Showers, flowers and mushrooms

TAXIDERMISTS knew how to make the best presentations of everything from fish, reptiles, small and large mammals at last weekend’s Iowa Taxidermists Association conference. Displays were evaluated by professionals. The tiniest details had to be spot on, correctly molded, tucked, painted and positioned. When all was completed back at the home studio, the mounts were ready for the show. The fact that people came from 10 states was amazing in itself. It speaks well for Iowa as a host for their members and other invited members.

As you can see by today’s images, the pheasant sitting on a snowy stick was excellent. Its numerous ribbons attested to the artist’s attention to detail. A mouse with one hind leg caught in the mouth of the bobcat was also a storytelling display. In the real world, mice do make up a huge portion of the diet of bobcats. The food web of predator/prey tells the story of nature’s life in the raw. Many mice in grasslands or forest floor environments are kept in check by a wide assortment of predators. Some of those that hunt mice to live include bobcats, coyotes, mink, weasels, skunks, snakes, falcons and hawks. Owls do their fair share of mouse control.

It is seldom that we humans are in the right place at the right time to see predation in action. If you are lucky, a hovering American Kestrel along a roadside filled with grasses may dive into the vegetation and come up with its meal for the day. I’ve been fortunate enough to see this several times. Never have I been able to obtain a setup whereby I’m posed with a telephoto lens on my camera ready to capture the event in progress. I do keep trying however.

A new migrating species seen this week was the Northern Harrier, a hawk with a distinctive white rump patch on its top side. This long winged and long straight tailed hawk likes to hunt by flying just above the cover of fields and grasslands. While other raptors may circle high above, or sit on a power pole to survey the land, the Harrier flies fast low to the ground. If it sees something on its menu, a quick dive will be in order. A mouse or tow or three a day might just be enough to keep the Harrier healthy.

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APRIL 1 may be a day to pull of a joke or two on your friends. Or it could be a day to do something really good for your health. After a long winter, and too much inside the home time, getting outside is refreshing, stimulating and a good anti-depressant. April weather promises lots more opportunities to venture to an area county park to hike the trails, poke around in the leaf litter of last year, and maybe, just maybe, be lucky enough to find an antler shed from a buck deer. If you find an antler, look closely at its main beam and tines. Do they show any signs of little rodent teeth chewing on this calcium rich tidbit? Many times an antler will have been previously discovered by mice who will chew on them until it is almost whittled away.

Another benefit of getting outside, especially with kids, is to watch their eagerness to explore come alive. I’ve seen kids take to the forest in late March like they were on a treasure hunt. There was no particular treasure in mind, just an inquisitive mind asking questions like “what is this?” “Oh look at the big fallen tree. It’s hollow. Can we crawl into it?” The endless fun times will consume an afternoon easily. And pretty soon, when it may be time to head back home, the best questions and comments of all are these…“Can we stay a little longer?” After lots of fresh air and a good day spent exploring in nature, a good nights sleep will refresh the kids, and the adults, and create a new opportunity in the future to explore more of nature’s fine things.

April is here of course. And here are some things we can expect to occur as spring gets a better grip on weather. Hopefully nice rains, no more snow storms, warmer weather and birds coming back on their northward travels. Tree branches will see buds growing in size as new leaves are growing inside, ready to burst open when the time is right. Waterfowl migration of all species of ducks will continue. Prairie Chicken males in southwest Iowa leks will drum and strut, trying to look pretty for prairie chicken hens. Wild turkeys will also strut and become all puffed up to look impressive. Mid-month might be a great time to plant a new tree so that its shade can eventually cool your home, or cool you off this summer while sipping ice tea. Mid-April is when bald eagle chicks are hatching. Open waters in marshes, ponds and creek edges will entice toads and frogs to sing their songs of appeal to prospective mates. By the end of April, wild turkey hens will be incubating her eggs so a new batch of poults can come into the world. Pheasants and quail will also begin nesting. Pond waters continue to warm which will bring hungry catfish prowling the shorelines for foods to eat. Maybe one of those enticing foods will be at the end of your fishing line.

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Speaking of fish, SAND LAKE will again get a stocking of trout on April 21. Scheduled time is 11 a.m. Sand Lake is located about one mile east of Marshalltown. Several deep bodies of water exist where decades of sand and gravel extraction have taken place. When the mining was ended, ground water filled the basins and of course can be home to many species of fish. Trout form Iowa DNR hatcheries is an ideal way to bring the fish to the people. When the water tank truck pulls into the area, it doesn’t take long for a crowd to surround it, or stake out a fishing area along the shore where the newly released trout are likely to explore. This year, another 2,000 rainbow trout will be released. About 200 hundred of them will have a special tag on their adipose fin. Catch a tagged trout and turn it in for prizes. Trout fishing at Sand Lake is an excellent way to introduce kids to fishing.

Adult anglers will need a 2018 fishing license and the required trout fee. Kids under age 16 do not need a license. Feel free to call Conservation officer Tyson Brown for details on trout license needs, and for other trout stockings at other county or state waters sites during April. Call him at (641) 751-5246.

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“Treat each day is a new gift. April showers bring May flowers and morel mushrooms.”

— Author unknown

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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.