Flying egrets is grace in motion

T-R PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG - Great Egrets (Ardea alba) cruise along in graceful flight over the wetlands of the Iowa River Wildlife Area. This image was made from the Sand Road parking lot. Great Egrets have all white plumage, a wingspan of about five feet, a yellow bill and black legs. They are the largest egret. In flight it holds its neck in an "S" shape with legs straight back. Long legs allows the bird to walk in shallow water as it searches for amphibians, reptiles, small birds, small mammals or invertebrates such as crayfish, worms, isopods, water beetles and grasshoppers. Long plumes from this species, called aigrettes, from the French language, were once highly sought after for adorning ladies hats. Thankfully that style went out of fashion.

GREAT EGRETS are today’s featured creature. This huge all-white water bird with long black legs, yellow bill and stealthy shallow water hunting tactics may be found in wetlands along the east coast, gulf coast and into a large swath of the Midwest north into Minnesota and Wisconsin. In flight its powerful long wings may appear to be beating slowly but it is the efficiency of how those wings move through the air that moves the animal with ease.

Feathers have always been colorful and attractive to observers of nature. Us humans marvel at the range of colors bird feathers offer. From the white of egrets to the black of ravens and crows, every hue of the rainbow is exhibited by some bird somewhere. Bluejays are not called bluejays for no reason. Cardinal red is strikingly brilliant. Iowa’s goldfinch offers bright yellow. The list is long for identifying every color imaginable from bird feathers.

Great egrets grow plume-like feathers every year that are delicate looking, almost lace-like, and that proved to almost be this bird’s downfall during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. More than 95 percent of North America’s Great Egrets were killed for their plumes. Providing plumes for ladies hats was the lure long ago. When it was realized how few great egrets remained by the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, action was begun to halt the practice. Plume collecting was banned beginning in 1910. Just in the nick of time. By the 1930s, the species quickly recovered and its populations regained strength. As with many species of wildlife, habitat loss tends to be a factor of immense importance that determines its long-range survival. For Great Egrets, their adaptability has proven a key to its success. An estimate currently given is that about 180,000 breeding birds exist on the continent. Populations now appear stable.

Wetlands in our vicinity where you might see Great Egrets include Otter Creek Marsh, Hendrickson Marsh, any area lake particularly the headwater shallows, river oxbows and even at Marshall County’s Iowa River Wildlife Area. Do not overlook farm ponds either. Keep watching and keep enjoying all wildlife observed as you conduct forays across the countryside.

Since the above paragraphs talked about bird feather colors, the new 2019-2020 MIGRATORY BIRD HUNTING AND CONSERVATION STAMP has been issued. It is available at Marshalltown’s post office. The cost is $25. Hunters who pursue waterfowl each fall are required to have this stamp, with their signature on it, while out and about waterfowl hunting areas. This new stamp has a painting of a Wood Duck illustrating its wide range of colorful feathers. In the background of the painting is a wood duck decoy, Artist Scot Storm crafted his artwork to illustrate the real duck and a fake duck.

Decoys were built by the thousands by early colonists that wanted to lure birds close enough to be taken by shotgunners. The demand for decoys grew over time to be built and painted to be more realistic to the real bird it was depicting. The stamp’s decoy is a likeness of the Mason tack eye, from the Mason Decoy Factory of Detroit, Michigan from 1880s to 1924. Now vintage duck decoys of good to excellent quality may fetch large sums of money as collectable folk art. Hand carved decoys of past decades are in demand. Modern decoys are assembly line productions, may be more precisely molded and well painted. Yes they can be effective. Antique hand carved duck decoys are too valuable to throw into a body of water near a duck blind. So one is for presentation only on display shelves. The others are hard working, get-the-job-done decoys.

Money from the sale of the federal duck stamp is used to maintain a steady stream of revenue to buy and protect wetland habitat within the National Wildlife Refuge System. Hunters willingly buying duck stamps along with other required licenses do so in order to continue the sporting tradition and to pass down respect for nature and conservation to future generations. Since 1934, federal duck stamps sales have raised well over $900 million to conserve wetland habitat for wildlife and people.

