Look out 2018, here we come

PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG Three Canada Geese are easing their way to a successful landing on the ice at Riverside Cemetery. With cupped wings, tail feathers spread wide and legs down, these aviator birds are increasing aerodynamic drag. They don't have to think about it, they just do it. As a new year approaches, wildlife will adapt to local weather conditions in ways Mother Nature has outfitted them to withstand. They take it all in stride as if it was just another day.

HAPPY NEW YEAR tomorrow. We will say goodbye to 2017 and look forward to an interesting 2018. The future as always has its knowns and unknowns. As outdoor enthusiasts, us human types who love the great outdoors will find numerous ways to accommodate and adapt to each new day of the new year. New adventures, new observations of nature in action, new places to travel to and new friends to meet are all on the agenda. It will be fun.

Here are my highlights of 2017 from my past stories in this column. I hope you will enjoy my take on neat things that nature offered to share with all of us.

JANUARY: The Iowa River ran low last winter but ice did form on its meandering channel edges to form icy white ridges. Since the winter turned out to be quite mild overall, lots of open water persisted all winter. Cold weather does increase our human wildlife watching from backyard window as feeders offer morsels of food for out feathered friends. Winter bird counts and winter Bald Eagle counts took place all over the nation. I was able to photograph a special nuthatch taking bird seed out of the hand of a friend. That is close and personal and nice.

FEBRUARY: Snow geese gathered in large numbers toward the end of the month at Hendrickson Marsh. I was able to photograph huge flocks as they cavorted over open water of this state wildlife area located west of Rhodes. Waterfowl get excited to head north late this month. Conservation Board staff was busy with wood duck and kestrel box installation and cleaning. Road killed deer carcasses continued to offer opportunities for trail camera photo traps of eagles and hawks as they cleaned the bones for meat to eat. Woodchucks continue to sleep away in full hibernation mode. Muskrats wait out the winter inside their pushup houses made of mud and marshland vegetation. Wildlife banquets for White-tails Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited and other organizations draw people to fun-filled gatherings. Ice fishing huts on lakes had to removed early due to thin ice, if there was ice at all.

MARCH: Spring arrived right on schedule because earth’s orbit around the sun is an unstoppable force. Longer day lengths are obvious to us humans. Winter’s grasp is lessening. It is nice to know that an advance of seasons will bring warmer weather. Each season is about three months long because of the tilt of our earth’s axis in relation to our orbital plain around the sun. Inside on little Orion arm or the Milky Way is where our sun and its planets are located. Our sun is about 26,000 light years from the center of the milky way galaxy. The galaxy is about 80,00 to 120,000 light years across and about 7,000 light years thick. Earth travels along its orbit at 18.5 miles per second. Wild turkeys are strutting and hunters that wish to pursue them are getting anxious. Marshalltown hosted the Iowa Taxidermist Association spring workshop and public display of wildlife art.

APRIL: Trout were stocked at Sand Lake by DNR fisheries folks from Manchester. Trout allowed young folks a great opportunity to catch a unique fish. Capturing and leg banding of Lesser Scaup in pool nineteen of the Mississippi River took place with Marshall County residents assisting. Wild Turkey hunters took to the forests and fields to hunt. A young hunter named Hunter Hughlette, a seventh grader at East Marshall found success by taking a big tom turkey at 22 yards while on his grandfather’s property. A wild black bear was spotted in a farm field in northern Tama County. Wildflowers are beginning to bloom.

MAY: Maple syrup collecting took place at Grammer Grove. Forest flowers were out in force to welcome Mother’s Day hikers at this park. Advice from a flower says Make someone’s day, Enjoy the sunshine, Remember your beauty stems from within, Look past the thorns, Bloom and be scent-sational. Rain has helped wake up the soil for another growing season. Grass is green, Trees are well leafed out and bird song permeate the air. A Great Egret allowed this author to make additional images to share with everyone. Fawn deer facts versus myths helped tell the truth about this species and how it survives. A featured photo on May 28 was of triplet fawns.

JUNE: The Izaak Walton League hosted several sporting clay shoots at their land southeast of Marshalltown. A pair of courtship dancing Sandhill Cranes were photographed at Mann Marsh south of Albion. Kid’s Fish Derby was held at Riverside Cemetery pond. Citizen science allows people to participate in data gathering of things they are interested in. This quote on science is so true. “Don’t let anyone tell you they have access to special information that isn’t available to you. If you want to know the truth, you need to seek it out for yourselves.” Day length was at its maximum on the 21st.

JULY: Big fish were reported including a two pound, ten ounce crappie by Phil Rush. Carl Kurtz hosted an open house at the Spring Hill Prairie in western Marshall County. This land and its excellent prairie grasses and forbs sits on the edge of the ancient Wisconsinan glacier’s lateral edge. Native grasslands are a rare commodity today.

AUGUST: Green Castle Recreation Area celebrates its 40th anniversary as a public park. The 16 surface acre lake has been restored, fish habitat provided and many new fishing jetties installed. Cory Smith, age 11, caught a nice bass during Green Castle’s open house activities. Grading for future camping spots for RVers has been accomplished. Fund raising continues to develop a camping system. Kids involved with Scholastic Trap Shooting earn awards for competitive events. DNR roadside upland game bird surveys are conducted statewide.

SEPTEMBER: A long dry summer has the Iowa River flowing slow and low. Sandbars are above the water line throughout Marshall County. Squirrel and rabbit seasons open soon. Monarch butterflies are moving slowly and steadily toward the mountains of central Mexico. Banded monarchs takes place as a conservation activity. Waterfowl are getting ready for their long awaited migration to southern habitats.

OCTOBER: Archery deer season opened on the first of the month. Dove season and duck seasons opened mid month. Tree leaves turned colorful. Day length is getting shorter. A large preying mantis is photographed and featured for the story on Oct. 1. It mobile head rotates to watch everything in its path. A special story on the 8th contrasted the channelized portions of the Iowa River with its natural curvy and sinuous route across the floodplain. The wetlands of Otter Creek Marsh are another featured story using an aerial photo of this 3,000 plus acre DNR wetland complex.

NOVEMBER: Bald Eagles are easily sighted. A close up of one adult is featured on Nov. 5. I witness a predator-prey drama while in my tree stand. A Sharp-shinned Hawk captures a small song bird, flies close to my location, lands 20 yards away and proceeds to remove feathers and eat the small bird. The entire time this little hawk did not know it was being observed. Pheasants Forever holds their banquet for the Marshall and Tama County chapters. Gun deer season regulations will allow straight wall ammunition to be used in addition to traditional shotgun slugs.

DECEMBER: The Arney Bend Wildlife Area is featured using an aerial photograph. Deer hunters will soon descend on this public property to hunt deer. A Snowy Owl is observed, reported and this author was able to capture many images of the big white owl as it sat dutifully on a fence post near Clemons. Photos of this species are a rare find for central Iowa. The late John Garwood’s story titled “The First Christmas” is reprinted on Dec. 24.

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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 PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.