Great Egrets are great to see

GREAT EGRETS are noticeable primarily because their all white plumage sets it apart from the more casual grey and browns of the Great Blue Heron.

And today’s images record what many people may have seen in the flooded field north of Marshalltown adjacent to highway 14. Good binoculars helps get close up views. But it is another task filled with difficulties to acquire good telephoto camera images of these majestic birds. I tried.

Not too many people remember, but perhaps our grandmothers do, of a time when women’s hats were a height of fashion. That fashion statement included bird feathers in many cases. Long white frilly plumes from Great Egrets, called aigrettes, were highly prized many decades ago by ladies hat makers. To get the feathers, the birds were killed just for their plumes in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Plume hunting was banned in 1910. It is estimated that 95 percent of the population of Great Egrets died from silly greed centered desire for nice hats.

Since those times are past, how has this species recovered? Well, pretty well actually considering that lots of continental land use changes, wetland destruction and other habitat degradation losses have taken place. This bird species has a lot of adaptability going for it. According to the 2014 State Bird Watch List, it is not listed as a bird whose population numbers are declining. In fact, it is quite stable. Flexible habitat preferences allow this bird to adapt.

Conservation initiatives for wildlife of all species, large and small, hunted or not hunted, got a big boost at the right time from then President Theodore Roosevelt. As an outdoors person who hunted and lived an active lifestyle of exploration, he grasped the understanding of relationships between the land, its ecosystems and the wildlife that depended upon wetlands, grasslands and forests. Roosevelt initiated actions during his term starting in 1901 that lead to additional National Parks. He also created the United States Forest Service and established 50 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks and 18 national monuments. He did this via his use of the American Antiquities Act. Together this dedicated lands total nearly 230 million acres while he was in office.

And in this year 2016, the one hundredth anniversary of our 400 sites in the National Park System, people find endless opportunities for adventure, education and fun. The variety of places dedicated to conservation goals include Parkways, monuments, seashores, scenic rivers, urban parks, recreation areas, historic buildings and more. These sites help paint a portrait of America of its historical roots, of complex events of the Civil War, and maintain for future study special lands and landscapes where ancient fossils and fragile ecosystems exist.

So in many ways, the Great Egret represents a come-back of great proportions. The symbol of the National Audubon Society is a big white bird, you guessed it, the Great Egret. The plight of this species and many others, even our now common wood duck, tells of conservation success stories once human kind set its mind to obtain science-based studies of the animal and its habitat needs. Look for egrets this fall in any wetland or lakeside sites. Take a cruise to Hendrickson Marsh in southwest Marshall County, or the Colo Bogs Complex west of State Center, Sand Lake, Green Castle to see what you can find using a good pair of binoculars. Enjoy your day outside. Enjoy a Great Egret if you see one.

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Fall is a time for hunting for those so inclined to participate in this ages-old endeavor of putting food on the table. And we all owe a debt of gratitude to forward thinking conservationists who helped establish federal legislation called the Pittman-Roberson Act. This act was signed into law in 1937 by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its official name is The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. It took the pre-existing 11 percent excise tax on firearms and ammunition and distributed it to the Department od the Interior as opposed to the Department of Treasury. The Interior Department is tasked with re-distributing those funds back to the states in proportion to hunting license sales and federal duck stamp purchases. Uses of the funds supplements state’s conservation budgets. The money is used toward conservation research, wildlife surveys and wildlife management, land acquisitions and more.

In 1970, this Act was amended to add handguns and handgun ammunition to contribute 10 percent excise taxes to the equation. Archery equipment was also recognized as a viable hunter method of take for game animals. Archery related purchases add their own 11 percent taxes to the income stream. This 1970 amendment also stated that a portion of those funds would be used for hunter education programs, hunter safety classes and shooting ranges across the country.

The fishing side of the coin is included also. Sponsors of fishing tackle related items add monies to the coffers. If one adds up just the 2016 contributions that sportsmen and women will make to the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, it will be nearly $1.1 billion!

Success stories since the original Act of 1937 together with its 1970 additions have these points to make: White-tailed deer population went from a national estimate of only 500,000 to over 32 million. Ducks and other waterfowl populations went from almost too small to count to over 44 million. Rocky Mountain Elk numbers climbed from 41,000 in the early 1900’s to over 1 million today. Wild Turkey numbers went from 100,000 to over 7 million. Pronghorn antelope numbers rose from 12,000 to 1.1 million in only 50 years.

Hunters also help conservation through additional firearms and ammo purchases, buying of special habitat and hunting stamps and licenses. Additional support is garnered via memberships to and volunteer time to private conservation organizations. Hunting is more than a sport. It is even more than a lifestyle or a means of adding supplemental food to the home and family. Hunting keeps beautiful lands intact to ensure long term science-based wildlife policies. Hunting and fishing are conservation.

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Mid-October is here. Leaf color change time is happening every day. It will not be long before burst of bronze, gold, yellow, reds and purple will adorn all our deciduous trees. When backlit by the sun, spectacular images can result as filtered light cascades through forest canopies. If you want to add to the color in years to come, do this: order a Fall Color Packet of bare-root seedlings from the Iowa DNR State Nursery. You will get 250 plants for the same price as 200. The packet will include seedlings between 8 and 24 inches depending upon the species of tree or shrub. The Fall color packet cost is $190, plus shipping and handling. The packet has 50 highbush cranberries, 50 red oaks, 50 arrowwood viburnums, 50 aronias and 50 black cherries. To take advantage of this offer, call the State Forest Nursery at 1-800-865-2477 between 8 am and 4:30 p.m. This fall color packet will be available through Oct. 26. Then another November deal for a different mix of trees/shrubs will be offered. To see a catalog of available plant materials, go the web site

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“It is an incalcuable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly or imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.”

– Theodore Roosevelt,

26th U.S. President


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.