HUNTER SAFETY CLASS, the last hands-on classroom and actual firearms safety and target shooting, is coming up mid-August. The class in posted online now at the Iowa DNR website for Marshall County. The dates are Aug. 15, a Thursday evening from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the following Saturday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The location is the Izaak Walton League grounds located two mile south of Iowa Avenue on Smith Avenue.

This traditional classroom and intermixed field exercises has advantages over other options. The other options satisfy the letter of the law. However, an advantage of a traditional class involves one-on-one instruction of live fire of shotguns at clay targets, and .22 rifles at paper targets. Students get, perhaps for the first time ever, the opportunity to fire these sporting firearms. In addition, a variety of topics include ethics, conservation history, fish and game law instruction by a state DNR game warden, first aid, videos on safety aspects, archery demonstration and a bit of fun mixed in with demonstration of an arrow versus bullet penetration of bucket filled with sand. For those that don’t know, the arrow goes through the sand bucket, bullets enter one side but do not exit on the other side.

Hunter Safety classes are aimed at young adults age 12 or older. Parents are highly encouraged to attend with their son or daughter, listen to what is offered, and participate in the entire class. If the parent has never taken the class, they should register also. There is no upper age limit. Once a hunter safety class is taken and passed, the certificate is valid in all of the other 50 states. It will be important in the future when asked to provide proof of having taken and passed a hunter safety class if and when one needs to wants to purchase a non-resident hunting license.

Sign up can be obtained at https://www.hunter-ed.com/iowa/. Last year, all across Iowa, 10,347 student were certified. The most popular option was the traditional classroom course with 4,521 (44 percent). Next was the adult online course for age 18 or older (40 percent) totaling 4,181. The remainder at 16 percent was an online course and field day. This option total was 1,645. If anyone has any questions about any of the hunter safety options, the Recreational Safety Officer for this area is Jeff Barnes. Call him at 515-290-4907.

HOT WEATHER this past week has been something we humans have to deal with. We know Iowa winters will be cold with a few severe cold snaps. Likewise summers will be warm with a few really hot spells. That is what we normally get each and every year. So, is anything really different now than any past decade? Not really.

The multi-factor weather machine of the earth’s atmosphere is chaotic, in a never ending push and pull of warm to cold, high pressure to low pressure, as each hemisphere of the earth gets its chance to have as much heating influence from the sun every six months. For us northern hemisphere inhabitants, the Sun’s radiation influence is highest now since its rays are more direct.

Energy produced within the Sun’s core, where the temperature is 27,000,000 degrees and under pressure is 340 billion times Earth’s air pressure at sea level, so intense that nuclear reactions take place. Four protons or hydrogen nuclei to fuse together to form one alpha particle or helium nucleus. The differences in mass means energy is expelled through convection toward the Sun’s surface where it is released as light and heat. That energy takes takes one million years to reach the surface from the core. Every second, 700 million tons of hydrogen are converted to helium. This process produces 5 million tons of energy. Once at the surface, that energy takes just eight minutes to reach earth.

How many earths would fit inside the sun? Answer: 1.3 million. Next quiz question is this: How many earth diameters does it take to equal the diameter of the Sun? Answer: 109. For a fun thing to do with kids, take 109 pennies and line them up in a straight line alone the floor of a big room. Half way, at a point between penny number 54 and 55, is where a long ruler or yard stick needs to be centered. Mark the distance, radius, to the end of the row of pennies. Now carefully trace a big circle on the floor. That big circle represents the relative size of the Sun to just one penny, our earth. Earth’s diameter at the equator is 7,926 miles. Our Sun’s diameter is 862,400 miles.

Iowa’s heat record for all time was 118 on July 20, 1934 in Keokuk. The flip side for cold air temperatures was -47 on January 12, 1912 in Washita. This record was matched on February 3, 1996 in Elkader. I thought you would like to know these not so trivial facts. Stay cool this summer.


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.


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