults do not attend Summer Nature Olympics as it allows participants to better explore and try new things.
  • Camps are set up for students who will be entering the listed grade during the summer

Join Jefferson County Conservation for a summer of fun! We have a great line up sure to peak your outdoor adventurers’ interest!

Registration opens April 1st at 6:00am

Summer Nature Camps
4 & 5 Years                Caterpillar Camp                     May 31-June 3
4 & 5 Years                Caterpillar Camp                     June 7-10
1st-2nd Grade           Tadpole Camp                           June 14-17 (Morning Session)
1st-2nd Grade           Tadpole Camp                           June 14-17 (Afternoon Session)
2nd-3rd Grade          Nature Detectives                   June 28-July 1
3rd-4th Grade           Amateur Astronomers         July 12-14
4th-5th Grade           Fishing Camp                            July 5-7
5th-6th Grade           Best of the Best                        July 19-22
6th-8th Grade           Overnight Explorers             June 21-22

You may only sign your child up for one camp (does NOT include Summer Nature Olympics) during the month of April to give more participants the opportunity to attend.


Summer Nature Olympics

Turn your child into a nature Olympian! Four weeks throughout the summer we will host programs at two different times allowing youth to practice and compete in an activity. We will score participants in each activity and have an overall winner from the summer. Participants can come to all four activities or just one. We ask that participants only come to one program a week. All sessions will meet at the Jefferson County Park Nature Center EXCEPT for Kayaking which will meet at Shelter #3 in Jefferson
Youth Entering 3rd through 7th Grade
$5 per session
1:00-3:00pm
Pre-registration required– Click on the date/ time you would like to register for

Spear Throwing (Choose 1)
Tuesday, June 7
Wednesday, June 8

Fire Starting (Choose 1)
Tuesday, June 28
Wednesday, June 29

Archery (Choose 1)
Tuesday, July 12
Wednesday, July 13

Kayaking (Choose 1)
Tuesday, August 2
Wednesday, August 3

Please note:

  • We ask that adults do not attend Summer Nature Camp or Olympics as it allows participants to better explore and try new things.
  • Camps are set up for students who will be entering the listed grade during the summer