Things to do: Wildlife watching

WINTER WILDLIFE WATCHING is still a high priority activity for lots of folks. The backyard bird feeder is just one way to participate from the warmth and comfort of ones home. If you don’t mind dressing in multiple layers for an outside hike onto a prairie grassland, county park forest, or grabbing the ice fishing gear to take to an area pond, wildlife watching can still be a fun addition to your winter day. If you know where to look, there is plenty to see. Binoculars help. Traveling back road haunts along the Iowa River also helps. Find the habitat and likely food sources and you are set.

This week’s wildlife watching was both on purpose and accidental. For this scribe I am prepared for either situation. On purpose wildlife viewing means a bit of homework is required. What do I want to find and where will these species tend to be? Then I jump in my truck and see what I can find. Accidental sighting are fun too, like a big group of wild turkeys sighted just west of the Stanley Mill Iowa River bridge earlier this week. As I came around a corner of the gravel road, the black spots in the pasture grasslands told me there were wild turkeys feeding. But then through the brush and small trees, more and more birds were spotted. By the time I stopped and got my binoculars focused on the feathered critters, I counted thirty gallinaceous giants. That was fun, but it offered limited photographic opportunities. That is typical.

Down the road a bit more, a big spot in the sky turned out to be a Bald Eagle. Its slow methodical wing beats told me it was an eagle. As the eagle’s flight path and my ground trek merged, this bird’s white head and tail became quite evident. Later that same day while traveling to Marshalltown from Albion, the Sand Road offered more eagle sightings. Eagles are our national symbol and it is fun to witness their antics and behavior any time of the year.

Later this winter in several locations in Iowa, Bald Eagle viewing opportunities and programs will be offered at Clinton, Quad Cities, Mississippi River Visitor Center, Arsenal Island, Dubuque, Keokuk, Muscatine, Coralville, Des Moines, Effigy Mounds, Saylorville and O’Brien County’s Prairie Heritage Center at Peterson. Some of these functions have a live eagle brought to the site by rehabilitators for close up viewing of this majestic species. The closest locations for Marshall County folks will be Des Moines (Feb. 10-11) or Saylorville Lake at the Jester Park Lodge on Feb. 26. However as my sightings have already indicated, you can find and observe eagles locally without a lot of road travel.

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TRUMPETER SWANS have enjoyed a great comeback since 1995. At that time a DNR program set up captive breeding sites (Green Castle Lake near Ferguson was one) whereby wing clipped adult breeding pairs were brought in. Historically trumpeter swans nested in the upper Midwest. Iowa’s last nesting pair occurred at Twin Lakes area near Belmond in 1883. Swans were gone from the lower 48 states by the 1930s except Montana’s Red Rock Lakes vicinity. At this location, 69 birds were the hold out flock.

The program for re-establishing T.Swans began in Iowa in 1995. Long story made short, the goal to establish 15 free flying breeding pairs from Iowa raised birds by 2003. The goal was reached in 2004. Some of those young birds were captured and taken to a wildlife refuge in Arkansas. Released at this wetland comples, the birds would over time migrate northward in the Spring and return to Missouri, Arkansas or Texas in the fall. Some of the swans had other ideas and began over wintering in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas. Whatever works for them was OK with wildlife officials.

Neck collars on T. swans were placed on over 1,000 birds for easy identification. From that, over 4,200 observations have been reported from seventeen different states and three Canada Provinces. Iowa now averages about fifty nesting trumpeters each year for the past five years. To support the cause of financial assistance for T. swan habitat and wetlands in general, an organization called The Trumpeter Swan Society exists to channel support and supplemental funding. They are a 501(c)3 organization. To learn more check out the website

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DUCKS UNLIMITED has a number of winter meetings planned. Winter wildlife banquet season is what some folks call it. Sportsmen and women gather to celebrate the cause of wetland conservation and waterfowl in particular. Locally the Iowa River Chapter of DU will hold its banquet at the Impala Ballroom on March 25. That is still a ways off, but do mark the date on your 2017 calendar now. Then plan to purchase your tickets and enjoy a fine evening of friends and food, games, raffles and auction.

March 24-25 in Des Moines at the Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center in Johnston is the first annual greater Iowa DU Sporting Collectibles Show. Hours are 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. It is a place to trade, sell or buy sporting equipment such as new or old fishing tackle, reels, rods, duck decoys, duck calls, wildlife art and other DU collectibles. Tables can be rented by contacting Greg Peterson, 33998 Mill Creek Dr., Adel, Iowa 50003.

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WHITETAILS UNLIMITED’s local Bear Grove chapter has announced its banquet to be held at the State Center’s Lincoln Valley Golf Course on Feb. 18. Mark this date on your calendar also if this is of interest to you and your friends. A fantastic prime rib dinner is served followed by their own games and auction. Lots of great merchanise will be on the docket. Great sporting arms will be a big interest for many.

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GET OUTSIDE to make photographs of scenic settings, people outdoors or nature. Submit your best photos to the Marshall County Conservation Board’s PHOTO CONTEST by the deadline of Jan. 31. A new category this year is an open class whereby nature or wildlife images from anywhere can be submitted. And the trail camera category is new this year also. This should be particularly fun attempt of capturing critters by remote camera. The awarding of prizes and gift certificates will be Tuesday, Feb 7th at 6 p.m. A chili supper will be available at $5 per adult or $3 per children age 12 or less. This is a fun event. The images submitted are always terrific. Make your best work a show piece for everyone by entering this contest.

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Iowa’s DEER CLASSIC is coming up March 3-5 in Des Moines. This will be at the Iowa Events Center Hy-Vee Hall, its normal location. It is hard to imagine the variety of outdoor gear, gadgets, clothing, hunting camps, guns and food one can find at this very impressive outdoor show. Go to the website for details. That same weekend Iowa middle school and high school archery athletes will be competing in bow and arrow skills at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Several hundred guys and gals will partake in this highly competitive shooting sport.

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This week IOWA DEER HUNTER tally is still coming in from the seasons just ended on Jan. 10. More than 101,308 deer have been reported state wide. Marshall County deer hunters took 632 animals. There will be a trickle of reports yet to come but essentially the big number is now on the record. There will be comparisons to past years in future columns so stay tuned for that data when it arrives. Venison is a great high protein, low-fat meat. There will be lots of deer meat related recipes to study and utilize all winter long.

To help you taste test wild game, the IZAAK WALTON LEAGUE will host a Wild Game Feed on Wednesday night, Feb. 8 at the Fisher Community Center auditorium. This function has a host of fish and other game meats prepared for you. After the meal, a program will be presented on hiking the Appalachian Trail. You will not want to miss this informative presentation.

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Advice from a squirrel: Look both ways before crossing a road; plan ahead; stay active; spend time in the woods; go out on a limb; it’s okay to be a little nuts.


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.