Birds are getting ready for Spring

PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG White-fronted Geese flyover rotting and weakening ice at Lake Red Rock during last weekends warm weather. Now this weekend has more of the same warm weather causing many waterfowl to follow instincts to move north...at least as far as the snow line may permit. White-fronts nest on the tundra landscape of Canada near wetlands, rivers or ponds. It is common to observe this species with other goose species like Canada geese. White-front populations are stable according to Partners in Flight, an organization that assists with all kinds of census data for birds.

MARCH is here, a month of transition in regards to the weather and month when lots of birds begin to infiltrate the airways for the upcoming northward migration.

White-fronted geese are just one species that will grace the airways soon. Today’s image of white-fronts at Lake Red Rock is serving as a staging area at the present time. Ice on the lake is degrading rapidly to create open water edges near shorelines. In these shallower waters where sun power is gaining strength, ice is disappearing.

While observing these geese and other waterfowl such as mallards and pintail ducks, one of the geese walking on the ice fell through. It was a bit comical to watch as the bird was surprised by the collapse of the ice underfoot. Of course, if you are a goose, floating on the water is a normal thing. Thinning ice is the norm for all ponds due to nice mild weather.

IOWA RIVER ICE is out. And it was not a big event this year as it is prone to be some years. Instead of big thick ice jams backing up behind log jams, bridges or other constriction points that can cause flooding, ice out this year was a benign happening.

Ice never really had a chance to lock up early in the winter and to grow thicker during severe cold. Open water in the river predominated and what little ice did make for a hard surface was thinner. So last weekends warm spring thaw winter weather was enough to do the trick to allow river ice to fade away. The water in the river did rise about two feet, a modest rise for the Iowa. However, spring rains anytime between now and the end of the month could be of concern since frost in the ground may not allow soils to absorb the water. People will have to wait and see on this point.

Just in case humans get cocky during March, do remember that winter weather, specifically snow, blizzards, really cold air, strong northwest winds are fully within the cards Mother Nature holds in her hand. What she deals us remains to be seen. Respect for Mother Nature is well advised. Just look at the record from April 1973 when a three day blizzard locked down almost all transportation in Iowa. And a May snow storm a decade ago descended on us bringing with it heavy wet flakes that accumulated to a depth of more than 6 inches. The water equivalent of that snow did cause the Iowa River to bounce out of its banks.

If people don’t like the weather, or even if they do like it, just wait five minutes and it will change. So the motto should be: Adapt, improvise and overcome.

SPRING SEASON begins this year officially at 10:50 p.m. on March 19 central daylight time. This is when the sun appears to cross the celestial equator, moving north. This is the earliest vernal equinox in 124 years, due primarily to being an artifact of the year 2000 being a leap year. A leap year, every four years, is an adjustment on calendars to make up for the earth’s orbit time around the sun of approximately 365.25 days.

People will soon see daylight hours of 12 and dark time hours of 12 on March 19. This truth of timing is explained by the earth’s orbital position on its long gravitational journey around the sun. Earth’s polar axis is not perpendicular to the plane of its orbit, but is inclined at about 23.4 degrees. That inclination is why days are shorter during a northern hemisphere winter and thus less solar radiation reaching the surface. The opposite is true six months from now when the summer season will have more direct sunlight radiation. Southern hemisphere seasons are opposite what we experience north of the equator.

And to add to the complexity of the physics of the Universe, earth’s orbit at this time is not a circle, but somewhat elliptical, due to gravitational forces of the sun and all the other planets. And over long periods of time, earth’s orbit, inclination and wobble of the axis, known as precession, will combine to slightly reduce the effective incoming solar radiation cycle. The overall energy balance makes some summers warmer at sometimes and cooler at others on a celestial time scale of 11,500 years. One complete cycle takes 23,000 years, more or less. And during this halfway point of 11,500 years, the earth orbit will change slightly to more nearly a circle and earth will be closer to the sun in summer and farther away in the first day of winter. As of now earth is closest to the sun in winter and farther away in the summer.

SKUNKS are becoming more active, particularly at night. They are looking for mates because it is that time of year for this member of the weasel family. You may have noticed during road trips seeing deceased skunks by the roadside. On my personal journey to Lake Red Rock last weekend I counted at least six dead skunks on my round trip. Oh yes, the odor was also present, one on Mother Nature’s most powerful chemical creations.

ROBINS are returning. I’ve seen a few and there will be more as flocks continue to move north from wintering areas. A few never leave their breeding range, however, most do the ‘snowbird’ thing and travel south where food sources can be more easily secured. Robin roosts at wintering sites in southern states can be huge with over a quarter million. By the time they move into Iowa, dispersal is well on its way. Robins are always a welcome sign of spring getting closer. Good, I like it.

Other feathered creatures to look for in March include all the species of waterfowl, ducks and geese, Red-shouldered hawks, Broadwinged hawks, Killdeer, Kingfisher, Northern flicker woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Bluebirds, Cedar waxwings, Eastern meadowlark, Rusty blackbird and common grackle. April and May will bring many more species. Keep an alert eye open for new birds.

IOWA DEER CLASSIC show will be coming up next weekend, March 6-8 in Des Moines at the Iowa Events Center. Doors open on Friday mid-afternoon, then all day Saturday and Sunday until 4 p.m. The show features numerous vendors with everything related to deer and deer hunting. Attendance is always top notch as the public looks at and makes purchases of goods and services.

The Hall of Fame display of mounted deer heads will be just one display of the best Iowa has produced in past years. As for the season just ended, many impressive deer taken by youth boys and girls, women and men, via bow or gun, will be in competition for honors as the leader board progresses. Ribbons and walnut plaque trophies will be awarded.

Seminar speakers will have informational programs during the event. And Department of Natural Resources’s Turn in Poachers display will showcase law enforcement success stories against poachers. Overall, this is an outstanding show and is recognized as a well run operation for vendors and the public who attend. People who have never attended before, make it a point to do so this year. I’ll be there.

I like this quote because it fits so many situations: “Spending time with children is more important than spending money on children.”

— Anthony Douglas Williams, from Inside the Divine Pattern.


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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