Outdoors Today

Tyson Brown, Iowa DNR Conservation Officer, will be the guest speaker at the upcoming Izaak Walton League Wild Game Feed next Wednesday evening, Feb. 21. Each year the local Ikes Chapter members host an night to gather, eat delicious wild game foods, and enjoy a conservation program. This year the event will take place at the Fisher Community Center in Marshalltown beginning at 6:15 p.m. to select a plate full of game foods. Brown will speak afterwards of the duties of law enforcement specific to DNR laws and regulations on hunting, trapping and fishing. Ikes members, current and former, and their families and guests are invited to attend. Potential new Ikes members are welcome to attend and learn more about the local Ikes activities, facilities, and recreational opportunities.

Brown to speak at Ikes Wild Game Feed

A WILD GAME FEED is coming this Wednesday, the 21st. As a tribute to the huge amount of delicious protein sources that fish and game provide each and every year, local outdoors enthusiasts and Izaak Walton League club members will have a wide selection of buffet style foods to select along a ...

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.

Wildlife shines in the snow

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 ...

It isn't often that one gets the opportunity to view an up close and personal detailed face-to-face encounter with a hawk. In this case it is a Cooper's Hawk surveying the area for its next meal. Its next meal is always another bird, anything from mourning dove to sparrow sizes. This speedy and skilled hunter will use existing objects such as buildings and trees to hide its swift winged approach.  Then at the right time it will strike capturing a small bird with its needle sharp talon tips. Death is swift.

Birds are already thinking spring

Today's featured creature, a COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperi), has been the subject of previous Outdoor Today stories. So I won't try to repeat all the biological fun facts this species has going for it except to say that Mother Nature figured ages ago the proper mix of predators to prey in ...

Ice breakup on the Iowa River is or has happened just about everywhere along the 29 miles of its travel through Marshall County. Recent warm weather assisted in weakening the ice, which was followed by one inch of rain last Monday. Now this week's January thaw warm air has completed the breakup of river ice. Withlots of winter still to come, a new cold spell of weather could cause new ice to form again.  Only Mother Nature knows her next moves on this issue.

Goodbye river ice

RIVER ICE has broken up due to the January thaw warmer than average air temperatures over the past week. It is just one of those cycles of nature that we humans get to see, experience and think about. January “thaw” is a term that people for well over a century have placed on a mid winter ...

A pair of Bald Eagles watch intently all the activities on the ground below them including this photographer. The pair of raptors were perched in a tall cottonwood tree not far from Albion on Jan. 13. While my long lens was capturing their images, they were most certainly doing what comes naturally to them, watching me with eyes at least four to eight times sharper than human eyes. I had the advantage of being inside my truck, window down, and using the vehicle as my photo blind.  It is likely that this pair of eagles may be just a few of past successful nesting birds in Marshall County. At least eight known eagle nests can be attributed to local sites. Territorial defense of their nest is taking place right now in preparation for another chance to raise a new generation of bald eagles during 2018.

Eagle eyes watch everything

BALD EAGLES (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are now common sightings for us Central Iowans. Lots of eagles are gathered at places like the open water below Red Rock dam near Pella. Or if you are so inclined, take a road trip to the Mississippi River. Every place along the big river from Harper's ...

Summer is only five months and one week away. During this newest winter cold snap of earth's weather machine, a quick study of today's image will be a complete change of pace from what we are witnessing outside our windows. Never fear. Be positive. This winter season is only temporary.  And yes, we have to endure it. If you want to “escape” winter cold weather, travel to the Botanical Center in Des Moines and walk the pathways that lead one through lush tropical plant species of many varieties. Bumblebees are not part of the animal life inside the dome of the Botanical Center. Small birds are present however and add their songs to the sounds of cascading waterfalls. While in Des Moines, check out bald eagles that may be fishing in the Des Moines or Raccoon River.

Record year for raptor sightings

WINTER is reminding us that it has a full grip on us in the northern hemisphere. If you do not like the weather here, well one can travel to any southern hemisphere destination where it is summer. Or we could join our "snow bird friends" in Arizona, Texas, or Florida. Cold arctic air masses ...

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.

Winter: A long list of things to do

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 ...

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.

Look out 2018, here we come

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. ...

