Migratory stop at Hendrickson Marsh

SNOW GEESE (Chen caerulescens) are big and white, except for those that exhibit the “blue” morph phase. To help confuse the casual bird watcher even more, the blue-morph color variant is not really blue but brown and gray. That is why avid bird watchers and hunters call them “snows and blues.” They are the same species, just different color patterns to the plumage. Today’s image is typical of snow geese, predominantly composed of the white bodied birds with distinct black wing tip feathers, and a much smaller percentage of the brown-bodied birds whose wing tops are several shades of gray. The brown-bodied snow geese have white heads.

Snow geese spend their winter months in wetlands of south-central states of Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas. Another large group will call New Mexico’s Rio Grande River basin home for the winter. Many people will be watching tens of thousands of Snows and other waterfowl at Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The snow geese from south-central states are the ones migrating in part through Iowa. Snow geese are proving to be so adaptable and hardy, that lots of efforts at population management via regular fall goose hunts and special spring hunting seasons are barely making a dent. Habitat areas along the west coast of Hudson Bay and the high latitude arctic islands are degraded of browse vegetation by too many snow geese.

Hendrickson Marsh had a lot more waterfowl than just snow geese. In the mix were quite a few Greater White-fronted geese (Anser albifrons), and Canada geese (Branta canadensis). Ducks of just about every species were scattered out along the weedy shoreline vegetation. No ice is left on the surface of Hendrickson’s water. That ice has been dealt a big melt down by recent above normal air temperatures of the last two weeks. Perhaps this weekend’s precipitation of rain/snow will cause a temporary concentration of migrating birds. This can happen when waterfowl going north stop to wait for winter storms further north to pass. Waterfowl already in northern Iowa may make a short journey south to where snow is not falling. The result can be a short time concentration of ducks and geese at places like Hendrickson. People that want to watch the birds should not miss this opportunity.

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Wetlands all along the Mississippi Flyway can be compared to stepping stones through a garden. Each wetland complex is a way-point for migrating birds of all kinds, not just waterfowl. Each stopover area is a place to rest, to fuel up and when the time is right, fly north to the next wetland areas. Each wetland is part of the buffet line for hungry birds. Hendrickson Marsh is one piece of the puzzle, one part of a long series of stepping stones for birds to use as they fly north.

Hendrickson Marsh was once known as Kimberly Marsh prior to its acquisition by the Conservation Commission during the mid 1960s. George Hendrickson was honored with the name for the marsh since he was a former Iowa State University professor of wildlife. His name and the dedication of the marsh was held June 13, 1970. At that time the area was only 601 acres. In 1988 an additional 178 acres were added and a final 35 acres more a few years later.

Glacial ice helped create this wetland basin. Take your way-back machine timer and set if for about 15,000 years ago. The land of north central Iowa was in the process of a slow retreat of ice. Ice doesn’t really move backward (north). It is the slowly dissolving snow/ice melt line along a ragged edge due to naturally warming climatic conditions overpowering the glacier’s impact. The glacier is not moving south anymore due to a lack of accumulating snows in what is now Minnesota and Canada. Crumbling ice edges sometimes break off, leaving large chunks of ice filled with a wide assortment of rocks, gravels, and old plant materials. One isolated and rather large ice chunk along the eastern edge of the Wisconsinan glacier sat in place for many hundreds of years. As it slowly melted, the organic material encased in its ice was released, flowing outward in all directions around the ice mass. Finally, when all the ice had melted, a large depression remained. The depression filled with water in the center. A series of low hills in all surrounding directions formed the edges of the bowl shape.

There was no natural water outlet at first. Water accumulated every spring, maybe evaporating partially each summer. Heavy rains over the eons eroded and shaped all the surrounding landscape. Water being an unstoppable force, overflows slowly created creek channels to bring some relief to this natural impoundment. Today we know this water channel as Clear Creek. Now move forward to 1970 after a dam and water height control structure were built on the outflow channel of Clear Creek. Wildlife managers could now add or take away stop logs to control water levels in the wetland. Low water during the summer allows exposed soils to germinate seeds. Water levels are increased each spring to flood vegetation zones where waterfowl can find food.

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Warm weather of late has got people in the mode of thinking Spring, even if the actual Spring Vernal Equinox is still one month away. For those that like to go camping, the three-month window to reserve a state park campsite begins today,. Lots of folks are planning now for the Memorial Day weekend. “Campers can make reservations for sites three months ahead of their first night stay” says Todd Coffelt, chief of the Iowa DNR State Parks Bureau. Although most major state parks have camp sites open for reservation, at least 25 percent or more of electric and nonelectric sites are open to first-come, first-serve patrons. Information on state park camping areas is available online at www.iowasdnr.gov/parks. One can also go to http://iowastateparks.reserveamerica.com and then enter preferred amenities, requirements, dates to see what is available.

