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Signs of spring

T-R PHOTO BY Garry Brandenburg - Wildlife of all kinds are on display, until noon today, at the Iowa Taxidermy Association show being held at the Meskwaki Casino near Tama. Members of the Iowa Taxidermy Association meet every year to display wildlife works of art and to engage in learning tips and tricks to improve any display. There will be approximately 100 entries that will get judged. And the public can vote for the best of show . Hint: It is best, if you are reading this early, to go sooner rather than later as some out-of-state vendors will be wanting to head home. Taxidermist skills are impressive when a job is well done. Championship ribbons attest to that fact.

IOWA TAXIDERMISTS ASSOCIATION members have brought a great sampling of wildlife art back to a conference room area at the Meskwaki casino. Each year they meet to study and compare, learn and find ways to improve any wildlife display they create. Their show for the public continues Sunday from 9 a.m. until noon. But as noted in the caption of the photo, it is best if you are planning to attend, to go very early Sunday.

Wildlife recreations based as much as possible on life-like poses has come a long way. The skills and craftsmanship and high end quality of materials that go into making a good display have advanced to a high degree. As an annual attendee for the ITA event, I’m always impressed when I walk into a big room filled with a wide assortment of fantastic works. The result is to make that wild turkey, wood duck, goose, bass, catfish, deer, bear, antelope, pheasant or quail a trophy home display. Check it out for yourself. Admission is free. Just attend and enjoy and learn what is possible.

TAKE A HIKE. These are words meant to get people outdoors to enjoy fresh air, get good exercise and observe Mother Nature’s transition into a new spring season. Trails at county parks await you. Bike trails await you. For the most part, winter snows have melted away except for the most shaded spots. Still, warmer air and long days are begging us to become more active in the outdoors. Maps of any of the Marshall County Conservation areas are available to assist your hike planning. Or you can just go to any desired area to walk about and explore. My hint of the day is this: wear boots that are waterproof and mud proof. Soft soils will await you on any hike. Birds singing from tree tops should serve as encouragement to pay close attention to signs of spring.

I took my own advice to go hiking this past week. Into the forest I went, camera in hand, and ears and eyes wide open to whatever Mother Nature was going to offer. She did not disappoint. At this time of year, before any tree buds have burst with new leaflets, it is easy to look deeply into a forest of trees and say nothing is happening. Except a lot is happening. Barred owls hooted somewhere off in the distance. They are sitting on eggs right now. Not too far away, I know of several bald eagle nests where the adult birds are keeping new eggs warm. Wood ducks were heard whistling their notes to others of their species as winged their way through semi-flooded bottomlands. Old tree cavities from past years will soon be home to new wood duck nests.

MORE SIGNS OF SPRING were on the ground, peeking out of the leaf litter, such as little green shoots of grasses and other forbs. They are not dominating as of now, but given a few more warmer days and fresh rainfall, green will begin to be the dominant color on the forest floor. Wildflowers have to get their act together quickly before emerging tree leaves shade them too much. Lurking under the leaf litter are the beginnings somewhere of a new crop of morel mushrooms. Later in April morel mushrooms will have emerged. People may look for them, find some and leave many others undiscovered. And deep underground in hibernation burrows, wood chucks will soon stir and awaken. Garter snakes by the end of April will come out of hibernation chambers. Insect life will have also made the transition to crawl about in search of food.

During April, lots of natural resource stories are taking place. Deer are shedding winter coats of hollow insulating hair in place of summer new hair coats. April may have a few surprises left for us. Example: On April 6, 1982, at Manchester, the air temperature hit -9. It may have been one last gasp of winter. At the other end of weather events, April 22, 1980, Fort Dodge and Waterloo tied for highest air temperatures of 100 degrees. On April 30, whatever happened weather-wise will be in the history books. There is no way to know specifically how the pages of the record book will be cast. Wait and see.

BIRDS will make new and familiar sights for our eyes. Some have recently returned to our area like a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the wetlands adjacent to the Iowa River northwest of Marshalltown. Common birds like the red-wing blackbird are here. Common grackles are just about everywhere. Shorebirds by mid-month will be visible along wetland edges. Canada geese are on nests, or soon will be, and eggs will get laid and incubated. By late April, pheasants will have selected nest sites and begun incubation. Wild turkey hens will be sitting on eggs by the end of April.

During early April, look for returning turkey vultures, American woodcock, Herring gulls, Eastern Belted Kingfishers, Yellow-bellied sapsuckers, Tree swallows and purple martins. By mid-month, Swainson’s hawks will appear, as well as sandpipers, chimney swifts, Bank, Rough-winged and Barn swallows, lots of warbler species and more. April’s push for migrating birds will continue into early May. Look carefully at them all. For great viewing of birds, taking a hike at Grammer Grove’s footpaths will be just one perfect place to observe and listen to a wide variety. It will be a sure sign of spring.

FISH are responding to warming waters. At the edges of lakes and ponds, where the water will warm up first from increasing air temps and more direct sunlight, catfish will be on the prowl. They are sniffing out dead fish from last winter to eat. Aquatic insects will burrow out of mud bottoms to find zooplankton and other small critters to eat. For fisherman and fisher women, the time to break out fishing poles is here. Open water begs people to be the first to offer natural baits to hungry fish. Do remember, if not already accomplished, to purchase your 2019 fishing license, trout fee, habitat fee and extra fishing line permits if so desired.

Did you know that 148 different fish species live in Iowa waters? It is true. The list includes familiar finny critters and a bunch of small fishes that are important links in the food chain. Common fish are catfish and bullheads. Sunfish category includes bass and any of the panfishes. Add to the list perch, trout, pike, suckers, minnows and a few primitive fish species like sturgeon, bowfin, gar and eel.

Iowa’s largest record fish was a White Amur (Grass Carp) that hit the scale at 85 pounds, 8 ounces. This 48-inch-long fish was caught on May 1, 2007 in Greenfield Lake in Adair County by Jesse Lane. The smallest record fish is a Pumpkinseed sunfish taken by John Perkins in July 9, 2016. It was 10 inches long and weighed 0.90 of one pound. This fish came from a farm pond in western Iowa.

TROUT RELEASE at Sand Lake is scheduled for April 20 at 11 a.m. Look for all the people going north toward the north pool. Rainbow trout numbering about 1,800 will be released. An additional 200 Brook trout will part of the hatchery truck delivery. A trout fee may be required in addition to a regular fishing license.

My last Sign of Spring notation for this week is in regards to a planned PRAIRIE GRASS BURN, during the evening hours of the week of April 15. The exact date will be determined by Mother Nature. An announcement for the event for the public to watch will be short notice. If wind and all other conditions allow, staff of the Conservation Board will be ready to go. The place will be at the Grimes Farm, 2359 233rd St.

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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.