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Wildlife observation deck to be dedicated

April 14, 2012
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

SANDHILL CRANES are big, tall, slender birds. They have a distinct raspy type call that one will remember once you associate it with the bird. At Otter Creek Marsh, for well over two decades, at least one pair of Sandhills have successfully reared their young among the cattails of this wetland. The same holds true this year as another nesting season progresses.

A huge cooperative effort by several financial backers helped put in place the labor and materials for the new observation deck described above. Build in the shape of an eagle with huge outspread wings, in this case 48 feet, it was the Donovan family memorial that inspired the project. Assisting with additional funds were the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dr. James and Carolyn Sheldon, National Audubon and the Iowa DNR Iowa River Management Unit. Construction was a cooperative effort of the Iowa DNR Wildlife Diversity Program and crews from the Iowa River Management Unit. A big thank you to all of them for this great addition to help draw people who view wildlife viewing as an important activity.

There is no guarantee that a pair of Sandhill Cranes will pass overhead should you be at the observation deck. But one never knows so you just have to try. Otter Creek Marsh can only offer the possibility for this type of sighting. There are, of course, many other opportunities throughout the year at Otter Creek. At least one Bald Eagle nest is active at the marsh again this year. Pheasants do live here too as do many other small song birds and other migrating birds still on their way from southern climes. Mammals include muskrat, otters, deer, raccoon, weasels, skunks, beaver, fox, coyote and other small rodents.

Article Photos

Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) fly in formation over the blue skies of Otter Creek Marsh, a 3,000 plus acre DNR wetland complex located near Chelsea, Iowa. To help people observe cranes and other wildlife, a new observation deck/platform, built in the shape of an eagle profile with a 48 foot wingspan, will be dedicated on Friday, April 20 at 1 pm. The deck also serves as an outdoor classroom with its information panels for people to read. The dedication ceremony site is located 5 miles east of Tama on US Highway 30, then southeast on county road E-66 for 3/8 of a mile. Turn south on the marsh access road.

Otter Creek Marsh is a jewel of a wildlife area close to all of us in central Iowa. Purchased and developed in the 1960s as a series of pools that could be flooded to shallow depths as desired for attracting and holding waterfowl each fall, the marsh serves vital purposes all year long as a wetland habitat of sufficient size to have a positive impact. A majority of the funds to acquire and develop the marsh came from sportsmen and their hunting license dollars. Maintenance and management for this 3,000 plus acre wetland complex comes from hunters license money. Hurray for them and their continuing support.

What can you do as an individual to assist in the ongoing natural resource maintenance at Otter Creek? Everyone who likes and treasures wild places to watch wildlife, whether you ever hunt or not, should buy a hunting license each year. If you do, you will know that your purchase of that license contributes to the success of all wildlife areas. As an added benefit, you have the option to go to these sites at any time of the year just to observe. Now that a new observation deck may help draw you to the area, do not forget how the marsh came to be in the first place through sportsmen's license dollars. This scribe invites all wildlife enthusiasts to attend the dedication ceremony on Friday, April 20 at 1 pm. See you there. Thanks.


The world has about 15 species of crane-like birds. They range over five continents and include mountains, frozen tundra and grassland or wetland habitats. They are all long legged, long-necked birds in the order Gruiformes. Cranes can be denoted from herons because cranes fly with their necks outstretched. They are opportunistic feeders with a wide diet. Small rodents, birds, fish, amphibians, insects, waste grain, berries and other plant material will work to sustain them. Many are long distance migrators as we well know from the Sandhill Cranes that funnel into the Platte River valley of Nebraska each March and into early April. More than 500,000 Sandhills will be feeding, resting and preparing for the long flights to come into northern Canada and Alaska.

This scribe has made the grand tour to Nebraska in the past to listen and watch in awe as huge flocks of these winged critters flow into large congregations along the sand bars of the Platte River near sunset times. All night long they talk to each other from the safety of braided sandbars of the river. In the morning as the sun begins to rise, the birds stir and fly away into nearby farm fields to load up on food. And in the process they may break into spontaneous "dances of courtship" as another indication of their mission in life to arrive at northern nesting grounds and reproduce another generation of cranes.

Cranes of the world include the Black Crowned and Grey Crowned Cranes of Africa. I was fortunate to obtain many good photographs of the Grey Crowned in East Africa during a photo tour there in 2005. What a sight. But in other parts of the world are cranes with these names: Common, Sarus, Brolga, Siberian, White-naped, Hooded, Black-necked, Red-crowned, Blue, Demoiselle and Wattled. Our North American Whooper fills out the list.

The smallest crane is named the Demoiselle which stand about 35 inches tall. The largest is the Sarus at about 69 inches tall. The heaviest title goes to the Red-crowned Crane with scales tipping 26 pounds. Sandhill Cranes can be about 48 inches tall with wingspans of up to 90 inches.


EAGLES are doing well in there central Iowa nests. It is good that this bird has made a magnificent comeback from its plight of reduced populations many decades ago. Today, Iowa has more than 200 known bald eagle nests. Just along the Iowa River corridor between Tama and Marengo, there are at least 15 known eagle nests. At last count, well over 4.5 million views had been registered for the camera view of the eagle nest at Decorah. I'm just one of the eagle watchers for a few minutes each day.


WILD TURKEY season number one kicks off on Monday, and runs through the April 19. Season two is April 20 through April 24. Third season is April 25 through May 1. And the fourth season is May 2 until the last light of May 20. Shotgun hunters of the turkey need to keep safety in mind as the sounds of a wild turkey may be the calls of a concealed camouflaged dressed hunter. Stalking a wild turkey is virtually impossible. One has to sit and wait for the bird to come close. And when walking out of the forest, using a hunter blaze orange vest is a good idea to announce your human presence to other hunters. All wild turkeys taken by hunters must be tagged and reported to the DNR via the easy to use computer system or a simple telephone call.


Prairie grass management burns were recently completed at the Green Castle Recreation Area. These were relatively small areas this year with well established natural fire breaks in place, i.e. roadways, mowed lawn segments and the lake edge. A fire set in these reconstructed praires had nowhere to go except where it needed to. Fire sets back invading woody plant growth, helps kill or set back early season non-native vegetation and invigorate any warm season grasses and forbs. Fire is a great tool in the arsenal of things to use for wildlife management.

Along the Iowa River Corridor, lands managed by DNR crews downstream of Chelsea, more than 5,000 acres have been successfully fire managed this spring. A warm dry spring is a welcome opportunity to get this type of work done. And knowing the wet history typical of the Iowa River valley, not every year offers the chances to get good fire work completed. They are fortunate to have the weather cooperate this year.


This scribe smells something very fishy, awful and dirty going on in very high places. Some armchair 'biologists' claim to know more than the professional wildlife biologists about deer and deer seasons. In an attempt to stabilize the Iowa deer herd, reductions in antlerless licenses for 2012-13 have been recommended for many eastern Iowa counties. Professional wildlife management biologists know what they are doing. Their recommendations are not Republican, Democratic or Independent. They are fact based with the outcome of what will be best for the resource. The outcome will be a balance that everyone can live with. It is a process that works. However, this year, non-biologists are bending political arms to avoid science and utilize there own set of cherry-picked data to distort. That is sad. I'm certainly not going to ask a non-professional what is best for my health, my automobile or long term financial investments. We should not allow junk science to rule the day in contrast to good science from the pros.


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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