Pelicans – in Iowa?

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American Lotus seedCorn or beef are probably what comes to mind when you think of Iowa, right?  But wildlife?  Not so much.  Well, that was the pleasant surprise I got during our stay in Amana, Iowa.  But allow me to digress for a moment…

Our only stay in Iowa was at the town of Amana, to learn about the colony that was settled here by Germans in the early 1900’s.  They came here to escape religious persecution in their homeland. To us, the Amana Village was just a small touristy town of quaint shops, and we didn’t find much there that spoke of their communal heritage.  After a bit of perusing the shops we left empty-handed, agreeing it was kind of a dud. Folks there didn’t seems to smile much.

Amana Colonies

Amana Village

Even though Amana Village was a bit of a letdown, the weather was nice so we focused our attention on one of our favorite outdoor activities – walking.  wpid30531-2014-09-20-IA-1590126-.jpgAfter walking around the acres of corn surrounding our home base at Amana Colonies RV Park (Steve’s review here), we went in search of other nearby walking trails.

Lily Lake, Iowa

Lily Lake

Fortunately, Lily Lake was only 3/4 mile away, so we could walk to it and then continue on its 3.1-mile paved recreational trail.  Called the Kolonieweg (colony path) Trail, it connects the villages of Amana and Middle Amana.  Although it wasn’t a very long trail, we enjoyed the fresh air as we walked around the lake and saw the occasional turtle or bird.

The lake derives its name from the thousands of yellow American Lotus which bloom every summer across its 170 acres.  But the blooms had already passed and the seeds were drying out by the time we arrived.

American Lily

Once the seeds dry, the empty pods remain and are used in floral arrangements

American Lotus leaves

The large round bluish-green leaves of American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)

Having found the trail, we walked there one day to discover that the lake is a year-round haven for various wildlife, and a rest spot for migrating birds.  And was I ever glad I had my camera when we came upon hundreds of resting birds during our walk.  It looked like everybody was stopping for a rest on this day!

Lily Lake, Iowa

A few geese secured their spots on the lake

Trumpeter swan

Iowa began a reintroduction program for Trumpeter Swans in the 1990’s

Great Blue Heron

Even a Great Blue Heron made an appearance!

American Coots

American Coots


Not sure what kind of ducks belong to these butts

We caught a glimmer of white specs flying overhead as we walked along.  They seemed to be just gliding and circling around, and we waited with anticipation for them to land.  There were hundreds of them wheeling overhead, swirling in the air and eyeing the lake below. Steve said they were waiting for a landing clearance from Air Traffic Control 🙂

At first I thought they must be the Whooping Cranes from Wisconsin, but I was wrong.

As they finally glided down onto the lake, I was surprised to discover they were White Pelicans!

White Pelicans

They came in, landing by the dozens.  Eventually they literally crowded large areas of the lake…

White Pelicans


Once they had touched down, a feeding frenzy began.  Even Steve stopped in his tracks to watch in fascination.  These birds literally teamed up in formations to herd fish into shallow areas of the water.  Then they simply dipped their heads below the surface to gobble up mouthfuls (or is it billfulls?) of gizzard shad, using their feet and wings to keep the hapless fish corralled.  Amazing!


Then they moved in unison, heading in another direction.  Fun to watch!


White Pelicans

Look at that big bill!

I learned later the American white pelican, has increasingly become a frequent Iowa summer resident and a recently established breeder in the state.  At this time of the year they are packing up and heading to their southern wintering grounds.  Watching them glide in the air was a beautiful sight, especially when the sun hit their glimmering white feathers at just the right angle.  And seeing them corral and gobble up the fish was a treat.  They put on a good show, and we were delighted to be at the lake at just the right time.  This event is repeated daily until late October, by which time they have all left for warmer territory.

Not to be outdone, thousands of Red-winged Blackbirds were also busy swooping and circling around the cornfields as we headed home.  What a sight to see!

Red winged black birds

On our last day in Iowa, we drove a few miles to F.W. Kent County Park to do some hiking on their trails.  I thought my posts about mushrooms were over, but look at these giant puffballs!

Well, Steve saw his tractors and engines, and I was able to enjoy the birds and wildlife of the area.  Given hints by the migratory birds and the changing colors of the leaves,  we have to continue our southward pilgrimage in order to avoid the upcoming bleak midwest weather.

Amana, Iowa


Next up:  Moving on to Quincy, Illinois


Salmon Frenzy in Soldotna

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Kenai River

We arrived at Soldotna in the midst of the salmon frenzy. Mid-July happens to be the the second salmon run for King Salmon (Chinook) and Red Salmom (Sockeye).  Fishing seems to be on everyone’s mind for locals as well as tourists, as you see them swarming along the banks and in Kenai the river.  Steve reported that the hardware/fishing supplies store was jam-packed with folks buying gear, and it seemed like every boat was heading to/from a launch loaded with supplies.  Most anglers and tourists alike are here,  since  Soldotna is the central hub of the Kenai Peninsula and home of the World Record King Salmon caught, at 97.4 lbs.

Kenair River Salmon Fishing

Locals and Tourist alike are fishing on the river.

Soldotna Fishing Salmon

Watching the fishermen at play

Kenai River

View from the bridge

Fishing regulations are complicated and well regulated.  You can only fish during a certain period of time, at certain river locations and for a certain species of Salmon in particular.  You have to know the fish you catch and know when to throw it back in case you got the wrong one.  Fishing in the Kenai river is extremely popular and on these days quite crowded.  The glacially turbid streams flowing into the Kenai river support the largest recreational fishery in Alaska.

Salmon Fishing in AK

Catch of the day.


Fish Cleaning by the river, there is a rule for that too!

Mt Redoubt

At the mouth of Kenai River.


It’s fun to watch the beautiful fish being reeled in, and even for “non-fisherpeople” like us it can be exciting.  We are considering scheduling a salmon tour during our stay in this area.  We still have plenty of time to do it, and our freezer is pretty small so we may have to eat fish for every meal – not a problem!  We’re getting spoiled on the best salmon you can imagine, and we’re afraid  of how much we will miss it while sitting in the desert during the winter months.  Oh well, by then we will have switched our diet to fresh scorpions and cactus- yum yum!

Salmon Fishing

Another salmon pulled from the river!

Soldotna's trail

More fishermen across the river.

We really like Soldoltna.  Even though it is very busy during July, it is basically a small town but big enough to have decent stores and services that make life a lot easier.  We took a long bike ride  on their nice paved trails paralleling Kalifornsky Beach road and went all the way to the mouth of the  Kenai river which is about 11 miles away.  There we saw more people fishing for the tasty salmon.  On this ride we caught the first glimpse of the active volcanoes and with nary a cloud.  We were gazing at Mt Spurr, Mt Redoubt and Mt Illiamna, all viewed from the mouth of the Kenai River.  Just beautiful !  We wished the nice sunny weather will hold up for more days to come.

Soldotna's trail

Biking along Soldotna’s trail with Mt Redoubt at the background.

Kenai River.

Lunch at the mouth of the Kenai River.

Mt Redoubt

Mt Redoubt – wow!