Migrations welcome return visitors

The NORTHERN PINTAIL DUCK is the bird most casual observers will note has a distinct white chest and neck line. Its cinnamon colored head meets a grayish bill. And the reason it is called a pintail is due to the long spike-like rump feathers culminating in a long thin line. They are Spring and Fall visitors during migration.

Winter home ranges are the southern half of the United States from Missouri and south. Summer territories include northern prairie states, all of Canada, Alaska and even into Siberia.

Bird migration has begun again. There is not really a beginning or end to this event. It all depends on the species and when it traditionally moves each Spring or Fall. Some are early flyers tagging as far as the melting snow line will allow. Others are more dependent it seems on day length. No matter what the weather my be at the time, day length triggers the urge to fly north. It is predictable just like clock work.

This author’s phenology chart of bird date arrivals and departures typical for Iowa notes the Pintail duck arriving on March 5th, plus or minus a few days. Lesser Scaup are listed for March 9 and Green-winged Teal on March 12. Others species are noted as well. American Mergansers can be expected on March 20, Canvas back ducks on March 18, Blue-winged Teal also on the 18th, and Redhead ducks on the 18th. Gadwalls can be seen on or about March 15, followed by Buffle-heads on March 25.

Another large waterfowl, the Trumpeter Swan, has been moving through. A new group of 16 made a temporary stopover at Marshalltown water retention ponds located west of South Center Street. The soil and mud stained head and neck feathers of this group tells us that they were previously feeding in some southern state’s shallow wetland. While grubbing for roots or tubers, they stirred up the water and silt layers that in turn stained their necks. In time, once they reach northern nesting sites, the feathers will clean up to an all white condition.

This week was noted in my journals as the time for my first common grackle sighting. Its cousin the Red-winged blackbird has been here for at least two weeks. There are lots more bird species to come between now and the middle of May. Every day will be a good day to keep watch as Mother Nature dials up longer days for the northern hemisphere.

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While speaking of DUCKS, the local chapter of DUCKS UNLIMITED fund raising event and membership appreciation banquet will be one week from tonight, March 19th. The place is the Impala Ballroom on West Lincoln Way in Marshalltown. Doors open at 5 p.m. A buffet style meal will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets can be obtained from Rich and Micki Naughton by calling 641-328-0124. Early bird tickets cost $45 per person, or $50 at the door. If you wish to attend and bring a guest just for the meal, that cost is $20.

Waterfowl enthusiasts have many years of experience to bring to an organization like DU. Wetland habitat and associated upland nesting grasslands are prime territories for ducks and geese. But of course these natural areas are not exclusive. Wetlands are home to literally hundreds of song birds, plovers, kinglets, wrens and the inevitable birds of prey that follow. Mammals on or near wetlands include mink, muskrat, opossum, beaver, weasels, skunks, raccoons, deer, fox, coyote and lots of really small rodents like voles and mice. They are all part of the flow of life and the food chain in the give and take of natural life and predation.

DU as an organization was founded in 1937. To date they have raised more than $4 billion to assist with the conservation of 13.6 million acres of prime wildlife habitat in all 50 states, each Canadian Province, and key habitat in Mexico. Just in the United States alone, DU has conserved 5.2 million acres of waterfowl habitat. It is estimated that 900 species of wildlife live and flourish on the waters and lands of DU project sites. Several of these include threatened or endangered species.

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It has been confirmed that the critter a coyote hunter took last fall was not a coyote, but a wolf. According to an Iowa DNR news release, test results conclusively identified two large canines shot this winter as wolves. One was taken in northwest Iowa’s Osceola County and the other in southeast Iowa in Van Buren County. The test results seem to point to the animals originating from the Great Lakes population of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Investigations into the taking of these animals also confirmed that there was no intent to take a wolf specifically. The hunters were after coyotes and at the distances involved in each instance, the animals were assumed to be coyotes. Only upon close examination did the hunters understand the animals taken were too large for pure coyote stock. Conservation Officers were consulted and notified. Full cooperation was obtained. No charges will be filed.

“We understand this is a sensitive topic and that our decision not to charge is based on the circumstances, and is these instances was the right thing to do” said Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa DNR. The wolves will be used for educational purposes at local county conservation boards. “Going forward, hunters need to know the difference between species,” said Gipp. “On our end, we will provide additional wolf-coyote identification tools on our websites and in our publications. We know hunters want to do the right thing and we want to help them.”

Coyotes and wolves have many similar characteristics including coloring. However, there are other diagnostic markers such as length, height and weight. It just so happens that no one expected the winter time hunting activity of coyote hunting to have anything other than coyotes show up. Wolves have been considered extirpated from Iowa by the late 1890’s and certainly by 1910.

Coyote hunting is open all year long but is primarily pursued in the winter with snowy ground cover. The estimated coyote take during 2-13-24 was an all time high of 15,347. During 2014-15, hunters took 13,911. The current 2015-16 season appears to be on a similar track.

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BOAT HULL IDENTIFICATION numbers are required, just like vehicle identification numbers on cars or trucks, to be correct so that proper registrations can be issued. Iowa has nearly 15,000 watercraft that are large enough to be registered. At this point 10,000 of them have yet to provide the correct documentation for the next renewal cycle. This is no fault of the boat owner. It is a mistake on the part of the boat manufacturer. The US Coast Guard wants manufacturers to comply with a standardized format for boats. If you own a boat large enough for registration, get accurate data prior to the next boat registration time frame. Present or current owners were notified by the DNR to locate the HIN (hull identification number), and complete a simple one page application.

This scribe was one who got such a notice for my 17-foot aluminum canoe that I purchased in 1973. It has been officially registered with the DNR for either their initial two year and now three year cycle. I did locate the HIN data plate and found the inscribed number embedded in an metal tag plate. I copied the number and submitted it as requested. I now have a properly registered canoe. This is just an item for lots of fishermen to take note of as Spring boating and fishing activities kick into high gear. Details or questions can be addressed to Susan Stocker, Boating Law Administrator and Education Coordinator at the Iowa DNR. Call her at 515-725-8477, or send an e-mail to HIN@dnr.iowa.gov.

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“Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it.”

– Marcus Aurelius, Emperor

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.