Spring!

CARDINALS have a lot going for them, and while some of the biology of this red colored bird is known, science will never know it all. Part of the mystery of nature is that the more we learn about a subject, the more we understand what we do not know. So science is never settled, just in a constant state of inquiry of finding a few more morsels of facts to add into the ledger book.

Male and female cardinals sing. Sing is our human term for the communication techniques of this species. It is the way birds talk to each other and each has it own language. A female cardinal sings, even while on her nest, to tell her mate all kinds of things … including when to bring food to the nest. The pair share song phrases and researchers have discovered the female may sing longer and have slightly more complex songs than the male.

Cardinals also may have a hard time figuring out what the reflection is in a window. Repeated attacks at this ‘intruder’ bird that never goes away are puzzling to it.

And the residue of messy window glass is proof that the male cardinal was adamant about defending his territory. Once the hormone levels of the bird slide off of peak, window attacks slow or cease, most of the time.

Foods that Cardinal like to eat include seeds and fruits supplemented with insects. Bird seed provided at backyard feeders will work for them also. Today’s image shows the Cardinal biting down on a black oil sunflower seed. And this scribe has had the opportunity in the past to hold a stunned bird that had hit a window, only to be bitten on the finger. The bill is strong and sharp as attested to by my bleeding finger. Back to foods, insects later in the Spring and Summer get a lot more insects. Protein content is perfect for feeding hungry nestlings who seem to have an unending appetite.

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SPRING brings rain (hopefully) and not snow as it did in April, 1973. In case you are wondering about this date, Mother Nature threw us a punch in the face with a three day long lock down blizzard of lots of snow and lots of wind. Travel those three days was at a virtual standstill until the storm center finally moved eastward. That left us with a huge dig out problem, and a problem of where to pile the snow. Yucky deal indeed.

Spring’s official date of March 20 last week ushers in the slow and inevitable return of warmer weather The name vernal equinox means “spring” in Latin and “equinox” refers to equal nights. This is when the sun rises due east and sets due west. If you were standing at the north pole you would see the sun skimming across the horizon to begin six months of uninterrupted daylight. Likewise to a person standing at the south pole, the sun would be skimming the horizon with one huge difference … the sun will soon disappear for the next six months.

Spring can have its official day on the calendar on March 20, or the 21st or even the 19. Why? Because the earth does not circle our Sun in exactly 365 days. So calendar makers have to take into account these variations in orbit times. If the earth rotated on an axis perpendicular to its orbit, there would be NO seasons, no changes in day lengths and no variation of seasons we are familiar with. That would be boring I think. But our earth does have a tilt to its axis of about 23.4 degrees, and that is the entire reason we have winter, spring, summer and fall variations in short term weather and long term climate conditions.

We are now at the beginning of our Spring season if you live north of the equator. For our friends south of the equator, they are just beginning their fall season. Southern hemisphere experiences springtime from August until November. For northern hemisphere peoples, a long winter is gone and spring tells of promises of new life, time to plant new crops, and warmer weather. In Poland, for instance, a ritual has been passed down from generation to generation to create an effigy called winter. Then they set it on fire and throw it into the river. It is their way to bid farewell to winter. A beer or two may just be part of the mix at local community centers as the burning effigy is destroyed by flames and drowned in water.

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HOW FAST do the seasons go about their business? We know that each season is about three months long. Those times are determined by the earth’s position in our milky way galaxy and our tied position to our sun. Inside one little Orion arm of the Milky Way is where our Sun and its planets exist. Our sun is about 26,000 light-years from the center of the milky way. Our Milky Way Galaxy is about 80,000 to 120,000 light years across and about 7,000 light-years thick.

Albert Einstein figured out equations of speed and time by being able to compare it other known sources. A reference point is needed to put “speed” into perspective.

He calculated lots of formulas about how fast the earth is moving with respect to its own axis, our Sun, the Milky Way Galaxy and our local group of galaxies. Science knows that the earth spins on its axis as it obits the Sun. Our entire solar system slowly orbits around the Milky Way Galaxy. And the Milky Way belongs to a local group of galaxies that are also moving.

At the equator, Earth’s surface moves approximately 24,900 miles in 24 hours. It actually works out to 1,040 mph. As you move up or down in latitude on a hemisphere, speed decreases. At the poles, speed is almost zero. The Earth’s speed around the Sun is about 18.5 miles per second or 66,600 miles per hour. We do not have the sensation of such a high speed since we are all going forward as one big unit.

Our Sun and our solar system takes about 200 – 250 million years to orbit just once around the Milky Way. This orbit pathway is traveling at about 155 miles per second or 558,000 miles per hour. The local group of galaxies is going about its movement at 185 miles per second. This is equal to 666,000 miles per hour. My hat is off in congratulations to Mr. Einstein for giving us this data.

But back in the real world, our little spot on earth’s surface, we have to adjust and adapt to our life on earth with its four seasons. Which season do I like best? Answer: the season we are in at the moment. The future is ahead of us so I personally look forward to tomorrow and pledge to make the best of what Mother Nature offers. Today I like Spring best. How about you?

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SPRING WILD TURKEY hunting season will arrive for youth hunters April 8-16. Gun or bow hunters will take to the forests and fields on April 17 for season No. 1, April 21-25 for season two; third season is April 26 through May 2 and the fourth season is May 3-21. Gun hunters must choose a season according to standard regulations. Archers get to hunt with their bows and arrows from April 17 through May 21.

Turkey hunters will experience a full range of seasonal changes on the landscape. Forested areas will go from bare branched trees and shrubs at the beginning to full leaf out near mid May. Turkey population numbers are doing very well in Iowa. Listening to tom turkeys gobbling in pre dawn light before fly down time is one of Nature’s treasured moments to cherish. Each year 50,000 hunters will purchase licenses to hunt wild turkeys. Statistics from past harvests show a success rate of 20 percent. I can vouch for my personal success as 100 percent just because of the great times I spend bow hunting for these birds. But only about one year in five will I arrow a turkey to bring home. I define “success” as having a great experience, and if a turkey goes home with me, so much the better.

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“Winter is in my head, but eternal Spring is in my heart.”

— Victor Hugo

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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.