The First Christmas

It was a clear, cold and starlight night. A blanket of the whitest snow bedded down the valley of the Iowa ... there were no lights from farms or villages ... because there were no farms of villages ... it was 'most two thousand years ago! Like the blanket of snow which covered the valley ... ...

Look closely and see if you can find the silhouettes of 50 flying Canada Geese in this image.  For this author it was one of those magic moments of a beautiful sunset reflecting off the bases of cloud layers. Having a large flock of geese pass through the image made it a Wonder of Wildlife. Nature never disappoints.

Wonders of Wildlife

WONDERS OF WILDLIFE happen all the time. Sometimes it transpires in front of you without too much effort on your part. Other times a lot of hard work results in making things happen to capture mental memories or better yet, capture images with a camera so those instances of time can be shared ...

Last Tuesday, a call was received that a snowy owl was observed in rural northwest Marshall County. Sure enough, the big white bird was still at the scene sitting on top of a wooden fence post. That is exactly the situation this author could only hope for and my wish came true. Many photos were obtained to document the event.  Biologists and ornithologists use the term 'irruption' for unusual arrivals of lots of birds into parts of the country where they are not normally found.

Snowy Owl seen near Clemons

A SNOWY OWL (Bubo scandiacus) is this week's featured creature. I feel lucky to be able to document its presence, make many full frame photographic images of it with the a 400 mm lens, and just enjoy seeing this big white raptor. My tip on where to find it came from local birding enthusiast ...

Earlier this week the wind blew really hard. This Cardinal would have been swept off the feeder edge if not for its tight grip by its right foot. The bird managed to stay in place to grab another sunflower seed. This month, and into early January of 2018, is the National Audubon's 118th Christmas Bird Count. The official count days begin on Dec. 14 and end Jan. 5. Participants will record as many species of overwintering birds seen within a 15-mile diameter of a specific location. Some can also chose to record all bird species and numbers at a local feeder site.

Resident birds adapt to winter

WEATHER dominated this week. Because weather is a un-escapable natural history event, I'm taking the liberty to talk about a bit this week. From a high in the upper 60s to an overnight change to the the teens was a real awakening to the realities of our approaching winter season. While ...

This large block of forest land to the left side of the Iowa River is the Marshall County Conservation Board's Arney Bend Wildlife Area.  The site has 203 acres of mostly bottomland species of trees, and several open fields that were planted to native grasses in the 1980s. Many ancient circuitous river channels are contained with this property which can easily be observed in later winter or early spring when water fills many of these old river loops. One large river channel (not visible) was historically named Arney Bend, and thus this is how the naming of this area came about.  Arney Bend is managed for wildlife ... deer, wild turkey, pheasants, waterfowl and furbearers. Many more non-game species avail themselves to its wetlands, prairie and forest habitats. This weekend, during shotgun deer season number one, Arney Bend will be one of several public hunting areas where hunters will hope to see deer and perhaps take a deer.

Arney Bend, a green belt treasure

ARNEY BEND is a big place. Its forest habitat, lots of ancient curving but now dry river channels, ponds and prairie fields can get a person temporarily lost. Fortunately the Marshall County Conservation Board has a brochure for this wildlife area to assist hunter, hikers, or photographers ...

A hen turkey meanders through the remaining green grasses of a field edge. While she was caught pecking at any remaining bugs, or plant seeds, she took time out to inspect her wing feathers. Capturing wildlife images with a camera and long lens is just one way to add to ones list of outdoor memories. And should the right opportunity avail itself, a fall turkey hunting license can be purchased, and then if a bird is taken, it can be made ready in a nice warm oven for any upcoming Christmas family gathering.

Outdoor memories this weekend

WILD TURKEYS (Meleagris gallopavo) are abundant in Iowa. The numbers this author has seen personally while on deer stands, or via my trail camera, attest to the fact that these wild gallinaceous birds had a very successful nesting season during 2017. My sightings range from zero one day to as ...

Mallards, one of the hardiest of waterfowl, will wait until optimum weather fronts form, including a surge of very cold air from Canada, to begin one of the most prized spectacles of nature, a huge influx of waterfowl into Midwestern states. Flyways along major rives such as the Mississippi and Missouri are obvious corridor of travel. Wildlife refuges and other public wetland sites along these routes will see accumulating ducks and geese in significant numbers. They will use habitat sites to rest and exploring local feeding areas. Mallards, such as this  preening pair, illustrate wild birds using resting time to get ready for more travel time to come.

