Winter: A long list of things to do

PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG Cardinal birds are very common year around residents. What drew this author's eye and camera was the setting: Bitter cold weather outside, a warm human inside, and the bird going about its normal business of living and adapting to its circumstances as just another day. Obtaining another nature photo when all the elements of a good composition converge in front of my lens makes for a good day. The day was sunny which equals good light. The weather was terribly cold to people if not dressed for it, and the bird cooperated to create a pose I was lucky enough to capture. It was another gift after Christmas.

My CARDINAL image was partly good luck. Wildlife photographers have to take what Mother Nature provides regardless of what our human desires may be. But in this case, an ordinary female Cardinal at the feeder station, was chowing down on sunflower seeds when a gust of wind caused her head feathers and body side coverts to ruffle. The wind raised her tail at the same time my camera shutter was triggered. Result: One very nice new image of a very common bird. I hope you enjoy this first “gift” of 2018.

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My stories for 2018 will continue to feature anything I find interesting if it involves any subject of natural history. This wide range of potential topics has served me well for the past twenty six plus years. I started my column under the heading of Outdoor Reflections in October, 1991. Later the title was upgraded to Outdoors Today. This column is number 1,359 that will be added to the archives and files. Only in my absence during travel out-of-state, or on long hunting excursions, have I asked substitute writers to fill the gap temporarily. They always do a great job of sharing knowledge and fun facts from nature.

Numerous people have given me unsolicited advice to continue to write this column. I will do just that primarily because I like to do it, even though it can be a tough job to adequately convey pieces of factual and truthful information in a manner that all the readers will learn from and enjoy. As each new final product, another column, reveals itself on the back side of the T-R sports section each week, I take pride in having provided you with another snippet of the outdoors, conservation, recreation, and general appreciation for all natural resources. So with that, hold onto your hat during the next 12 months as we venture outdoors together, have fun, learn new stuff, and enjoy what presented itself in front of my camera lenses.

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WINTER is always the time when lots of outdoor groups or organizations get together to plan for things to come during the year. Fishing through holes drilled in the ice of area ponds and lakes has great appeal to many. Sand Lake has trout from last fall’s stocking by DNR fisheries staffers. Fly fishermen and women may be using cold weather to tie more lures in anticipation of spring ice out in Iowa’s trout streams of northeast Iowa. Bass fishermen and ladies are also patiently waiting for ice out and spring’s warmer temperatures. Some folks are planning summer and fall fishing vacations right now, booking lodges and guides for those treasured moments on deep blue lakes.

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PHEASANTS FOREVER will hold its annual Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic next month in Sioux Falls, S.D. Feb. 16-18. The convention floor will be filled with hunting related opportunities, dog breeds to review, equipment to plant long term conservation cover crops and much more. They always feature what they call a Pheasantennial Friday night event of entertainment. Saturday night is their big banquet. A full three day package for admission to the show floor and events runs $125 for PF members. A major sponsor for Pheasant Fest is Federal Premium ammunition.

During this cold weather with significant snow on the ground, my adventures into the countryside have spotted numerous good sized flocks of pheasants scratching through the snow to reveal seeds remaining from soybean or corn harvest. Adjacent heavy cover of restored prairie grasses and forbs is providing cover to withstand the winter cold and allow escape from predators each night. It is nice to see colorful cock pheasants with their long tail feathers gleaming in the sun with a bright white background of new snow.

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Iowa’s DEER CLASSIC SHOW will take place in Des Moines at Hy-Vee hall March 2-4. This crowd drawing event for 20,000 plus people is always a hit. It is amazing to see the wide variety of products associated with deer and deer hunting, deer habitat improvement, and viewing hundreds of deer head mounts that hunters bring to the show for scoring, or just for the fun of seeing which deer will receive a coveted awards. Hall of Fame deer from past shows may be invited to display the mount again. Seminars by noted deer enthusiasts will fill seminar rooms downstairs while convention goers upstairs stroll the isles. Put March 2-4 on your 2018 calendar.

Iowa deer hunters during the 2017-18 season have nudged right up to harvest numbers very close to last year. As of mid-week, the statewide take of deer is nearing 98,500. A breakdown of hunter mandatory reporting shows about 44, 500 doe deer, 45, 500 antlered deer, 8,000 button bucks and approximately 300 buck deer that had already shed their antlers at the time they were killed. All these numbers are typical of past Iowa deer seasons. There will be aerial and ground surveys later this winter or early spring to add additional data for wildlife biologists to tabulate.

The highest counties for deer harvest are also typical of past seasons: Highest is Clayton County with over 4,200. Next in line is Allamakee at a tad over 3,150, followed by Madison at 2,600, Jackson also a tad over 2,350 and Dubuque at 2,060. Lowest take counties reflect less deer habitat and they are Osceola 111, Calhoun 114, Grundy 121, Pocahontas 132 and Ida at 136. By Jan. 10, end of deer season, these numbers will fluctuate a bit but not much.

For your did you know item about deer, this interesting bit of biology concerns hunters taking a young fawn, or not, or taking a doe deer with her fawns in tow. Fact is that taking an adult doe deer is probably the right thing to do in most cases as overall population density control is the objective of biologists. Keeping the herd in balance helps ensure a healthy habitat and more than enough deer to carry on into the new year. Some hunters feel reluctant to shoot fawn deer. Do not fear, a fawn deer is weaned at about 70 days of age, or about 10 weeks. In most of the white-tailed deer range, 70 days happens much earlier than the earliest hunting season starts. Fawns are born in late May and early June. Seventy days later is mid-August to early September. Other studies have confirmed that at just two months of age, fawns are fully capable of survival on their own. Well before 70 days of age, fawns have made the switch to browse food sources as they are functional ruminants. Fawns have lost their spotted coat in most cases by the time any early hunting season begins.

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DUCKS UNLIMITED’s local Iowa River Chapter will host their fund raising banquet on March 17. More details will follow in subsequent columns. As always the evening features great door prizes, games, raffles, a fantastic meal, auction and a time to meet and greet old and new friends. Prior to this local banquet, DU’s State Convention is slated for Feb. 10. Things start happening on the 9th with a garage sale drop-off from 4-6 p.m. The place is the Sheraton at 1800 50th St., in West Des Moines. On the 10th, is a continuation of garage sale items, Council meeting and luncheon, art contest, and the banquet at 5 p.m. Prizes include anything waterfowl related plus Yeti coolers, Jewelry, Baskets, guns, raffles, an auction of an Iowa deer tag for 2018 and much more.

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“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us.”

— Helen Keller


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.