Green Castle lake remains ice free…for the moment

Green Castle Recreation Area is a great outdoor escape to make any time of the year. Now that we are into the last month of 2021, December will bring changes to this unique outdoor spot. Green grasses may soon be covered with snow, covering everything with a blanket of snowflakes sparkling in the sunshine. From spring to summer, then to fall and winter, this recreation area never sleeps. It just offers new opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

Waterfowl use Green Castle as a winter stop over. Two trumpeter swans with clipped wings are to be found in the south silt retention pond. Past winters have found other wild birds dropping in for a rest, which allowed many folks to observe and photograph them. Tundra Swans from wild places unknown have stopped in past years. Many species of ducks have made the waters of Green Castle a feeding and resting location. Look for them whenever you visit.

Snow, when it comes, offers an opportunity to observe the bison who may get a snow covered pelt that does not want to melt. Bison hair growth is very good, excellent in fact, at providing insulation to their bodies. A light fluffy snow may just accumulate on their body fur without melting. If a person is fortunate to be there at the right time, snow covered bison photos can make for interesting natural history moments.

Green Castle was acquired in late 1976. It was opened to the public on Jan. 1, 1977. This hilly 116.5 acre parcel has a lake with 16 surface acres. To get to Green Castle, go south from Marshalltown on Highway 14 a distance of five miles to County Road E63. Go east three miles to Ferguson, and then go south one mile. Green Castle’s park entrance gate is on the southwest side of the property. Park roadways will take you to several parking areas, open shelter houses, and to a boat ramp site. Many fishing jetties have been built along the shoreline and much of the shoreline is rimmed with large stones to help break the erosive effects of wave action from wind.

In 2014, the lake water level was lowered considerably to concentrate fish populations, and via Iowa DNR fisheries bureau staff consultation, a complete renovation of fish populations took place. Existing fish like common carp were killed by select chemical treatment. When the lake was allowed to refill in 2015, new stocking of bass, bluegill and channel catfish took place. Common carp were gone.

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Renovation included removal of as much silty soils as possible to deepen the upper areas of the lake. A few underwater “islands” were built and lined with rock as fish habitat. Additional fish habitat structures were built all along the shoreline while those shores were exposed to drying action. Shoreline improvements and fishing now invite anglers to throw a fishing line into the water. The staff of the Marshall County Conservation Board continues to work all along the shoreline.

And when truly very cold air from Canada brings frigid freezing air for a long enough time, ice will form on this 16 acre lake surface. When it gets thick enough to be safe for ice fishermen and women, a new form of fishing will take place. Always assure oneself that the ice is thick enough to be safe before venturing onto it. The official policy of the Iowa DNR is that no ice is completely safe no matter how thick it appears.

Ice fishing is an “enter at your own risk” situation. You make the call. Emergency safety items while ice fishing should be available immediately to help save lives. Experienced ice fishing folks know what those items are and carry these with them at all times.

December has arrived, so far with very mild air temperatures to greet us. We all know that will change, as expected. Get ready for lots of variation in Iowa’s winter weather. Day length is getting shorter, going from nine hours and 21 minutes to nine hours and six minutes. As crazy as it seems, after Dec. 21, day length will slowly begin to increase. Our shortest day lengths will be Dec. 20-23 with nine hours and six minutes. By the end of the month, we will have gained three minutes.

Today, Dec. 5, sunrise will greet us at 7:23 a.m. and set at 4:39 p.m. For our friends much further north in Fairbanks, Alaska, sunrise will be at about 10:25 a.m. and will set at about 2:55 p.m. Further north of Fairbanks, earth’s arctic circle are those points of the globe where the sun does not rise at all. As the earth rotates on its axis, sunshine will be only a slight hint of daylight that disappears almost immediately. What better proof does one need to prove that the earth is a sphere?

December brings Christmas later this month, in just 20 more days. Family gatherings and gift exchanges will again become an annual tradition. May your Christmas be the best ever, and the best you can make it.

Also during December, on the 15th, new hunting and fishing licenses for 2022 go on sale. Purchases can be made via your computer, smartphone or at vendor outlets in select stores. Those licenses always make a great gift for outdoors enthusiasts.

Between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5, 2022, the National Audubon Society holds its annual Christmas time bird count. Birders can participate as a group or individually. Check out the Audubon website for details on how to join a group, or denote what you can do yourself, in this citizen science winter time activity. By keeping track of bird population trends over decades of time, interesting information can be gleaned by biologists and scientists regarding our avian wildlife.

And one additional note from history, Iowa’s Statehood Day was Dec. 28, 1846.

Winter begins officially on Dec. 21. This change of seasons is a celestial event regarding the physics of earth’s orbit around our sun, and it is a fact that on or about Jan. 2 of next year, Earth will be closest to the Sun at only — drum roll please — 91,403,554 miles.

However, because the tilt of earth’s northern hemisphere is away from the sun, we get less effective solar radiation during our winter. Southern hemisphere folks south of the equator have lots of increasing solar inputs. Winter for them is warmer. On or about July 4, 2022, Earth will be at its greatest distance from the sun at 94,513,221 miles.

Another winter seasonal weather related item you all can and should consider has to do with normal weather variability. Take any day of any month and research what the historical highest highs and lowest lows were for that date. Then look up what the actual weather data was for that day, and compare those numbers to long term averages. From that data, we can know what an “average” day will be. Anything above or below those data points falls within the natural cyclical variability of the Earth’s weather system dynamics for any point on Earth’s surface. All we humans can do is adapt to what Mother Nature gives us.

Here is an easy way to think of the difference between daily weather and long term climate: climate is what we expect, and weather is what we get. Most people readily and easily confuse weather (short-term, local-scale temperatures, humidity, precipitation, wind, cloudiness, and more) with climate (very long-term large-scale averages) and think incorrectly that weather phenomena are driven by climate phenomena.

They aren’t. So do not confuse one for the other. The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather can be minutes old to maybe months. Climate is how the atmosphere goes through its distribution of colder and warmer air, more and less humid air, over time frames of centuries, millennia, and even geological time periods of many millions of years. Humans are not in control of climate, no matter what political pundits try to say, or how many pseudo-science distractions they try to use, while simultaneously sneakily pulling our wallets out of our pockets to steal our money.

This weekend was the beginning of Iowa gun deer season. The weather this weekend will be very mild for those guys and gals trying to take an Iowa white-tailed deer. Enjoy the mild weather while it lasts, and make the most of it. And above all else, be safe.

A long time ago, I recall the opening of a mid 1980s deer season with a lot of snow on the ground and fierce wind chill factors of well past 20 below. It was a horrible weather day to be outside unless those brave souls were dressed to the hilt in the warmest of clothes. It was truly a survival situation to be outside.

Yet a few people did adapt to go hunting. Many hunters knew the weather could be a killer, literally, and stayed indoors. Perhaps they salvaged their deer hunt later in the week after the storm broke. Anyway, in this 2021 deer season, weather conditions should be agreeable for 55-60,000 gun deer hunters during gun season number one. Over 28,000 deer have been harvested so far by youth, archers and early muzzleloader hunters. Gun season hunters between now and when gun season number two ends on Dec. 19 will be key management factors to bring deer population reduction up to the 100,000 level or a tad beyond that.

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