Resolved: Get outside this year

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all the readers of Outdoors Today. I periodically meet many of you are various functions, in a store, or at a casual chance meeting. You tell me how much you enjoy reading natural history items in the T-R. I thank you for your interest in nature. My desire is to learn more about the natural world and its wildlife. The next step is to share this information with you. Hopefully I can keep up this fun, educational endeavor going for a few more years. No, there is no immediate “retirement” plan in process. As long as I have fun writing and you have fun learning and reading, we both can be happy. May 2017 be an improved year for your and your family.

New Year resolutions come and go faster than we want. But for this new year, I urge you all to resolve to GET OUTSIDE. Make an increased effort to do more hiking, biking, canoeing, bird watching, hunting, camping, fishing or just relaxing in the shade of a big oak tree. Spend time outdoors with kids exploring in any fun method that works. Let kids get their hands dirty, their feet wet, and watch a collection bag full of butterflies, worms, snails, tree leaves, pretty rocks accumulate. Then review with the kids the neat stuff they found interesting. Later, a bit of library time or computer searches will find lots of new data about each and every item the kid made an effort to reach down and touch. Wonders of nature never end. Instill in yourself and any young person how rewarding nature studies can be.

The parks, wildlife areas, native prairie sites, trails and other outdoor recreation opportunities in Marshall County are waiting for your 2017 excursions. Make it happen. Be glad that your time spent outdoors is worth every minute. A complete guide to MCCB public lands is available at the Grimes Farm and Conservation Center. Attend their special program offerings that may include guided tours into the lesser known but very unique areas of these public lands. Once you find out how easy it is to explore these sites, resolve to make many more excursions on your own. Bring a camera and notebook. Have fun. Learn. Not a bad idea for your 2017 new year resolutions.

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FEATHERS on birds are first and foremost protection for the bird’s body from the elements. Feathers have specialized functions of which one is to enable flight. Birds are the only animals that have feathers. And the impressive coloration patterns of bird feathers offers an never ending spectacle for your eye. Specific color patterns help define species as each has a distinctive plumage.

Bird feathers have a long geological history. Some fossils have shown evidence of rudimentary feather-like structures on the bones and bodies. Our old impressions that all dinosaurs did not have feathers is fast fading into new territory as additional discoveries from China and Canada show clearly that rudimentary feathers grew on some critters. Over time, the development of full body plumage became the norm. Smaller ‘dinosaurs’ lived to become the birds we know today. Large dinosaurs now live only in our imaginations based on fantastic skeletal remains found, preserved and reassembled in their life form as displays in natural history museums.

Feather anatomy is complex. Pennaceous feathers are stiff and mostly flat. Plumulaceous feathers look fluffy because they have loosely arranged microstructures with flexible barbs and long barbules that trap air close to the bird’s body. The former have microscopic hooks to from wind and waterproof barriers. Depending upon the location of the feathers on a bird, the function of each enables the entire bird to perform as one well engineered critter. Wing feathers are specialized for flight.

The wing shape creates lift both during the upstroke and down stroke of a wing beat. Tail feathers assist in steering. Contour feathers streamline the body into a smooth shape. Birds use feathers to display to one another, an important function for courtship. Natural coloration of feathers also allows for camouflage to avoid detection by predators in the air or from the ground.

In case you were wondering how many feathers are on a PINTAIL duck, the answer is 14,914. A tundra swan has 25,216.

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PHOTOGRAPHERS need to pay attention to an upcoming deadline. The MCCB photo contest reminder notes that Tuesday, Jan. 31 at noon is the deadline for submittal of entries. The themes for entry categories are Scenic (Natural Resources), Native Wildlife, Natie Plants, Open Nature and the new category of Trail Camera. Winners get a gift certificate worth $20. The awards for the photo winners will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at the Conservation Center. Time will be 6-7 p.m. Tickets cost $5 per adult or $3 for children and everyone gets to to see past photos as well as this year’s winners. Past winners have proven their talents with a camera during their outside forays. Perhaps they made good on their 2016 resolution to get outside. Come see what these talented folks found.

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Jan. 4 is a special day. On Wednesday of this week, at 8 a.m. CST, the earth will be its closest to the sun. The official distance will be 91,404,322 miles. The official name for this is perihelion. On July 4, 2017, another milestone of galactic proportions is called Aphelion when our sun will be farthest from earth at about 94,514,940 miles.

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EMERALD ASH BORERS kill ash trees. The zones within Iowa where this insect has been detected has grown from a few eastern counties into central portions of the state. On Tuesday, Jan. 10, during the noon hour of 11:30 until 1 p.m., Iowa DNR forester Joe Herring will present an update program on the status of ash trees and the spread of the emerald ash borer. You will have a chance to ask questions, find out what options work and don’t work, and see if treating ash trees is worth the money and time. There is no charge to attend this program, however registration is requested. Call 641-752-5490 during business hours to add your name to the list.

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If you like to make your own FISHING LURES, this is a early bird notice to mark Jan. 14, a Saturday, on our calendar. Several fly fishing experts will be on hand to demonstrate how lures are made. Molding methods and painting schemes will also be demonstrated. A limited amount of lure kits will be available for kids ages 15 or less. The time for this fishing lure making seminar is 9 a.m. until 12 noon.

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“Let’s start a new tradition of treating each day as another Gift.”

— Kay Foley

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Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.