Wildlife shines in the snow

PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG A robust rooster pheasant gets ready to swallow a kernel of corn. His bright and rustic plumage, green head and white neck band are characteristic markings for this game bird. This image was made from inside a well constructed blind near winter habitat for this species and many other resident species of wildlife.

RING-NECKED PHEASANTS were the subject of a recent wildlife foray this author took this week. With a lot of help from recent snows, I knew the photo blind would be active. So over the course of a two hour sit, I was able to see at least eight pheasants, all males this time, and a host of smaller birds. From a distance of about 20-25 feet, a long lens allowed the subjects to be frame filing , and fun. Warm clothes appropriate for outside adventures were a prime concern with air temps in single digits. A portable heater in the blind help take the edge off of chilly air. So inside the dark box, I sat and waited patiently for critters to show up. They did.

Pheasants are a hardy bird. Survival is hugely dependent upon suitable habitat containing grasslands, weedy cover, thick conifer or shrubby trees to escape predators and winter winds. Food sources are primarily insects and seeds during warm seasons, and seeds only during winter. In today’s highly agricultural landscape, good habitat for pheasants proves to be far and few between. However, where it exists, the hardy pheasant is probably making its survival known.

Our local Pheasants Forever chapter members, through their active participation in habitat projects, or just as support via attending local PF fund raising banquets, are putting money to work on the land where participating landowners want and may need grasslands as part of larger conservation practices. This becomes a win-win situation for everybody and wildlife. Grasslands hold soil, filter surface water runoff, and provide buffer strips along waterways or small streams. During 2017, we had a very wet spring and then during May and the rest of the summer, rains became scarce. PF habitat projects could not be planted at the normal idea time. When the land did dry out, needed rain was not there to germinate the newly planted project. In some instances, these projects will be held over until 2018 and just try again to be more successful. Local PF projects are much indebted to Pioneer and Beck seed dealers in our area for food plot materials.

PF has a national following of active members and chapters. Nationally, PF has assisted in improvements to 15 million acres for habitat, purchased more than 187,000 acres of land and helped make these sites open to public hunting and recreation. PF has also hosted over 2,500 annual youth events that drew over 150,000 people. In the United States, habitat projects number 15,000. If you want to learn more about Pheasants Forever, this coming weekend in Sioux Falls, S.D., the National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic will be held. A huge convention center will be filled with everything related to pheasants, their habitat and its continual improvement, hunting opportunities and every kind of equipment, sporting arms and dogs to help fill your desires and increase your knowledge base.

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An unusual bird made its appearance near the photo blind. It was a Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus). It has a rather dark brown to black appearance but its body feathers have hints of dark reddish edges. Thus the common name “rusty” seems appropriate. I only saw one Rusty Blackbird. And one of the obvious tell-tale markings to aide in its identification is its pale yellow eye ring. It is within its winter range as is all of the southeast Untied States. Its summer breeding range is all of Alaska and Canada wherever boreal forest habitat exists. It likes to feed on insects and plant matter. Observers have also documented its ability to attack and eat other small birds such as sparrows, robins and even snipe. Winter foods find a switch to acorns, pine seeds and fruit.

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the rusty blackbird population is on a steep decline. The reasons for this are unknown. Between 1966 and 2014, cumulative results show the decline to be near 90 percent. Some factors too complicated than just its boreal forest, swampy, fen, boggy and beaver pond hang-outs are at work against this population. Ornithologists will keep searching for answers. I feel fortunate to have seen it.

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DUCKS UNLIMITED will have its fundraising event on March 17 at the Impala Ballroom in Marshalltown. Event organizers tell of nineteen sporting/hunting guns will be on the docket for those fortunate to have their ticket drawn. The odds seem to get better depending upon how many tickets a person purchases. Every year a few folks are amazed and surprised when the ticket pulled from the barrel has their number. Games, good fellowship and great food await all DU supporters who make this event. Tickets can be purchased from Rich Naughton by calling (641) 328-0124. DU funds do go toward Iowa projects. A map showing those projects has spots all over Iowa land. It is nice to see and know that wildlife enthusiasts are concerned enough to put money toward the cause.

The local DU committee needs to expand its members who can bring fresh ideas, energy and organizational skills to this important conservation task. If you have an interest, and know others who love nature, duck hunting, or just an all around outdoors enthusiast, you will be welcomed.

The committee meets every Wednesday evening from 5:30-6:30 p.m. between now and the March 17 banquet at the Grimes Farm and Conservation Center.

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As for putting money toward good causes, since TAX TIME is coming soon, on or before April 15, you have options to assist. An excellent method is to donate a bit of your Iowa refund due to the “CHICKADEE CHECK-OFF”. Its official name is the Fish & Wildlife Check-off, line 57 on form 1040. This scribe has been doing this for decades. The amount may not be huge but it is helping. So I encourage all the readers of this column to make the effort and contribute something to this worthy cause. If every taxpayer in Iowa donated just one dollar, that would mean $1.5 million for wildlife and natural resource conservation.

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STUDENT SCHOLARSHIPS are available to qualified applicants who are going to pursue a field of study in college related to conservation and/or the environment. Our local Izaak Walton League chapter is the holder of the Piper Scholarship Account. This account is separate and dedicated to make awards of cash to the college or university where a Marshall County resident plans to attend. The deadline for applications is March 15. Interviews will be held to determine those who want natural resource studies as their focus at college. An application form is available from President Charles Strobbe. Send your request for an application to the Marshall County Izaak Walton League, P.O. Box 327, Marshalltown, Iowa 50158 as soon as possible. Remember the deadline date for submittals is March 15. The amount of an award is $2,000.

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Advice from a snowman: Be a jolly happy soul, spend time outdoors, stay cool, it is OK to be a little bit bottom heavy, avoid meltdowns, live well since life is short.

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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.