Raptor feeding frenzy cleans up carrion

EAGLES and HAWKS that are residents this winter have to eat to survive. Eagles may look for fish in the Iowa River at places like Three Bridges County Park or Hendrickson Marsh. However, out in the middle of ag land sites far away from water, bald eagles will congregate at food sources they have found. Such was the case a few miles south of Parkersburg last weekend. Several animal carcasses had attracted at least thirteen eagles. So being a nature photographer, it was an opportunity to pull out a camera and its attached big lens to see what I could make of it. The sparring match between eagles is on-going as one tries to usurp another by bluffing or full attack mode. They do not seem to share any cooperative prime spots at the carcass. Once claimed it is defended. After an eagle has feasted sufficiently, it will leave. Its prime spot is soon taken by another.

Hawks use the same tactic of bluffing and attack. Defending food sites is vital to survival. In the business of living, sharing in a cooperative manner is not on their list of things to do. Hunting is hard work. Catching rabbits, small birds, squirrels or pheasants is what red-tails like to do. Success comes about one time out of every 10 attempts.

Eagles will eat many of the same things as hawks but also specialize in grabbing fish near the surface of area waters. The diversity of diet by eagles helps them adapt.

Eagles are also in the process of nest selection or nest rebuilding right now. For the seven or eight known eagle nests in Marshall County, adding material to the nest is an essential task partaken by both male and female. If you know where to look with spotting scopes, it is possible to see some of these nests from nearby roadways by carefully scanning the tree tops. No leaves on the trees make eagle nest locating a bit easier.

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SNOW GEESE and WHITE-FRONTED GEESE (speckle belly’s) are on the move north. Arkansas has lots of these white geese now. So does Missouri including about 300,000 at the northwest corner of the state near Mound City. That is the location of Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Illinois has lots of snow geese also. At the present time huge flocks are playing the dance of going north if weather and lack of snow allow, or retreating back south if a snow storm in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota or Wisconsin temporarily block their journey.

Our recent January and early February thaw has given all light colored geese to gain a head start on northward migration. In fact, this year’s mild (so far) winter has allowed geese to be further north than usual. Hunters of these birds are going after them under the guidelines of the special conservation order allowing the take of as many as they can. The special conservation order is an attempt to hold down the population. As you may be aware, snow geese and other light colored geese are so numerous that tundra plant life in Ontario and Manitoba is being severely depleted. Iowa’s light goose hunting season is open right now and runs through April 15.

New 2017 licenses are required with the Iowa Habitat Fee and the Iowa Migratory Bird Fee. Shotguns do not need a shell limiting plug.

This year reports are coming in of snow geese showing up further east into central Indiana and into northern Illinois. Overall, snow geese population numbers continue to increase even as hunting pressures have expanded. Watch the skies for geese all this month and next. Watch how the migration may get set back if and when a new snow storm blasts its way across Iowa or the upper Midwest. And when that snow line melts, geese will follow. If these weather conditions occur at the right time during late March, we can be witness to a grand migration spectacle right here at home.

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Feb. 20 is the date in which ice fishing houses on public waters must be removed. This is a date after which warm weather can significantly weaken the ice over area ponds or lakes. To prevent ice houses from sinking into public water, owners must get them off the ice on or before the 20th. Mile winter weather so far has done a lot of weakening of area ice. Be cautious, be careful, and get those ice shacks moved to shore.

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DNR LISTENING SESSIONS are set for Feb. 22 from 6-9 p.m. Marshalltown’s site will be at the Community College ICN room. Simultaneously across Iowa, other sportsmen and women will gather to comment on past seasons for hunting or trapping. This is all part of the process for rule making required prior to setting recommended dates for the fall of 2017.

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WHITETAILS UNLIMITED’s Bear Grove Chapter annual fund raising banquet is coming up on Saturday, Feb. 18. The place will be Lincoln Valley Golf Course on old Highway 30 east of State Center. Social hour begins at 4:30 p.m, followed by a prime rib dinner at 6:30 p.m. Games, silent auction and live auction will help fill the evening. Many sporting long guns will be in the mix. Proceeds will go in part toward conservation projects. And one project getting lots of discussion is a makeover to the gun range at the Izaak Walton League. Some significant donations have already been made toward the cause.

WTU is the nation’s premier nonprofit whitetail organization whose mission is to raise funds in support of educational programs, wildlife habitat enhancement and acquisition, and the preservation of the shooting sports. Hunting traditions depend upon connecting people with the land, public land access, and science based wildlife management. Tickets are available from Brad Wall, Ron Wacome, Tim Shibe or Kent Bracy.

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BANQUET season has lots of things for outdoors people to participate in. Here are some calendar reminders for you. Details are available at their respective web sites. To begin, Iowa’s DEER CLASSIC will be March 3-5 at Des Moines Hy-Vee Hall. This is a huge show that draws vendors from all across the Midwest. Crowded aisles attest to its popularity with over 20,000 people through the doors.

Next in line, on March 11 is a Friends of NRA gathering to raise funds for the NRA Foundation. This will be at the Best Western Regency Inn at Marshalltown beginning at 5 p.m. The foundation is a 501(c)3 charity of the NRA. Tickets can be obtained from Rosea Hamelau at 641-485-8499 or Joe Wagner at 641-485-1876

Ducks Unlimited’s Iowa River Chapter has set the date of March 25 at the Impala Ballroom for their annual banquet meal, and fund raiser. A wide variety of wildlife leave their mark on our American revered landscape. Wetland conservation provides immense benefits to hundreds of non-game species in addition to the traditional emphasis on waterfowl of all sizes.

The same evening, March 25, at Tama County’s Nature Center, the 28th annual Fun Night will get under way. They have had great success during past years using donated dollars and grants to enable construction of their diorama based interpretive exhibits. Details and information is available from Bob Etzel at 641-484-2231.

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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.