Winter cold transforms landscape

WINTER in Iowa. What can one say about this normal season. It is cold. There will be snow. There will be calm days and some when winds are horrifically brutal. We will experience a few slightly warmer times and a few very cold spells. Our options: deal with it and adapt. Endure we humans must since we really have no choice. Unless your choice is to have a two, or three month “vacation” in Florida, Texas or Arizona. However, for most of us, staying put in our Iowa homes is the reality of our day-to-day routines.

Resident wildlife have many options for adapting to winter. They have to eat as much as they can find in the form of seeds, fruit, buds, twigs, grasses or forbs. These meager finds usually are just enough, combined with the body fats the animals accumulated last fall, to carry wildlife through the rigors of Iowa’s winter cold until it fades away in late March and early April.

Some species have an interesting tactic: Hibernate. A long sleep does the trick for these critters who have a den site below frost line. This home for the winter was found, dug and/or remodeled from burrow systems they made or taken over from abandoned burrows of others. In any event, this serves woodchucks, gophers, and ground squirrels well. Their body temperatures lower drastically and respirations slow down also. Whatever happens above ground is not of their concern.

Foxes and coyotes use burrow systems to hide in, raise their young and to only periodically escape the harsh realities of being outside in the winter. They do not have a choice of sleeping as the hibernators do. These animals have to eat. To do that, they have to hunt. That means going outside to look, listen and locate prey they can run down after a careful and sneaky approach. On the menu are small rodents, ground dwelling birds, rabbits and carrion from road kill. The fact that populations of fox or coyote survive year after year tells us they are successful in their tactics of surviving.

In the not to distant future, foxes and coyotes will be mating. Timing is an important element in this case. The young pups will be born in the safety of an underground burrow. Food for babies, food initially will be mother’s milk. As they grow older and begin to venture outside the den, Spring weather will be taking the lead as far as weather goes, a new season greets all with its warmer weather, rain and greening new vegetation. And that means more food sources at just the right time for the parents to catch and bring back to the den. Slowly the young will adapt to solid food and be weaned off mother’s milk. Now a summer season of learning will begin so this new generation can adapt to the surviving on their own.

Coyotes are the most common wild canine species in Iowa. Their ancestors have been here for millions of years. This smart animal is adaptable to just about every habitat throughout North America. Estimates of total coyote numbers is an impossible task. Coyote hunters and coyote trappers can tell you they never run out of sightings and experiences with this large predator. Year after year coyotes endure and fill a predator-prey function on the landscape. These clever animals live closer to humans than we think. Some are urban dwellers including within the city limits of Marshalltown. Even Los Angeles and New York have resident coyotes adapted to life in the city.

If you want to listen to coyotes, go outside to a quiet setting, best times being at sunset, and wait. They will announce themselves with unique yelps and barks that are different than fido the dog. For every coyote within hearing distance of one another, the messages are very informative. The calls help tell each other of location, possible foods or who they are in the pack hierarchy. For this scribe, it is rare when I do not hear coyotes calling when I’m hiking in a forest at or near sunset times. When they are close one definitely gets the feeling you are noticed.

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DEER HARVEST numbers for all seasons for the 2015-16 time frame are close to final. At this time, statewide totals show 105,397 deer taken by hunters. Later this winter, more complete and precise breakdown of categories will be made available. But until then, here is what is known. Iowa hunters took 48, 249 doe deer and 46,887 bucks. Young of the year button bucks taken numbered 9,721. Bucks that had naturally lost their antlers, called shed bucks, were 540. The statistics to compare the 2015-16 hunt with previous years will be forthcoming. Stay tuned.

Marshall County deer hunters took 281 doe deer, 352 bucks, 43 button bucks and 2 shed-antlered bucks for a total of 678 animals.

As for Marshalltown city urban bow hunters, 23 deer were taken. This is a tad higher than the 17 removed during the 2014-15 season. Seven years of experience with urban deer hunting in Marshalltown, and more than 20 years in some major larger cities of Iowa, attests to the effectiveness of urban deer management programs. It works. Iowa has many cities enrolled in deer control measures using bow hunters. And the concept is also employed in certain state parks and county conservation areas. This coordinated effort is helpful against a species with the potential, if not controlled, to become a nuisance of huge proportions way bigger than we wish to contemplate.

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How to make fishing lures is a program taking place this morning from 9 a.m. until noon. The place is the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm, 2359 233rd St. Join local fishermen and amateur lure makers demonstrate the how-to for jigs, crank baits, spinner baits and flies. You will see how to mold antique lure replicas. And to finish off these crafts, air brush painting and finish coats will be demonstrated. Come and enjoy a great cabin-fever buster program. It is free and open to the public.

Fishing is fun. Just ask any one of the 400,000 people that purchased fishing licenses last year in Iowa. License dollars go into the DNR Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund where it can only be invested for the protection and enhancement of Iowa’s fish and wildlife resources. These funds allow fisheries folks to produce and stock 160 million fish annually. And it affords the opportunities to conduct research studies to manage fish more effectively, construct fish habitat, improve water quality, restore lakes with a history of poor fishing and improve access for anglers.

Fishing is a pastime activity that once endorsed, will last a lifetime. Making lures is just one fun aspect of fishing. Learning all about fish and fishing is another. Experiencing fishing trips, on the ice or from the summer shoreline or a boat, all add up to quality time outdoors. Feeling the tug at the end of a fishing pole is pure excitement. And when that finny critter is pulled from the water, photographed and pan fried to perfection, another big satisfaction is duly noted.

New 2016 fishing licenses are on sale now. If one is old enough to require a license, buy it soon so that task is complete for this year. People age 16 or older can make the purchase for $19.There are many options for the fisherman/woman. See page 2 of the DNR fishing regulations booklet to see which one is best for you. Enjoy.

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A STATE CONVENTION for PHEASANTS FOREVER will take place next weekend. A neat program this year is titled Hook and Hunt University. The program and convention details are available online. This event will be Jan. 29-30 at Altoona’s Prairie Meadows Hotel and Casino. Hook and Hunt University begins at 3 p.m. on Jan. 30 and is the only portion of the weekend event open to the general public. There is no fee to attend. Access to vendor displays is part of the admission. Look for the newest equipment and gear for hunting pheasants. This is one of the cabin-fever busters that will take place this winter.

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“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

– Mark Twain


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, Iowa 50005