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Some of the fall hunting seasons have brought with it closure for illegal takings of wildlife. Game wardens have been busy attending to investigations from last fall. A few of those cases have now gone through the court system. Here are a just a few cases for you to ponder.

Christopher Husted, 41 of Grimes pleaded guilty on Feb 17 to trespassing and poaching a buck deer with 11 point antlers. He did this along Grand Avenue in West Des Moines! Officers Dustin Eighmy got the call on Nov. 21 from a West Des Moines resident who found a rotting carcass of a deer on his property. The head had been removed. A truck seen in the area 10 days previous had Michigan license plates, was observed driving slowly and shinning lights onto his property. The vehicle description and other clues led to Grimes and an interview by Officer Eighmy. Husted admitted to killing the deer, and returning the following night to cut off its head. This case proves that poaching can happen within city limits. Husted was fined $756.50 on multiple charges and was ordered to pay $4,000 in civil penalties. He also faces two years license suspension in Iowa. This also prohibits his ability to buy any hunting license in 44 other states that are part of the Wildlife Violator Compact.

A Johnston man, Roy Penny, 49, pleaded guilty to using a motor vehicle to take deer, wanton waste of game, hunting in a refuge, failure to tag a deer and interference with official acts. His plea was taken on Feb. 17. This investigation found that Penny was driving through Big Creek State Park when he saw and shot a doe deer with his crossbow. He left the park, returning later in the evening to collect the deer. Park Ranger Jeff Poen and State Conservation Officers Aron Arthur and Dustin Eighmy questioned Penny and were able to document the illegal acts. Penny was fined $1,110 and assessed $1,500 in liquidating damages. He is also suspended for two years in Iowa and prohibited in 44 Wildlife Violator Compact states from purchasing hunting licenses. Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Polk City Police personnel assisted the conservation officers in this case.

Conservation officers are tasked with a huge job, lots of territory to cover, lots of training to accomplish and not always any backup officers to assist if things go bad. Consider this: About 143 million Americans participate in outdoor activities. There is a lot of public land in the USA, but a dangerous imbalance between the threats officers have to face and the ability to do the job. The green line of conservation law enforcement is stretched very thin.

Nationally crimes and violence are significantly increasing on state and federal forest land and in wildlife refuges, national monuments and parks, while at the same time the number of law enforcement officers are decreasing. There are about 250 US Fish & Wildlife Service Special Agents. At one time there were 1,000 Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers, now down to about 550. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rangers number about 1,500 on over 300 Corps administered lakes and recreation areas in the entire United States. National Park Service Rangers number around 1,300. Total these numbers and you get plus or minus 7,000 for the entire United States. Now guess how many New York City Police officers are deployed on Times Square at New Year’s Eve … the answer is 7,000.

Incidents of attacks on conservation officers, park rangers and the like were 34 in 1995. By 2005 the tally had gone up 477, a 13-fold increase. And by 2012, reported assaults rose more than 40 percent just within wildlife refuges. According to the FBI, game wardens are now nine times more likely to be assaulted in the line of duty than a police officer.

In most states, conservation officers have many “routine” tasks of checking fishing/hunting/trapping licenses, checks on the legal take of fish or game, and keeping tabs on legal and illegal tactics that may be going on in forests, wetlands and upland wildlife areas. But their job is very complex with a whole lot more than the public ever sees. Game wardens are peace officers and can and do enforce all criminal, traffic an civil laws, as well as wildlife law, conduct search and rescue, control problem wildlife, teach hunter education classes and assist in biological research projects. The actual list of duties is much longer and can and does involve multi-state investigations of illegal exploits of natural resources that may have international crime connections.

Here is some more sobering news: Seven months before the 9/11 attack of the towers in New York, a California game warden found a group of men in the desert shooting automatic weapons. The warden called deputy sheriffs for back up and the suspects were raided, confiscating those illegal weapons. The incident was reported to the FBI, but apparently no further action was taken. On September 11, 2001, two of the men from this California desert incident flew a plane into the Pentagon.

Conservation officers get a tremendous amount of support from public eyes and ears. Suspicious activities must be communicated to game wardens, no matter how slight or insignificant it may seem. Let them put the pieces of the puzzle together to make a case or cases that are well researched, followed through with citations or arrests, and finally successful court convictions. Call the Iowa TIP hot line anytime day or night. The number is 800-532-2020.


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.