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Goodbye ice, hello soft water

March 10, 2012
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

Our mild winter of 2011-12 has shown itself in less snowfall, warmer temperatures, and ice free rivers, streams and lakes by early March. Not so every year, since every year is different of course. But on average, Iowans would still be quite used to snow on the ground at this time of year, thick ice on lakes and the Iowa River only beginning to show reluctant signs of allowing the ice to break up.

Ice break up in the river is always a spectacular event with its giant icebergs crashing into each other and getting hung up at river bends or narrow bridge openings. That is when flooding can happen as the pressure of runoff water heaves the ice above the banks and spills out into the adjacent floodplain. Not this year.

For history buffs, the winter of 1976-77 was super cold with several weeks of -20 temps each night and highs at the zero line. That was the year that Green Castle opened to the public on Jan. 1, 1977.

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Last Monday this was the ice condition on the 16 acre lake at the Green Castle Recreation Area, one mile south of Ferguson. On Tuesday, warm strong south winds invaded Iowa with near record high air temperatures. By Tuesday afternoon, very weak and rotten ice on this lake had disappeared entirely. As of this weekend, an ice condition on all Iowa natural or man-made ponds and lakes is nonexistent. Now it will be up to the sun to gradually warm the water and cause fish to begin responding to the new seasons to come. Fishermen will be eagerly waiting for new opportunities, or excuses, to go fishing.

There was no development of park amenities at that time, just a simple fenced off parking area for dedicated ice fishermen to use when they decided to go fishing in the new-to-them public lake. Ice thickness was 17 to 18 inches, quite a depth for central Iowa where 8 or 9 inches of ice is more typical for an average winter. When March came, it took a long time for the power of the sun and slowly melting snow to begin the process of weakening the ice. It was late March or maybe even early April when the ice finally surrendered.


THE SUN has been going through part of its cyclical 11 year sun spot routine. Approximately every eleven years, deep magnetic disturbances boil to the sun's surface throwing out great waves of plasma into the solar winds in this part of the Universe. When those solar winds reach tiny earth, interesting things happen. Among them are possible communications disruptions, northern lights seen at lower latitudes and influences on the weather.

For any and all history buffs, this scribe makes this observation. Sun spots cycles were high in 1977, 1988, 2000 and now 2012, all corresponding with drought conditions in much of the Midwest. Example: It was in 1988 that the Marshall County Conservation Board staff was attempting to plant prairie grass seeds in several old fields at the Arney Bend Wildlife Area. Dust was everywhere. Rain was nowhere to be found. But we had to put the seed into the ground. Several years later, amid thoughts that time and money were wasted on those prairie plantings, the grasses had waited until times were right. They did grow and did very well. It is a human idea to wish for instant results while Mother Nature just kicks back and plays it cool, knowing full well that next year will be different. She takes it all in stride.

So here is my prediction for 2012 ... look for less rainfall, higher temperatures and the overall condition we call drought. If I'm right, call me a good fortune teller. If it turns out I was wrong, it's because God has other plans.


Migrating SNOW GEESE made a huge push this week into the Dakotas from staging areas in northwest Missouri and central Nebraska. From a peak of about 1.2 million geese one week ago, the birds made a big push on Tuesday and Wednesday toward the snow line in the Dakotas. By week end, less than 200,000 snow geese remained in the vicinity of Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Not all snow geese have joined in as some juveniles in later waves of migrants are likely to make appearance.

Squaw Creek NWR is a great place to visit this time of year. Wildlife sightings will astound any casual visitor. Squaw Creek is located near Mound City, MO and was established in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The area contains 7,350 acres of Missouri River bottomlands centered on a natural area of wetlands and marshes. The refuge hosts more than 30 species of mammals, almost 40 species of reptiles and amphibians, and more than 300 species of birds. Lewis and Clark documented abundant wildlife in this area during their journey up the Missouri River.


Goose hunters are counting on future snow geese migration waves to offer opportunities to take birds during the special conservation ordered season that will terminate on April 15th. But tonight, many of those goose hunters will be at Marshalltown's DUCKS UNLIMITED banquet at the Regency Inn. Tickets at the door will be available for $45. Bring your spouse for the cost of $15 and enjoy a night out with good friends. Money raised at this banquet helps DU with Iowa projects and other wetland conservation projects critical for ducks, geese and all the other non hunted wildlife critters we cherish. I hope you will make it a point to help DU with their conservation efforts.


Spring WILD TURKEY Seasons begins April 16. The last day of fourth season is May 20th. Wild turkeys are doing well with several big meandering flocks showing themselves from time to time along all regions of the Iowa River valley. Tom turkeys are legal to take by license holders. One month from now, hen turkeys will be busy on their hidden ground nests incubating eggs. If the nest is site is well selected, it will avoid being located by coyotes, raccoons and skunks.


This weekend, March 10 and 11, is the Eastern Iowa Sports show at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. Many outdoor interests will have booths. Campers and boats will be on display. Hunting and fishing outfitters and gear sales ideas will be offered. And for special recognition, local deer hunters will be able to obtain their 2010-11 Trophy Buck print by wildlife artist Craig Bordignon. He will personally sign and serialize each print and present the awards at the show.

Melissa Ream Schussow from Albion will receive her Buck Print Award for the deer she took that scored 165 5/8ths in the shotgun typical category. Jeremy Hendricks of Marshalltown took his trophy deer in Jasper County with his muzzleloader. His deer scored 157 1/8 in the typical category. These two individuals were part of the 475 Iowa deer hunters that took trophy deer during 2010-11 who registered their deer with Iowa DNR.

Eastern Iowa Sports Show hours are Saturday, today, from 9:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. Sunday the doors open at 10:30 and close at 4:30 p.m. Cost is $6 per adult, $4 for youth ages 1 to 15 and kids age 9 or less are free. For more details on this show, check out the web at


"An opportunity can be created out of any situation." - John Katzenbach


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.



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