Groundhogs sleep a long time

GROUNDHOG DAY was February 2nd. Most of these critters could care less about all the human activity above ground. Sleeping (hibernation) is still what is important for this species of rodent. But this fact is interesting: From a celestial point of view, early Feb is a “cross-quarter” day, about half way between winter solstice of Dec. 21st and the vernal equinox of March 20th. This mid-point of the season is celebrated in many cultures because people are getting restless with winter, are eager to see warmer weather and to celebrate an inevitable upcoming Spring. We have gained one hour and four minutes of longer day length since December 20th. Progress is being made as days slowly get longer.

Mother Nature will take her own sweet time to fulfill her time tested earth orbit passage around the Sun. And Mother Nature has more than one trick up her sleeve that she can play anytime she desires. So in case us humans get a bit too complacent, boastful and arrogant about how we “control the weather” (not), just wait for the normal mood swings of cold arctic air and warm southern breezes to meet over the Midwest. We all know the results of these battles between air masses. One outcome can be lots of snow and blizzard conditions. Or the opposite is just as likely. Reality says we will get teased by a bit of both.

Groundhogs are one specie of marmot. Mountainous areas may have the Yellow-bellied or Hoary Marmot in places from Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia and northern Washington. Our common groundhog is widely distributed across central and northeastern states. An adult groundhog is anywhere from 17 to 26 inches long including its tail. Weight can e 4.5 to 9 pounds. Their muscular legs are great for digging burrow deep into the soil. Winter burrows are deep, at least five feet down and well below frost line. Total burrow lengths complete with two to five entrances/exits can be 45 feet long. A normal life span for this critter is up to six years in the wild or up to 10 years in captivity. Diet consists of grasses, clover, garden vegetables, leaves, twigs, apples, berries and dandelions. The list of food items may also contain insect grubs, grasshoppers, bugs, snails and small mammals.

Mating occurs soon after they emerge from the long sleep. Gestation takes 28 to 32 days so young groundhogs are born in April and May. Born hairless and blind, a family size of two to six will grow quickly. They will be weaned in 5 to 6 weeks time. Burrow systems are always close for escape from predators like coyotes, bobcats, large hawks and owls. Very young groundhogs can be captured by snakes that easily enter the burrow.

Woodchucks do not chuck wood. This name is most likely derived from the Algonquian name for this animal…“wuchak”. Its whistle alarm call is why settlers gave it the other common name of whistle pig. Take your pick of any name. The groundhog could care less, it has a long nap still in progress. The do not disturb sign has been posted.

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A very interesting program is coming to the Fisher Community Center on Wednesday, Feb. 8. HIKING the APPALACHIAN TRAIL is the topic and will be presented by Toni Proescholdt of Liscomb. She hiked the entire length, all 2,189.1 miles last year between late May and ended Oct. 2, 2016. She began the journey at Spring Mountain, Ga., and ended at Mt. Katahdin, Maine. Her illustrated program will be presented after the WILD GAME FEED hosted by the Izaak Walton League. There will be lots of food items to chose from,all specially prepared and labeled. The public is encouraged to attend as guests of the Ikes membership. Guests can feel free to bring any food item or a dessert. Bottom line is this: all are welcome to attend this fun and informative event. You will have time to meet and talk to Ikes members, enjoy good food, learn about conservation programs for next year, and learn what it takes to hike over 2,000 miles with a 65 pound backpack of survival equipment on your back.

I’ll see you there.

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DEER HUNTING seasons are essentially over…except there may be additional deer taken in February for testing from Clayton and Allamakee Counties in response to new confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD) found recently. A wild deer taken northwest of Elkader in 2016 tested positive for CWD, the first positive wild deer outside of last years several cases from Allamakee County. A public meeting on Feb. 13 in Elkader will offer the public biological information about this unfortunate disease finding, and involve the audience and deer hunters an opportunity to learn what can and cannot be done to assist the DNR with management decisions in northeast Iowa.

Allamakee County had an additional 10 cases of positive CWD animals in 2016. Since 2013 from the Harper’s Ferry vicinity, the total is now 13 CWD known cases. DNR biologists began testing for this disease in 2002 after Wisconsin had a large outbreak. Since then, more than 61,000 samples were tested from wild deer and 4,000 samples from hunting preserve farms. The first Iowa positive test was in 2013, followed by three positive tested deer in 2014, two in 2015 and 11 so far for 2016.

Chronic wasting disease is an issue for many states, not just Iowa. Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska, Missouri and Wisconsin are known to have land areas where the problem has been detected. Nationally there are many other states conducting intense study and sampling to try and keep tabs on this always fatal outcome to the deer. The disease is spread from animal to animal through nose to nose contact. In addition, environmental contamination is implicated from urine, feces, and saliva. The disease takes several years to mess with brain cells and cause abnormal prion formation. No cure is available once infected.

If you are interested in attending the informational meeting, call Terry Haindfield, Wildlife Management Biologist at 563-380-3422.

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WHITETAILS UNLIMITED BANQUET is coming up soon. The date is Feb. 18. The place is Lincoln Valley Golf Course at 1538 235th Street, east of State Center. Tickets are available from Brad Wall (691-0143), Ron Wacome (496-5404, Tim Shibe (485-6448) or Kent Bracy (485-0910). A prime rib dinner will be served. Games and raffles are in the mix. A live auction is always exciting. And lots of sporting long guns will be offered. Get tickets for $45 if purchased before Feb 10.

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Marshalltown CITY DEER HUNTING this past season was the ninth year for attempts to reduce the number of deer within city limits. Marshalltown is one of many Iowa cities that authorize and allow qualified archers to take deer with bow and arrow. Marshalltown works with DNR biologist Bill Bunger for coordination of this annual program. Thirty-six licenses were purchased by about one dozen qualified hunters to use in Marshalltown. Those hunters took 12 doe deer and one button buck. All licenses initially are for antlerless deer only. Twelve doe deer taken out means there will be that animal and her twin fawns not around for 2017. An incentive is allowed in most urban deer hunt sites to take a few antlered deer, but only after three doe deer are taken by the hunter first. Marshalltown was allotted three buck tags in 2016. Three hunters got those tags but only one hunter was able to fill it.

This scribe is one of the authorized archers for Marshalltown. I was able to take one adult doe deer. I can also attest to the fact that city deer are not stupid deer. They behave the same as their county cousins in every respect. Taking them is not a given or easy. This is where experience comes into play to know when and where to enter those areas where city deer like to frequent. The program’s success is way better than nothing and at least 12 doe deer will not be around in 2017.

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PHOTOS of Marshall County vicinity award winners will be revealed on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. This is for the annual Conservation Board Photo Contest where many excellent entries are submitted for a chance at winning gift certificates. Tickets for the chili supper at the Grimes Farm and Conservation Center are still available. You do not need to be a competitor in the contest to attend. You do need to have a soft spot in your heart for good photography of the wild and scenic places, plants or animals, and people interacting in the outdoors. Call the MCCB at 752-5490 for tickets.

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“One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself.”

— Shannon Alder, writer

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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.