Black squirrel takes center stage

BLACK SQUIRRELS are not often observed around Marshall County forests. However, there is at least one pair using the oaks and hickory trees adjacent to the Sand Road who call that area home.  In other parts of the United States or Canada, black squirrels have become quite numerous in specific locations such as Detroit, Mich., Middletown, Conn., Marysville, Kan., Council Bluffs, London, Ontario, Kent and Glendale, Ohio, and Charleston, W.V.

Black pelted fox squirrels may well exist in other local woodlands. Unless one makes pilgrimages into these special places and lingers long enough to silently observe the goings-on of all the birds and mammals, it is entirely possible to not know a black squirrel exists. For this scribe, archery deer hunting allows me lots of observation time for all things wild and free. One squirrel seen northwest of Albion this fall had a normal gray-brown-reddish fur colored body however its belly fur and inside leg markings were black.  That was a bit unusual.  I know the squirrel could care less how it was marked. It’s nut and fruit gathering abilities were top priority.

Some cities have incorporated wildlife depictions into official vehicle emblems, police patches, school mascots, and tourist shop mementos. One of those cities is Council Bluffs. The flip side of this phenomenon is white colored squirrels. They exist also in select locations and are regarded as unique.  So several of the cities or communities have adopted the white rodent as their mascot, school identification or trinket shop sales gimmicks.  Whatever works. White squirrels may be just white due to the condition biologist call leucism. The additional condition for a very few might be true albinism representatives.  White squirrels are common place in Marionville, Mo., Olney, Ill., and Kenton, Tenn.

White squirrels or black one, the answer as to why they are color-coated they way they are is due to its heritage of genes from past generations.  Enjoy them when you can.  If traveling into Missouri for a vacation or a visit to relatives, do a side trip to Marionville to see for yourself. Enjoy nature’s special color variants she provides. Have fun and make lots of photographs.

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DEER sightings are increasing, both for archers and for motorists who ply the roadways at early morning or evening. For cars and trucks, the ability to avoid a deer may be entirely not within your control. Just be alert at all times since right now is peak rut (breeding time) for white-tailed deer.

I want to share this deer story with you,  Get ready to paint a mental picture of what I’m about to describe. You’ll need a mental memory of this since I did not get telephoto images of this scenario as it happened. The ‘pictures’ are burned into my brain however as one of nature’s best moments ever! Here is my story and I’m sticking to it.

I’m sitting in a tree stand overlooking a relatively open grassland. To the west of me several hundred yards is the Iowa River. The sun is getting low on the horizon as it slowly settles thereby casting warm rays of orange-ish/yellow light through the willows, maples and cottonwoods of the far river bank.  A doe deer runs out of this cover, across the sand bar and disappears.  Later I see ripples on the water’s surface of the river but cannot see the reason for the disturbance.  About one minute later, the doe deer walks up to my side of the river bank. She had just swam the river.

The doe was dripping wet. I had binoculars pegged on her body.  Now remember that lots of low light was backlighting her silhouette as she stood there for a brief moment. Then magic happened. She shook her body like a long haired dog who had just got out of a bath. Water droplets flew everywhere. Each droplet, and there were thousands of them, reflected sunlight through these microscopic prisms of moisture. The doe deer was temporarily surrounded by a halo of white.

The big doe took her time to walk north into other heavy cover.  But along the way, she stopped three more times to shake water out of her fur coat.  Each time the water spray was backlit, beautiful and fleetingly very brief. If I had blinked by eyes, I might have missed the show.  I did not miss the show.  The images of a doe deer shaking water off her body will remain with me for ever.  I regret now that I was not able to capture these moments of beauty on a camera memory card. My main purpose to be in the tree stand in the first place was not to make photographs with a large heavy telephoto lens.  It was to hunt and shoot if and when an opportunity presented itself that I would elect, or not, to take.  But along that particular evening’s highlights of observation was a wet deer shaking off river water embedded in her fur.  It was a wonderful treat to witness.

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Deer hunter have as of midweek taken a bit more than 17,000 deer from Iowa’s 99 counties. Top counties as usual are the northeast areas of the Hawkeye State and the entire Mississippi River corridor. Some southern Iowa counties are in top numbers also with 300 or 400 registered animals. The top county at present is Allamakee with 533. The lowest is Pocahontas with 13. Marshall County hunters have recorded 89.

Wild game meat is highly nutritious, free of additives and easy to digest.  Human kind has a big brain, capable of projecting into the future how to hunt wild game.  Humans have also learned how to domesticate certain animals.  Domestication enabled us to have reliable food supplies available to the market place. Farmers and ranchers deal with the realities of growing livestock.  They see it from birth to adult status. That stock is well taken care of, eventually sold and slaughtered.  The meat is cut, packaged, transported and sold at grocery stores or lockers.

Agricultural states like Iowa have a population that, in general, knows where our foods come from.  Folks who live in urban settings may not totally understand the entire cycle of life from birth, growth to death. Death of animals for our food needs is an undeniable truth and an ecological necessity. Across the world, billions of people feed their families without ever planting a seed or seeing an animal raised specifically for food.

Hunters harvest wild game of all sizes to add these protein sources to our human life link. It has great value in that those meats were “purchased” not at the store but through the purchase of licenses to fish or hunt. That privilege is deeply rooted in the minds of mankind, who want to pursue, endure, and explore the outdoors in the time honored process of free range, fair chase pursuits. Rabbit, pheasant, deer, quail, ducks, geese and many game fishes are examples of what many North Americans value as healthy, ecologically and environmentally friendly, ethically obtained food. Conducted within the rules and regulations of the highest ethical standards, the reward for the hard work of hunting is a table setting for the family of some of the best food in America.  We hunters value it greatly and give great honor to the individual animal we may kill for the the overall good to the entire population of that species. It is all wrapped up in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, a time tested and workable management of habitats for wild critters. This is just something to think about. Thanks for listening.

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“A pair of good ears will drain dry a hundred tongues.”

— Benjamin Franklin


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 P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.