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Be wise as an owl — check for facts

September 22, 2012
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

GREAT HORNED OWLS are big. Standing about 22 inches tall, these silent flyers can observe a mouse crossing a highway, grassland or open field, then quickly set a glide path to intercept it. Numerous soft feathers on its wings leading edge muffle and sound of wind passing the wing. Therefore a very silent approach is made to the unsuspecting prey animal. Once very close to its prey, the owls legs drop down and the talons of its toes open and spread wide to catch its meal. Upon impact, the talons close full circle into the flesh of the mouse, squirrel, rabbit, cat, or skunk.

Escape is futile.

While this scribe was attending ISU wildlife studies a long time ago, a fellow classmate was working with Great Horned Owls for his Master's project. He had to capture the owls in special nets, attach a little tracking device to the bird, and draw a small sample of blood for future analysis. His objective was to determine if this owl species was itself susceptible to rabies disease, or just a carrier of the virus. During one of his tagging escapades, the owl quickly reached out and clamped one set of talons through the fleshy part of his thumb. Ouch! Instinct said to get the bird to release. Thinking it and actually doing it were two entirely different tasks. Pliers were used to no advantage. Trying to pry screwdrivers under the talons did not work. All the time the pain level to my friend was going up, up, up. Blood was running freely from his thumb.

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A Great Horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is one of the largest owl species we may see, or hear, during night time. Its call is a series of three to eight loud deep hoots, the second and third hoots are usually short and rapid. This species is common throughout all of North America. The term ‘wise old owl’ may have come from the perception people may have that the bird hears and watches everything. As a nocturnal predator of night skies, it does a good job indeed of listening and watching. It will eat everything from skunks to birds and small mammals.

Long story made short, while wrestling with the bird, it slipped off the table and fell inverted, still clamped onto the man's thumb. But once upside down, the owl simply let go. Well, the bird went on to do its thing. My friend went to the doctor. Since rabies studies previously indicated the propensity of great horns to eat skunks, and skunks being known potential carriers of the disease, the doctor did all he could to clean the wound, stitch it up and then administer a series of anti-rabies medications. I'm pleased to say my friend Richard survived. He also has the scars to prove it.


In a few short weeks, PHEASANTS FOREVER's Marshall County Chapter will host It's annual membership banquet. The date is Oct. 13 and the location is at Marshalltown's Central Iowa Fair Activity Building. Doors open at 5 p.m. with games, raffles, silent and live auction to follow. Of course there will be a great dinner served also. Ticket costs are $60 in advance or $75 at the door. Order tickets early by contacting Steve Armstrong at 641-751-1668.

PF is active in habitat, winter food plots and other statewide projects to enhance long term grassland sites for upland game birds and all the other wildlife that may need and utilize those sites. in fact, PF has launched into a cooperative statewide partnership with the Iowa DNR to help understand the recent declines in pheasant and quail populations. They hope to use a blend of private and public land initiatives to create quality habitat to help game birds rebound from past hard winters and other adverse weather events.

The first project site in is north Polk County at the Paul Errington marsh near Ankeny. Please note this little fact ... only about 1 percent of Iowa's land mass is public. What happens on the other 99 percent is critical to many species of wildlife trying to survive in or along side corn, beans, highways and cities that seem to grow out instead of growing up. By using public and private lands, the team of PFers and others will see if certain management practices work better than others and apply that knowledge to other parts of the state.

A huge component of the plan rests on the outcome of the federal Farm Bill currently being considered in Congress. It is no secret that land conservation programs need incentives to private landowners to enroll into local, state or federal programs that put grass on the land. Those grasses hold soil so it doesn't flow into streams and rivers. Grasses are also the preferred vegetation for upland game birds.

Iowa has 105 PF chapters and more than 19,000 members. There are 720 chapters in the USA and Canada with more than 135,000 members. Local chapters are free to determine how the funds they raise are used or designated. There are no national administrative directives to follow in regard to local monies dispersal. PF is a truly grass roots organization and a very good one to belong to. So please pay your membership fee and dinner ticket costs this year to re-up or join Pheasants Forever. Thank you.


A CLAY BIRD SHOOT is coming on Oct. 7 at the Izaak Walton League. It is a shoot for charity to raise funds for Iowa River Hospice. Bring a team or just shoot as an individual. Food will be provided by Smokin G's. Bake sale items will also be available. Call Ruth Dolash for details at her number ... 641-751-1121.


This scribe is beginning to see more Monarch butterflies as the fall season gets closer. Diane Hall at the Marshall County Conservation Board will be waiting to catch and tag a few of these beautiful orange and black insects. Monarchs are currently migrating toward their winter home in Mexico. At those high mountain sites, the butterflies will congregate into overwintering masses clinging to the tree branches. This scribe has seen Hall's photos of her travel adventure to personally view the butterflies in Mexico. One can hardly imagine a tree so full of butterflies that some branches may break under the weight. Give Diane a call if you want to help tag Monarchs. Call her at 752-5490.


PHEASANT SEASON dates for 2012-13 are from Oct. 27 through Jan. 10. Hours to hunt are 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. A daily limit is three cock pheasants. Youth pheasant season is Oct. 20 and 21. The daily limit for youth is one bird per day and a possession limit of two.


MYTH BUSTERS is interesting, especially when subsequent fact findings set the record straight. During this age of internet communication, all kinds of hunting and fishing stories appear with or without documentation. And even then the accompanying story may seem plausible, in fact it is a hoax or worse.

Cases in point: Have you ever heard of an animal called the jackalope, bigfoot or hogzilla? Maybe yes, maybe no. Jackalope is a taxidermists creation of a jack rabbit with small deer antlers attached to its head. Why the misuse of antelope ... when the antlers are from a deer and not the horn of a pronghorn? I vote for deerabbit as the new name. I'm sure that term will last about as long an ice cube in hell.

As for bigfoot, a large man in a hairy suit seen running around a remote setting and having his picture taken, will stir some local folks into a freenzy of unscientific blabber. And hogzilla, the supposed 1,000 pound 12 foot long wild pig of Texas turned out to be in fact only 800 pounds and 8 feet long.(You can see that every year at the Iowa State Fair).

Big fish photos plague the Internet also. One big catfish being held out of the water by two men was supposedly taken as a new state record in Lake Texoma, Texas. The truth finally came out, many months later, in fact it was caught by a Dutch angler in Italy. Somebody used the picture and made up their own hypothetical seemingly authentic sounding story that was baseless. It is too bad the people bite on these lures of untruths.

I'm reminds me of Mark Twains comment from a long time ago ..."Rumors go half way around the world before the truth get its shoes on." Good advice Mr. Twain.


ASK THE GAME WARDEN: Can my friend who does not hunt walk along with me when I go pheasant hunting this fall? The answer is found at the top of page ten of the DNR regulations. "All participants must be licensed - All participants in a hunt must be properly licensed and have paid the appropriate fees. It is up to the discretion of the conservation officer to determine whether or not a person is "participating." Participation includes, but is not limited to, handling firearms or ammunition during the hunt, trying to attract game, driving, flushing, or locating game, or working dogs. John Steinbach's phone number is 641-751-5246. He is the DNR conservation officer for Marshall and Grundy counties.


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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