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Wildlife of all sizes

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — Brown is a good color in nature as these soft muted tones assist any critter with camouflage.....normally....except when the critter does not have a background of natural vegetation to break up its outline. For today’s image of a Red-tailed hawk, I was able to get a good shot of the business end of this raptor with its sharp beak at one end and long curved talons at the other end. Little rabbits beware. As for the fawn deer, it chose to bed down in green grass next to a green cornfield edge. Its big brown ears and forehead made the animal conspicuous. Just enough time elapsed for me to capture it with a 400 mm lens before it stood up and casually walked into the corn field jungle. And the Little Brown Snake was a nice find. It has lots of brown colors to enable it to blend into leafy backgrounds. However, I spied it first, and deliberately held it in my hand to create a sense of size to this adult sized serpent.

WILDLIFE OF ALL SIZES could be my theme this week. It doesn’t matter how big or large they are, or if they fly, run or crawl. All go about their duties as delegated by Mother Nature as they seek out a living in their sphere of influence. Hawks fly and by doing so overlook large expanses of territory with sharp eyes seeking movements of mouse, rabbit, bird, or snake. Deer, have a smaller territory they call home range. These locations offer cover to hide in, lots of morsels of green vegetation to browse upon, and at this time of year, any corn field is a ‘jungle’ for easy escape from human eyes. Snakes have limited mobility but it works for them. Their sense of smell and slow silent stealthy approaches guided by odors picked up by a moist tongue, allow them to hunt for insects or worms.

This past week a host of wildlife sightings has been my good fortune. And for some of the readers of this column, it has been good for them also. Here are just a few of them I’ll share with you today. First off was my foray into several of my favorite hiking areas…which also double later this fall as bow hunting areas. During these outdoor hikes, I got to see adult deer casually doing their thing unaware that I was watching. Wind currents from them to me allowed me to remain undetected. Any movements I made were timed to when the deer’s head was down or looking in another direction. It was fun to see how long my contest of remaining undetected could last.

Second; I was fortunate to see a hen turkey and her half-grown little ones. Since their eyes are large and have a field of view of about 270 degrees, remaining undetected from these birds was not going to happen. They immediately went on high alert to avoid me. Nearby forest edge vegetation swallowed them up from my view.

Third; Gray Partridge, a medium sized game bird, was my opportunity to observe. A hen and her brood of about twelve little ones took flight as my vehicle passed along the gravel road. This wildlife viewing was a split second good luck happening. Once they hen got to tall grasses, she landed and took her brood with her. Instantly they disappeared. If I had blinked at the wrong time, I may have missed this viewing totally.

Fourth; A color other than brown graced my bird feeder this week. A male American Goldfinch was all decked out in his bright yellow and shiny black plumage. August is a prime time for nesting for our Iowa State Bird. I also observed Goldfinches in my outdoor foray of a portion of a grassland that had several tall bull thistles. Somewhere in that mini ‘forest of weeds’ I’m sure a Goldfinch has secretly built a nest.

WILDLIFE OF BIGGER SIZES, this time not in Iowa, but in other habitats may be of interest. In southwest Missouri’s Laclede County, a mountain lion zigged when it should have zagged. It was struck by a car and seriously injured. State Troopers checked it out and euthanized the animal. The animal was taken to a Missouri facility for autopsy. DNR analysis will be utilized to determine the origin of this feline. Tooth cementum annuli will be processed to determine exact age. Conservation Agents for the Missouri DNR can only speculate at this time that this cat may be from the Black Hills of South Dakota. If I get a report of findings from the lab about this large cat, I’ll share them with you at a future time.

Another big animal interplay of how a story of predator/prey creates a unique balance of nature. In this case it involves beaver, moose and wolves. It appears that in a remote area of northern Minnesota near Lake Kabetogama, a population of beavers is doing very well. So well in fact that area wolves find beaver easier to catch and eat than moose or moose calves. So deep in the woods of Voyageurs National Park, moose populations are doing well. Elsewhere in moose habitats, if beaver populations are low, wolves find moose a higher priority food source.

Way up in the arctic, in all nineteen circumpolar populations of Polar Bears in Siberia, Alaska, northern Canada and Finland, the big white bear is doing very well. According to Susan Crockford’s report titled ‘The State of the Polar Bear in 2019, her assessment indicates good global populations in all arctic lands and sea-ice areas for a total of 22,000 to 31,000 bears. There are nineteen subpopulations in arctic regions that together make up a huge territory near the top of the northern hemisphere. They are not in any danger of extinction, contrary to hyped up press reports trying to scare people.

Biological evidence indicates polar bears evolved from brown bears perhaps as far back as six million years ago. And while polar bears are uniquely adapted to life in extreme conditions, they are not inflexible regarding food sources. They will adapt and have adapted over long periods of geologic time to thrive on lots of food sources other than seals. On the menu are bird eggs, fish, kelp, caribou, ducks, sea birds, berries in season, small mammals and scavenged whales and walruses. Through multiple ice ages and interglacial warmer phases, polar bears made it through as sea ice levels were very low during peak glacial times and as sea levels rose during interglacial warmer earth cycles. These biological facts matter. So keep your truth detector antennae on high alert for attempted misinformation campaigns.

A point to ponder: The earth is the most complicated system known to man. Astronomer scientists have learned how to track distant galaxies and the motion of planets with precision. They have also learned how sub atomic particles interact. However, predicting the weather even one month in advance remains illusive.

Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005

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