Spring to arrive to stay

PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG The grass should be starting to turn green, not covered with snow or ice pellets. Winter white is what greeted Iowa turkey hunters mid-week. Dressing for winter-like weather is not a typical requirement for spring turkey hunters. In spite of cold weather, longer day lengths are the rule of the day for wild turkeys. Toms are strutting and hens are ignoring them ... for now. Today's photo illustrates the predicament that all native and returning migrating birds have had to endure. They will make it through these tough times just as they have managed to do over eons of time.

SPRING has been in short supply during April. For those few nice warm days we did experience, which were more noticeable for their absence than dominance, we all will welcome warmer weather to arrive and stay. If the old saying “April showers bring May flowers” is to be believed, it got all mixed up this year. April snow showers kept any flowers dormant for much longer periods of time as cold soil conditions did not promote growth. Stagnant is a better word for our relentless winter we had to endure.

Spring turkey seasons are underway as of last Monday. The second turkey gun season is on now and runs through April 24. Third season begins on the 25th to May first. Lastly, the longer fourth season begins May 2 and closes out on May 20. A slow start all over Iowa is due primarily to unfavorable cold and snow conditions. At mid week, about 14,000 bearded turkeys had been reported and recorded on the DNR’s harvest web site. Only three turkeys had been registered in Marshall County. That number will grow slightly this weekend.

While out and about on my own turkey excursions this past week, I witnessed gobbling tom turkeys deep in the forest. They were all puffed up with feathers in full glory as they tried to impress nearby hens. Snow had painted the landscape completely white. That snow didn’t seem to phase them at all as gobble after gobble echoed through the trees and cold air. I was surprised at my ability to be as close as I was to the big birds who were still at least 150 yards away. With scant vegetation to hide behind, it was only a matter of time before a sharp-eyed hen turkey would see me. I was standing behind what seemed to me to be a big enough tree to hide my camo clad body. But when I slowly peaked around the rough bark of the cottonwood, I might as well have waved a big flag. I was busted! Hens turkeys gave a danger cluck and started to depart the area. Three tom turkeys meanwhile, while still in full strut with tail fans spread wide and wing tips held low to the ground, didn’t immediately pick up on why the ladies were leaving. But of course they had to be leaving for a reason. It took about five seconds for the toms to fall in line behind those. Goodbye turkeys. So it goes. I had fun but I was not even close to sealing the deal.

The nicest factor working for a bowhunter like me during spring seasons for turkeys is time. I have all four season dates to try to be close enough to release an arrow out of my bow while concealed inside my ground blind. You should duly note that hunting turkeys is a hit and miss game whereby the turkeys do their own thing without regard to what my calling or decoy set up might suggest. When it comes to weather issues, I can be a bit more selective with regard to when I decide to inhabit the forests where turkeys lurk. It is nice to be able to pick those days when warmer air and clear skies make being outside a pleasure rather than a chore. Migrating warbler birds seem to enjoy warmer air also as they glean shrubbery twig tips for emerging buds. I get to watch all kinds of forest life emerge into activity.

My turkey bow hunting successes in past years tend to have been middle of the day events. With me tucked secretly away in a pop-up ground blind deep in the forest, I begin the waiting game for passing turkeys. I do not need to be out there necessarily before the break of dawn every day. Again I pick and chose my time and place and remain flexible. However, when turkeys do decide to check out my decoys and have committed to come in close for a look, my heart rate goes into high gear. Concentration has to overcome adrenaline increases as these big game birds swagger within fifteen yards of my decoy set up. And then it happens. My arrow connects for a quick kill. The flopping wings of the turkey subside quickly, I pull out my license tag to attach to the bird’s leg. Photo time is now my game plan to record a hard won effort. I like bow hunting precisely because it is not easy. It requires lots of skills and target practice before and during the season. And best of all hunting give me an incentive to be outside surrounded by spring happenings, especially when spring arrives to stay.

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This past week, hundreds of white pelicans were waiting out the weather at the pond area at Timmons Grove north. Then on Tuesday of last week, during nice clear skies and good temperatures, most of them obeyed the urge to travel northward. They left. How far they flew is not known to me. But what is known is last Wednesday’s hail, sleet, snow and cold winds returned. The pond surface at Timmons was almost devoid of pelicans. In the nearby forest lands of Timmons, and probably other Iowa River corridor timberlands, wood ducks are arriving to stake our territories, find tree cavities to nest in, and step up to the task of raising a new brood of woodies. Nest boxes for wood ducks are well used wherever they have been placed.

However, nearby in open farm fields rooster pheasants were observed looking for morsels of seeds to eat. And that was during a time when snow was falling. They must be getting hungry to venture out where predators can see them. On the other hand, being in a large open field means coyotes, fox, hawks or eagles do not have cover to use to sneak up on the roosters. A rooster’s ability to get airborne quickly to fly toward good cover will insure that it lives another day.

On my recent sightings list is a Red Fox, trotting down a sidewalk near my Albion home. The sighting was a right-place-right-time encounter. If I had blinked, I could have missed this red furred canine going about its business. Somewhere in Albion this fox finds safety and a place to live.

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Warmer weather and sunshine will soon make outdoor adventures a lot more fun. Fishing will soon be on the minds of lots of folks who have been itching to get to a lake or pond, or onto the water in a boat. Iowa has a Master Angler award for fish caught that meet at least the minimum for a particular species. Page 22 of the regulations booklet lists those fishes one may be interested in. For instance, a walleye 26 inches or more can earn the angler a fish award. Also on the list is the largemouth bass, 20 inches, channel catfish, 30 inches, bluegill sunfish 10 inches and many others. A form is available on this same page to copy, fill out and send into the DNR. Do attach a photo of your prize either in your mailing or electronic submission. Spring is a time to think of fishing because it is another reminder that spring has arrived to stay.

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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.