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Nature’s cycles of life

TR PHOTO By GARRY BRANDENBURG A new fall season begins in just one month. Sportsmen and women who like to hunt are preparing for those special times outdoors in pursuit of great fall fishing, pheasants, quail, waterfowl and deer. Dog training to retrieve has been on-going all year. Soon the test for a dog will come to reality for waterfowl or upland game birds. Today’s image illustrates how a trail camera set to capture images 24/7 can help determine a broad scope of wildlife species passing through any area. This is certainly not a guarantee of having an animal at close range after a season opens, but it does let the hunter know what is out there. Hope springs eternal as hunters add to conservation efforts via their participation in shooting sports.

FALL IS ONE MONTH AWAY. Okay, maybe you didn’t want to be reminded of this fact concerning the earth’s annual trip around the sun. Fact is that daylight hours are getting shorter, cooler weather is just around the corner and trees will soon respond by subtle changes that in two months time will paint the forests in brilliant yellow, orange, red and brown tones. Photosynthesis processes, the factory within a tree leaf that produces sugars for the tree, will begin shutting down for another year. It is a reminder that the summer went fast. Your busy schedule hopefully made time to enjoy being outdoors. Now with fall season just one month away, it is time to adjust and rekindle time slots dedicated to getting outside.

Hunters have and will be scouting potential hunting areas soon. Hikes into wetlands, prairies or forests to observe plant and wildlife activities will not be disappointing In many respects. What these folks will see may be the same as last year, or the year before. And what the keen eye will also see is what has changed. Learning how natural habitats change and how wildlife adapts are key components of how to make every outdoor foray a fun experience. Later during hunting seasons, these tidbits of observation add to one understanding of nature’s cycles of life.

Just one of nature’s cycles involves DEER ANTLERS. Every year male members of the deer family cervidae grow new antlers. How small or large antler sets become is a combination of age, nutrition and genetic heritage. Buck fawn deer will have little button nubbins for antlers. Last year’s bucks will be larger in body mass and may have spike antlers or small branched antlers. Older bucks tend to grow nice symmetrical right and left side antlers. And prime whitetail buck deer at ages 5.5 and 6.5 years of age may have very impressive head gear.

Antlers are true bone, and in the case of cervids, it is a controlled and very fast development that began biologically when those antlers naturally fell off last February or March. Then as daylight hours increased, hormone changes in the deer worked their magic to begin the growth of new antler. From later March through August is the time it takes for whitetail deer to grow those head adornments to whatever full size they may be for this year. Mineral and in particular calcium is obtained from foods eaten and also by a temporary loss of calcium from parts of the skeletal system diverted to the antlers. Over time the skeletal system gains back what it lost. Mother Nature has it figured out.

By late August with antlers still covered in velvet, the soft tissue on the outside that assists with mineral deposition and blood supply, is now full grown and at maximum. As illustrated in today’s photo, in just a few days time into early September, the velvet will cease its functions. It will dry and start to shed from the bone, leaving bright white exposed antlers. For deer, the next step is another natural cycle, to rub off the velvet on small trees and bushes and leave scent gland secretions behind for other deer to smell, decipher and interpret. Rubbing of antlers on trees picks up tannins that will start to stain antlers into light brown colors. However for all deer of both sexes, rubs on trees are similar to the local post office. These sign posts tell who was there, what time, their body condition and all this information is stored away for the ultimate of nature’s cycles, reproduction activities that will peak during late October and early November.

WATERFOWL INVENTORY surveys in the USA and Canada have been conducted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recently released it report on trends for 2019 in breeding duck populations. Those surveys took place during May and early June. In the remote areas of Canadian boreal forests, or the pothole lake country of both nations, aerial counts are part of the process. Observers count waterfowl in designated quadrants and compare notes from previous years. Result: Total waterfowl populations are estimated at 38.9 million breeding ducks. This is six percent lower than last year’s estimate of 41.2 million and 10 percent above the long-term averages since record keeping began in 1955.

Mallards are up two percent from last year with 9.423 million birds. Gadwall are up 13 percent with a number of 3.258 million while Wigeon remain the same at 2.832 million. Green-winged Teal are now at 3.178 million and its cousin the Blue-winged Teal is down 16 percent to 5.427 million. Northern Shoveler’s are also down by 13 percent to 3.649 million and Pintail’s are down four percent to 2.268 million. Redheads took a dive of 27 percent, Canvasbacks down by five percent and Scaup down 10 percent. If all are averaged, breeding duck numbers are down six percent from one year ago, but ahead by 10 percent from the long-term average.

Part of the aerial survey process is mapping ponds in northern prairie states and Canadian provinces. These habitats fluctuate year to year depending upon rain fall events. Overall, ponds decreased by five percent so it does follow that overall breeding duck numbers reflect that decrease. Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan were much drier this year than last. North and South Dakota had increases in ponds. What it reminds biologists of is this; all prairie pot hole habitats in both countries are important.

IOWA FALL SEASONS will begin very soon. Rabbit and squirrel openers are Aug. 31. Dove season and the September Teal season begin Sept. 1. The early teal season is 16 days long. This is the only species of waterfowl that can be taken during that time. Teal do not hang around their nesting ponds as fall approaches. They are the first to migrate in advance of any colder weather system to push through Canada or the northern states. For Iowans, weather will be or should be still relatively warm. No ice breaking decoys sets are needed like mallard hunting later on.

Waterfowl hunters need a Federal Duck Stamp. It can be purchased at major post offices or now at any license vendor outlet. The temporary e-stamp is valid for 45 days. The physical stamp will be mailed to you, which must be signed and carried along with all other appropriate licenses.

Put on your calendar the date of Sept. 15, at the Izaak Walton League of Marshall County, for a benefit sporting clay bird shoot for Iowa River Hospice. This is an annual event to raise money for a good cause. Shooting teams can begin at 9:30 a.m. Registration is from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.

“Life has no limitations other than the ones you make.”

— Les Brown

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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.