There is a song played on country radio periodically titled "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road." I laugh every time it plays ... and think how true the lyrical description is of what all of us have seen at sometime. The song also ends with this ... "Stinking to high heaven."
Stinking is a good word for the very powerful captan type compounds of this animal's natural defense mechanism. Skunks can opt to use or not use the stinky spray firepower. If hit by a car on the road, our option is to straddle the dead critter rather than run over it again. Even so, the powerful residual effects of skunk odor will persist and be drawn into our vehicle perhaps for as much as a mile down the road. On nature's scale of odor detecting abilities, human's rate is way down the line compared to most other species of animals. Still, our rather puny human nose reacts immediately to the smell of skunks.
Every skunk stripe pattern is unique to itself, similar but slightly different than its litter mates, parents or cousins. Skunks are found only in North America from central Canada to northern Mexico. They like open areas with a mix of woods or meadows. Foods include meat and plant material, thus the omnivore label fits this animal. Insects top the list along with mice and other small mammals, fish, carrion, fruits, nuts, leaves and grasses. Mating takes place between February and mid March. Sixty days later five or six young are born. Blind and deaf at birth, they soon finish the maturation process. They will leave the den with mother skunk in about six weeks to begin year long process of learning from their parent on what to eat and where to find it.
T-R PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG
Striped Skunks, Mephitis mephitis, are easily identified by two methods: You see them waddling along with its black hair coat punctuated by a double white stripe from head to tail or you may not see it at all, but you sure can smell it. Whew! This time of year, skunks a member of the weasel family, are searching for food with an extra emphasis on fattening up for the winter. Nighttime excursions also bring them in contact with open highways where vehicle strikes are more likely. Today's photograph is from a past Iowa Taxidermist display, the only safe way to get this close to a skunk.
We do need to appreciate the role skunks play in the ecosystem. Rodent control is top on the list. They have a job to do and prefer to be left alone to do it. We prefer to leave them alone. Even so, we know skunks are survivors in the long run ... until a car hits one on the road, and then it stinks to high heaven!
PHEASANT FACTS are good to know. A native of China, this import arrived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon in 1882. Birds from the Oregon stock were being raised near Cedar Falls, IA in the early 1900's on the farm of William Benton. A severe wind storm broke the cages and released over 2,000 pheasants. They thrived in the very small farm and grain environment common at the time. In fact, crop damage reports thought to be attributed to pheasants were received.
By 1913, the Iowa Conservation Commission, forerunner of the DNR, was stocking pen raised pheasants. In the long run, and hindsight, results were mixed. In 1924-25, trapping and relocating pheasants to southern Iowa began. Iowa's first pheasant season was Oct. 20, 21 and 22 in Kossuth, Hancock, Wright, Cerro Gordo, Franklin, Mitchell, Butler, Grundy, Black Hawk and Bremer Counties. The season daily time frame was from one-half hour before sunrise until noon during those three days. A three cock pheasant limit was in place.
Through the 1940's and 50's, it became apparent the pen-raised birds were not contributing to the overall population of wild birds. Wild pheasants ranged over most of Iowa with the highest population centers being northwest and north-central Iowa. However, since the 1960's, changes in agriculture led to the beginning of a decline in pheasants. While northern Iowa birds were going down, southern Iowa birds still flourished. That too changed slowly over the next few decades. There was a significant but temporary rebound of pheasants with the CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) grassland acres program to set aside and idle some farm land acres between 1985 and 1996. It was good while it lasted.
This fact remains and is still the primary driver of successes/failures of pheasants: Weather. Cold, snowy winters and reduced marginal habitats took their toll. By spring, the only remaining habitat would be road ditch grasses, terraces and grassed waterways. Spring rains easily flooded these sites. The bottom line says Todd Bogenschutz, DNR Upland game biologist, is this: "Weather trumps all when it comes to hen survival and nesting success. Tell me the amount of snowfall, the amount of rain and the temperature in the spring, and I can tell you if pheasant counts will be up or down that summer. The weather models are very accurate. We are now in a weather pattern of five consecutive winters with heavy snow and springs with lots of rain. That has not happened in 50 years."
I'll have more on pheasant future possibilities next week. Stay tuned.
It was a near miss. It was flying straight on; intent on finding out what was perched in the tree. At the last second, it flared, spreading its broad wings and tail feathers to change direction and escape from this largest "squirrel" the owl had ever seen. The animal the owl came for turned out to be a camouflaged covered human in a deer stand, namely me! I can tell you this, owl eyes are big but they sure got bigger when the big raptor figured me out. My eyes were big too, having just witnessed the near miss of having my camo cap involuntarily removed from my head. This is just one example of some of the neat things that can happen in the forest when sitting quietly while nature goes about her business of living. Nice.
TROUT do not live in warm water. But even central Iowa warm water will cool off considerably by mid November. And that is when the DNR fisheries staffers will deliver trout from northeast Iowa hatcheries into certain impoundments near central Iowa urban centers. For us Marshall Countians, Story County's Ada Hayden Recreation Area located north of Ames is within easy driving distance. Nov. 18 is the release date for trout into those waters. Anglers will need a valid fishing license and must pay the trout fee in order to possess trout. The daily limit is five trout with a possession limit of ten. Children ages 15 or younger can fish for trout without a license IF they are with a licensed adult. However, they must limit their catch to one daily limit. If the child purchases a trout fee, then they can possess their own daily limit. Have fun.