Bold and beautiful birds returning this month

Seeing a RED-HEADED WOODPECKER is still possible although its overall population has been in decline for a long time. Never the less, this boldly colored bird gets ones attention, especially if it seen while flying. Well, that is what happened for this author this past week. And all the best of possibilities came together to enable me to capture several photographic images of this species at my local back yard feeder setup. I used a 400 mm lens set firmly on a tripod and pre-focused on the suet feeder log support. The distance from my camera to the bird was about 16 feet. As the woodpecker moved about the log, it eventually came into a full sunlight position near the top of the stick. My camera was ready, and multiple images were captured. Today’s image is one of the best poses it offered. So I’m sharing it with you the readers of Outdoors Today. Enjoy.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are one of four woodpecker species known to store food. It will hide insects or seeds in the bark of trees, under roof shingles, in crevices of fence posts or anywhere where it can wedge the morsel into a place for safe keeping. Later the bird will return to eat its stash of goodies. Even grasshoppers find themselves wedged into a tree crevice so tight that it can’t get out, even when the insect is still alive. Catching insects in mid-air is a specialty of this bird. Seeds, nuts and fruit are also on the menu.

Nesting sites are holes in old trees where a nest cavity can be claimed and excavated. The territory around a nest site and food sources will be fiercely defended. A favored habitat is deciduous forests, forest clearings, orchards, farmland grasslands with scattered trees and even beaver created wetlands. The male selects a nest site and the female inspects it and if approved by her, a nest can be the next item on their agenda. A nest cavity can be used several years in a row. The pair cooperates to build the nest. Eggs laid can be from 3-10, and each egg is about 1 inch long. Incubation takes 12-14 days.

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, census takers have noted a decline of a bout 2 percent per year from 1966 to 2014. That accumulates to a 70 percent reduction. The estimate of the global population is now a 1.2 million. If this represents today’s overall population, just think of how common the species was 50 years or more ago. If we take a look at the habitats it required and the changes to those life-giving components, it is easy to see how a few factors had a big effect. At one time North America had lots more mature forests complete with dead trees where nest cavities could be created. Red-headed Woodpeckers liked beech trees in particular, a species of tree now much less abundant. Chestnut trees, another favored food type, died from a disease called chestnut blight. An overall loss of nut bearing trees of many species was a big factor in Red-headed WP declines along with loss of potential nesting sites in dead trees.

It is also interesting to note that pleistocene-age fossil records of two million years ago show Red-headed Woodpecker evidence from locations in Florida, Virginia and Illinois.

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How old can a big fish, in this case a MUSKELLUNGE, get and know precisely that it is 25 years old? That is the situation DNR fisheries crews found while netting muskies for this seasons hatchery work. The workers got excited about the fish since a freeze brand denoted the 1991 stocking time into West Okoboji Lake. At the time this musky was marked, it was approximately a 12 long fish.

A few years later, during a subsequent gill net survey, this fish and all muskies were additional tagged with a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) device. This tag is unique to each fish for the rest of its life. Every time it is re-netted or recaptured, data from the device can be obtained, recorded and preserved. This particular fish got its PIT tag in 1994. It was recaptured again in 1998, 2000 and 2006. With the 2016 recapture, a 25-year milestone has been created, an almost unheard of fish story. This big brute muskie was 41.6 inches long and weighed in at 17.5 pounds. Biologists took small samples of tissue from its fins in two places to use in an on-going known-age muskellunge research project that will ultimately be used across the country for estimating muskie age.

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Today marks the opening of WALLEYE FISHING SEASON on Iowa’s Great Lakes regions of northern and northwest Iowa. This is the 140th walleye fishing start up for Spirit Lake, and East and West Okoboji lakes. Very healthy numbers of walleye exist for area fishermen/women. Good numbers of brood stock sized fish of 17 inches or longer are present. Harvest sized walleyes in the 13- to 15-inch category. Several year classes of walleye are good indictors of a healthy fishery long into the future.

Stocking success is variable due to many factors. Very good hatches and survival of a year class of fish happens every 3-5 years. Some years are not so good and others are much improved. That is the way biology works sometimes. The walleye fishing season will continue through Feb. 14, 2017. A protected slot limit of walleye between 17 and 22 inches means that these sized fish, if caught, must be immediately returned to the water. Keepers are fish less than 17 inches and only one walleye over 22 inches. A daily bag limit of three fish is the rule. Total possession limit is six walleye.

This weekend is also the opener of the 35th annual Iowa Great Lakes Chamber of Commerce Great Walleye Weekend Fishing Contest. Information on the contest is available at Fishing fun is big business in the Great Lakes region. Fishing for fun is why most people partake in this outdoor past time, locally or at far away places. Walleye numbers at Sand Lake east of Marshalltown are improving due to multiple year stockings of walleye fry. Go try your luck locally at this easy to fish site.

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Another fishing for fun item, this time a KIDS FISH DAY is coming up next month, June 18th. This event is well over a month away. I just wanted all parents and grandparents to know about it well in advance. This is a bullhead fishing fest at Marshalltown’s Riverside Cemetery Pond. Hours will be 8 a.m. until 12 noon. Many prizes will be given for biggest fish, smallest fish in boys and girls competitions. The bullheads will hit on the smallest worm baited hooks to the biggest night crawler enticements. For sure every cast is likely to get hooked fish. Kids love it as they feel 12-ounce bullheads tug at the end of the line.

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In case you thought Spring was here, well yes and maybe no. On May 28, 1947, snow fell over the northwest two-thirds of the state. Le Mars noted 10 inches of snow on the ground.

This scribe is not wishing for any kind of weather ‘surprise’ during May 2016. But if it happens, no one can say it hadn’t happened before.

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.