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Owl’s Nest Lost (and other flood observations)

Posted on April 21st, 2013

Well, it was quite a week last week.  Heavy rain over eastern Iowa resulted in river and stream flooding at several locations.  Wednesday morning, intense rainfall dropped around 3″ of rain in the Iowa City area, with another 2.5″ overnight.  Old Man’s Creek rose to bank full by Wednesday evening, and then came up another 3 feet by mid day Thursday.  The result (based on provisional USGS data), is the largest recorded discharge (62 years of data) for Old Man’s Creek, 14,100 cfs (cubic feet per second).  This surpasses the previous high flows of 13,500 and 13,000 cfs on May 15, 1982 and July 6, 1993, respectively.  Here are a few observations.

Wednesday evening, in a light but steady rain, I decided to head to the timber to check things out.  Miechelle always thinks I’m a little crazy to go hiking around in the rain, snow, cold or whatever the weather disturbance of the moment is, but I believe this is the best way to really experience the interplay between weather and land.  I was fortunate to be joined by my friend Mark.

We didn’t risk driving down Locust Lane, for fear of getting stuck, so parked along Kansas Avenue and hiked back to the timber.  From the uplands we headed down to the floodplain and took a quick check on the owl’s nest.  All was fine, one of the juveniles watched us as we carefully approached the nest.  Then I noticed the mother lift her head and look our way.  Upon seeing the mother, Mark and I slowly walked away from the nest so the mother would not take flight.  I was happy everything seemed to be fine with the mother in the nest.

As we traversed the floodplain heading towards the creek, it was clear that the creek had not fully left its banks, but most of the remnant channels were becoming filled with water.  Some of the low lying areas were filling with local rainfall and runoff that came from the uplands, however, as we walked towards the creek, the water in the floodplain became more turbid, indicating that it likely came from creek flooding.  As we walked along the creek, forming the west property boundary, we came upon an area about 10 yards in length where the creek was flowing onto the floodplain.

Mark Observing the Onset of Flooding

Mark Observing the Onset of Flooding


We continued hiking to the north until we reached the bend in Old Man’s Creek.  At that location the floodplain was becoming fully inundated.  Mark and I tried to make our way to the east, to fully circle the floodplain area, but were unable to find a route where water would not overtop our boots, so returned to to the uplands via the same westerly route.  The photo below shows the floodplain with one some exposed grasses, serving as our guide to shallow water, as we made our way along the floodplain.

Floodplain Becoming Inundated Wednesday Evening

Floodplain Becoming Inundated Wednesday Evening


Darkness was upon us as we walked back down Locust Lane to my truck, both feeling enriched by the experience of the of seeing functioning floodplain.

The overnight rains caused the river to rise another 3 feet by mid day Thursday.  At the crest, water was flowing over Kansas Ave just north of Old Man’s Creek.  It was incredible to see the water throughout the farm fields and coming across the roadway.  The photo below was taken early Friday morning, the east shoulder was becoming eroded and corn stalks indicated the highwater mark.

Kansas Ave Flooded

Kansas Ave Flooded (just after crest)


Both Miechelle and I were becoming worried that the Owl’s Nest may not survive the high water, and the likely currents that came with it.  By Saturday afternoon the creek level had fallen to a level that would allow us to go out to check on the owls.  Miechelle and I were joined by Mark and Chad, we were all interested to see what the flood waters left behind.  As I anxiously, approached the Owl’s Nest I was saddened to see the stump laying in the water, our fears had come true!

Owl's Nest Stump After the Flood

Owl’s Nest Stump After the Flood


As we hiked around, the high water mark was easy to determine, as there was small grasses wrapped around many of the understory trees and shrubs.  It appeared that the floodplain had approximately 4 feet of water depth everywhere when the creek crested.

Grasses Indicate High Water Mark

Grasses Indicate High Water Mark


Along the creek there were large mats of corn stalks and 3 to 4 inches of mud covering the ground.  Further inland the mud was not as thick, however, there was a fine layer of mud everywhere.  The Prairie Trillium shown below was a common site on the floodplain.

Muddy Prairie Trillium

Muddy Prairie Trillium


As we continued our walk along the creek, we were delighted to hear the mother Barred Owl call out to us, as she normally does when we get to the bend in the creek.  Hopefully, she was trying to let us know that she and her three young juveniles were all doing well.  I hope she was able to pull the young from the nest (or the waters) after the stump went down.  At this time I have no idea of the fate of the young owls, for sure we will keep our eyes out for juvenile Barred Owls over the next several weeks.

The waters continue to recede.  The floodplain functioned as it was supposed to, storing waters that otherwise would have been increased flooding downstream.  It will be interesting to see the vegetative response over the next couple of weeks.  A nice ‘washing’ rain would seemingly help many of the plants with the same fate as the Prairie Trillium.

As for the Owls, hopefully the young survived.  For sure the mother is still occupying the area, but will have to find a new nesting tree next year.

It will be an interesting summer at Old Man’s Timber, already quite a contrast to last spring’s early arrival and the summer drought!

2 Responses

  1. Angela says:

    So sad to hear about the owl’s nest :O( I guess Mother Nature has a plan for everything, and sometimes we humans don’t understand.

    Happy Earth Day!

    • Larry Weber says:


      I know, we were very sad about the owls, they have become such a unique part of our lives and experiences at Old Man’s Timber. In the end, its all part of the natural wonder that makes life so interesting!

Leave a Reply to Angela