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HOMEFRONT: If you love deer, don't feed them

HOMEFRONT: If you love deer, don't feed them

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I received an email from a reader wondering what to feed deer in these harsh days of cold temperatures and deep snow.

The creatures are raiding many backyard bird feeders, so would it be good to put out extra corn or hay?

No!

First, Iowa State University Extension recommends never feeding deer due to the risks of the deer transmitting chronic wasting disease.

Second, deer are not cows or horses; they have a different digestive system that can make it difficult to process hay and corn. 

Studies on white-tailed deer in northern Great Lakes states have shown that deer can actually die of starvation with stomachs full of alfalfa hay in the middle of winter, Iowa State Extension says on its website.

That is because the hay was not digestible because the deer were accustomed to a different diet. During the hard winter months, they are in browsing mode and do not have the correct bacteria in their digestive tracts to digest grain and hay.

If a deer comes into a big bunch of hay after having been on a near-starvation diet, there are not enough of the right microorganisms to process the hay and its entire digestive system gets out of whack. By the time the microorganisms can organize and reproduce to take advantage of the bounty, the deer is dead.

A year ago, the Iowa City City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the feeding of deer, including putting out grain, fodder, salt licks, fruit, vegetables, nuts, hay or other edible materials (including bird feed), which may be reasonably expected to result in deer feeding.

The best food is natural food — shrubs and berries on shrubs and acorns.

A SALUTE TO Q-C BOTANICAL CENTER FOUNDER: Patricia A. McCormack, of Rock Island, died Monday at the age of 89. Pat was one of five members of the Rock Island Horticulture Club who first got the idea in the early 1980s of creating a botanical center in Rock Island. Originally they were thinking of a larger, handicapped-accessible conservatory to replace the existing conservatory in Longview Park.

But the idea snowballed and after overcoming huge obstacles — including finding a site (Longview was dropped early on as too small) and raising millions of dollars — today's center opened in 1998.

To have an appreciation for what McCormack and her cohorts were up against in the beginning, one has to step back in time.

In the mid-'80s, the farm implement industry upon which the Quad-City area depended had bottomed out. The economy was in the dumps, and so were people's spirits. Talk of raising money for a botanical center seemed like spitting in the wind. And what was a botanical center, anyway?

Then, as a few years passed, other cities began considering downtown improvements — Moline was pursuing the civic center that would become today's TaxSlayer Center and Davenport was enlarging its River Center.

"The other cities were getting something and Rock Island was dragging," McCormack said at the time.

Finding a location was tricky, too. In 1987, an heir of the Weyerhaeuser lumber family donated 14.3 acres of riverfront property to the nonprofit Quad-City Conservation Alliance, or QCCA, and the QCCA eventually agreed to share the site with the botanical center.

But there were numerous buildings and rubble that needed to be removed, and there were environmental issues, including asbestos and toxins in the soil. Botanical members were spending their hard-to-raise money and had nothing to show for it.

Things got so bleak at one point that some botanical center backers were ready to look for another site.

City intervention saved the day.

"Thank God for the city and (Mayor) Mark Schwiebert," the late Jerry Zimmerman, of Milan, said at the time. "They became a buffer. They got everybody back on track."

Zimmerman, McCormack and Robert Towler, of Rock Island, were the three club members who chartered the center in 1986, and they visited some 35 botanical centers throughout the country to gather information.

"I cried over it many times," McCormack said of the disappointments. "We did a lot of spinning our wheels in the beginning.

"There was no grand plan. We were just gardeners who wanted to see something bigger and better than what we had."

So thank you to the city of Rock Island, the QCCA, numerous donors and those three gardeners, including McCormack, who were its founders and pushed the idea forward. 

MARATHON MAN: Bird savant Kelly McKay, the self-employed wildlife biologist from Hampton, has now done more Christmas Bird Counts than anyone in the world.

The annual count that begins Dec. 14 and ends on Jan. 5 is sponsored by the National Audubon Society. People throughout the country count the number of birds at their feeders or out in the field at predetermined "counting circles" that are 15 miles in diameter. Different circles are assigned on different days.

McKay has been doing counts for years but about 15 years ago he decided to challenge himself by doing a count in 23 different locations over 23 consecutive days. A marathon, if you will.

On Christmas Eve, McKay pulled ahead of Paul Sykes, a retired Georgia biologist, for the total number of counts in a lifetime. He then finished the rest of the counting season through Jan. 5, amassing a total of 545 counts to Sykes' 533 AND his 12th marathon.

Although there is no category for marathons in the Audubon Society, Christmas Bird Count coordinator Geoffrey LaBaron confirms that while at least one other person has done one, McKay definitely holds the record.

And as Jason Monson, a fellow birder from Illinois says, "I've birded with him on the first day and the last day of the season, and it's that same intensity day in and day out."

BLOOM THE SCULPTOR: On Jan. 17 I wrote about the discovery of buried Isabel Bloom sculptures in the yard of a Davenport home. I reported that the homeowner thought one of the pieces looked more like John Bloom's work, then added: "Bloom is not known to have done sculpture, but that's not to say he didn't experiment."

That's wrong, and I knew it at the time. I was picturing carved wood pieces I had seen at the Figge Art Museum during a Bloom exhibition, and was incorrectly making a distinction in my head between wood carving and clay sculpture. But they are both sculpture, just different raw materials.

This was pointed out to me by Jimmy Losasso, son of the late David Losasso, who bought the rights to John Bloom's work after his death and opened a gallery in the Village of East Davenport selling Bloom's original work as well as beautiful reproductions.

Jimmy's mom, Cyndy, now runs the gallery. It's the Mississippi Fine Arts and John Bloom Gallery at 2123 E. 12th St. and the fact that a person can walk in and buy an original piece by Bloom continues to amaze me. I think of Bloom as an artistic giant.

Losasso mentioned to me that the gallery has nearly 10 sculptures by Bloom of cats. "He was very fond of them," Losasso wrote. "I also happen to have a life-sized dog sculpture that was always at the foot of John's bed."

A look at things you can do in your home to help conserve power during extreme cold weather.

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