Mighty migrators on beautiful wings

MIGRATION is not something just for birds. As today’s image suggests, a Monarch butterfly could be compared to “Flowers of the Wind.” Monarchs are easy to see and a delight to watch. Since the last generation of Monarchs is nearly completing its chysalis stage, it will be programmed with all the information it needs to find its way south to the mountain forests of Sierra Madre, Mexico. One little butterfly brain will have all the right information enclosed to direct its migration and not get lost. That in itself is amazing.

People will be participating in Monarch capture, tagging and release next month. It is a fun project to get involved with. Wing tags have a lot of data printed on them along with a unique number. That number will tell researchers where the butterfly was captured, date and by whom. When all the data is put onto a map, interesting patterns emerge. And an overall assessment of total monarch numbers can be compared from year to year as citizen scientists help volunteer their time to help.

Monarchs are part of the family named Danaidae. They are milkweed loving insects. Within the family are about 300 species worldwide. The caterpillar of the Monarch feeds on toxic (to others) milkweed. If a bird should make the mistake of grabbing one and attempt to eat it, the disgusting taste will be so offensive that the bird learns not to eat this insect.

The Marshall County Conservation Board will participate again this year in Monarch tagging. To learn more about this activity and how to help, give Naturalist Emily Herring at call at 641-752-5490 or send an e-mail to: mccb@marshallcountyia.gov

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DUCKS AND GEESE are migrators of the feathered kind. They are big and colorful aviators of the flyways. As soon as the first fall frost tickles wetland edges and prairie nesting areas, Green Wing Teal will head south. Along the way they will stop to feed and rest at any number of conservation land sites. In Marshall County this could be private lands with old river oxbow lakes/ponds, or public areas such as Sand Lake, Green Castle or the state DNR’s Hendrickson Marsh. Later on as fall weather progresses toward shorter and shorter days and cooler temperatures, other species will follow the time tested routes of migration.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently released its report on 2017 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations. The numbers are based on surveys conducted in May and early June by FWS and Canadian Wildlife Service personnel. What they found was overall duck numbers in surveyed areas remain high. Total population estimates are pegged at 47.3 million breeding ducks. This is similar to the 2016 survey estimate of 48.4 million. Another way they look at population trends is on long term averages. Numbers for this year are 34 percent above the 1955-2016 long-term average. The projected mallard duck fall flight index is 12.9 million birds, similar to the 2016 estimate of 13.5 million.

Duck species in a waterfowl breeding bird survey areas and their respective numbers include Mallard (10.488 million), Gadwall (4.18 million), American Wigeon (2.77 million), Green-winged teal (3.6 million), Blue-winged teal (7.9 million), Northern shoveler (4.35 million), Northern pintail (2.9 million) , Redhead (1.11 million), Canvasback (0.73 million) and Scaup (4.37 million). The total is 47.3 million birds.

The main determining factor for duck breeding success is wetland and upland habitat conditions in the key breeding landscapes of the prairies and boreal forest. Conditions observed were similar to last year. Total pond estimates for the USA and Canada combined was 6.1 million which is 22 percent above the 2016 estimate of 5.0 million ponds. This is a 17 percent increase over the long-term average of 5.2 million.

The surveys are an important link in management programs. A scientific basis for wildlife management is vital to setting regulations that allow ducks to be hunted and at the same time provide for adequate breeding bird survival for the next year. Individual states set their hunting seasons within a federal framework of season length, bag limits and dates. Iowa waterfowl hunters should carefully check the regulations booklet for dates of season beginnings and daily limits.

Iowa’s special September TEAL season will be the 2nd through the 10th in both north and south zones. It is Sept. 2-17 for the Missouri River zone. The youth waterfowl duck season kicks of on Sept. 16-17 in North Zone, the 23rd and 24th in the South Zone and Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 for the Missouri River Zone. Ducks, Mergansers and Coots seasons can be found on page 7 of the regulations, top of the page. Daily limit is six birds with no more than four mallards (of which no more than two may be female). Wood duck limit is three, Redheads is two, Scaup is three, pintails one, Black ducks two, Canvasback two and mottled duck one.

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In addition to waterfowl, other hunting seasons to open in early September are DOVES, both Mourning and Eurasian Collared, from Sept. 1 through Nov. 29. Daily limit is 15. Snipe season is Sept. 2 through Nov. 30, limit of 8. Rails can be hunted Sept. 2 through Nov. 10 with their limit of 12. Woodcock dates are Oct. 7 through Nov. 20, limit of 3.

Doves are fast and very agile. Hunting them and getting them are two different things. With and estimated United States population of 320 million birds, the 39 states that do have a specific hunting season for them together have an hunter harvest of between five and seven percent. Here is another fact about mourning doves. They readily compensate for population losses due to weather, predators, disease by having one of the highest reproductive rates of any game bird. Like many wild species of game and non-game birds, a huge percentage never make it to the one year mark. Such is the way nature works. That is the reality of the real world of wildlife.

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Hunters know fall is just around the corner when SQUIRREL and COTTONTAIL RABBIT seasons open. That date is this coming weekend on Sept. 2. Squirrels in particular are the first game animal young hunters are introduced to with a mentoring dad, mom, grand parent, or close family friend. Iowa has both fox and gray squirrels. We have both species in Marshall County however the fox squirrel is the dominant critter in the tree tops. Sitting patiently at the base of a oak tree stand is what is required. After a long time of sitting, squirrels may begin scampering about the tree limbs or conduct ground searches. They are a small target but a perfect set up for first time mentored youth hunters with a .22 rifle. Squirrel season ends Jan. 31, 2018. Cotton tail rabbit season is Sept. 2 through Feb. 28, 2018.

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For this week’s did you know this about natural history, how long can a BULLFROG live in the wild? Up to 15 years! However, the average is more like 4-5 years.

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Advice from a Butterfly: Let your true colors show; Get out of your cocoon; Take yourself lightly; Look for sweetness in life; Take time to smell the flowers; Catch a breeze and We can’t all be Monarchs.


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.