Waterfowl wait for cold winds

WATERFOWL migrations can be a bit fickle. Where are they now? When will they make a big migration push to show up at any local marshes, ponds, lakes or rivers? Avid waterfowlers want to know. So in this day in age, computer tracking and posts from other waterfowl watchers keeps a fairly good ...

Be informed on new gun deer regulations

GUN DEER SEASONS beginning on Dec. 2-6 and Dec. 9-17 will allow what had been exclusively a shotgun only weapons regulation. That changes for 2017 with the allowance of straight wall ammunition choices. The regulations booklet page 31 lists what is allowed. The regulations are the result of ...

Natural history moments present themselves to us all the time. Example: An adult Bald Eagle lifts off from its cornfield perch only one mile west of Marshalltown. Resident Bald Eagles, and those that are drifting south from more northern summer ranges, will soon increase the numbers of eagles we may see. As winter approaches, colder air and snow up north will make it imperative for many raptors to go south in search of food. While eagles specialize in fish, they will also take just about any small mammal or even feed on carrion. Road-killed deer is one source of protein eagles.

Natural history moments energizing

It is the season when the weather is really unpredictable. Colder air blasting down from the northwest, rain with snow flurries, then followed by a bright sunny day that seems so peaceful. We humans sometimes wonder if Mother Nature is having a hard time making up her mind. I think she likes ...

Highly variable fall weather adds to the challenge of hunting the elusive and hardy game bird, the rooster pheasant.  A bit of snow for our first touch of winter weather certainly adds to a hunter's need to dress warmly while pursuing ring-necked pheasants.  State public hunting areas in central Iowa that will see good numbers of hunters include the Iowa River Corridor east of Chelsea, portions of Otter Creek Marsh, Hendrickson Marsh's uplands, the Colo Bogs site east of State Center. County Conservation public lands with at least a few birds hunters should not overlook are the Arney Bend Wildlife, Marietta Sand Prairie, and the Iowa River Wildlife Area grasslands and re-constructed prairie uplands.  The pheasant and quail season in Iowa opened yesterday. Three rooster pheasants per hunter per day is the legal limit.

Pheasant trials and tribulations

RING-NECKED PHEASANTS are highly sought after by hunters young and old. For new young hunters, accompanying a dad, mom, big brother or sister, uncle or aunt, it is a special time to be allowed to participate in a long standing tradition of pursuing wild game. The sights of large grassy fields, ...

Wetland habitat is critical for waterfowl and lots of other game and non-game species, especially as fall migrations of ducks and geese get under way. Otter Creek Marsh, located east of Tama and east of Chelsea in Tama County, has good supplies of water within its four impoundment areas north of Otter Creek and three to the south. Otter Creek is a 3,360-acre wetland complex owned and operated the Iowa DNR. The wildlife personnel that oversee day-to-day operations have a huge job of water level management throughout the year. Towards fall, water levels are increased slowly in each pool to give birds a place to rest, feed and get ready for the next leg of their southward journeys. White-fronted geese are just one species that observers and hunters may encounter at Otter Creek.

Wild and wonderful wetlands

OTTER CREEK MARSH owes its history to many geological events that shaped the flat floodplain land of the Iowa River valley east of the City of Tama. Over thousands of years of time, water leaving the land surface cut the river channel in a series of long meandering twists and turns. As some of ...

Deer are just reason that outdoor enthusiasts like the fall season. Seeing deer interact with each other is always interesting as people strive to learn more about make makes them tick. Hunters can and will dream about a potential trophy animal in the right place and the right time. But other fall features strike our fancy during October including tree leaves turning into a wide array of beautiful colors, prairie grasses reflecting golden tones at sunrises or sunsets, and cooler water at area lakes urging fish to go on feeding surges. Cooler air temperatures of an "Indian Summer" are nice while they last so people need to make the most of every fall opportunity to enjoy being outside.

Fall is fantastic

FALL is fantastic, fun and an exciting time to be outside. Dress warmly for the conditions of the day and let nature be your instructor, mentor and guide. Some activities are easy to do from the window of your home. Leaf color watching will work. Fall bird migration at the backyard feeder will ...