Turkeys, otters, pelicans and geese

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG Wild Turkeys enjoy an afternoon of preening, stretching and exploring among fallen tree limbs in an oak forest. Recent wind storm damages felled many trees, including the oaks these turkeys were using for their own social gathering. Young of the year turkey poults are now nearly adult body size. They are guided by a very knowledgeable leader, an adult hen turkey, who has survived more than a few years of her own. In doing so, she has experienced all kinds of good and bad weather, predators and learned where to find vegetation, seeds and insect sources of food. Her young of the year little ones, (not so little any more), are picking up on these survival methods.

WILD TURKEYS are out and about, exploring and exploiting their forest and field habitats in a constant search for things to eat. And while doing so, they are also keeping sharp eyes on the lookout for predators that want to catch and eat them. Coyotes, foxes and bobcats are just three land predators. Great horned and Barred owls are avian predators. With eyes situated boldly on the sides of their skulls, wild turkeys have nearly 300 degrees for their field of vision. Any movement or motion can be easily detected. And for a flock of turkeys there is always a lookout bird or two scanning the surrounding area for danger. If danger is perceived, a subtle alarm cluck or call is made to alert all other turkeys. Heads go up, feeding stops and if needed the birds will move away from danger. Flight is a unique option for birds to escape from predators. That is not a bad option to have at their disposal.

At night time, wild turkeys fly into trees using large branches as overnight perches. As a hunter, I’ve experienced the sights and sounds of wild turkeys going to roost. The flapping of powerful wings beating against the air at liftoff is a special sound of its own. In the process, small branches in the way of a bird’s wings will snap or break. And once on a tree limb perch, it takes more time for the turkeys to settle down. Moving from branch to branch is common until full darkness of night overtakes them. High in the trees they are safe from most land predators. Perhaps raccoons may risk attempts to capture a roosted turkey. However, a raccoon is not likely to win that battle.

RIVER OTTERS were observed recently by a friend. The animals were swimming in the shallow water of the Iowa River. Observations began and were made from a river bridge, focusing at first on a Great-blue Heron near a sandbar. Herons are stealthy birds waiting for a passing fish to stab with its beak. While watching the heron, notice was made of an unusual wake in the water with a series of undulating motions. Whatever was making the wake was just under the surface. It soon became apparent that river otters, a family of them, were traveling in the water. Since the river is so shallow at this time with low flow rates, otters could cause some fish to become alerted to the predators. If otters can pull it off, forcing fish into even shallower waters works like a trap. Otters like fish a lot.

WHITE PELICANS are flocking together in preparation for fall migration. A large group of pelicans was seen this past week by me on a remote backwater area withing the Iowa River floodplain. One place pelicans may use periodically are old oxbow channels of the river at the Arney Bend Wildlife Area. However, pelicans can be anywhere during their beginning migration travels. Sand Lake has hosted white pelicans in the past. I suspect this year will be no different.

LIGHT GEESE is a term to refer to snow geese and Ross’s geese. Both have white plumage and black wing tips. They are a vital part of goose populations in North America. There are good and not so good aspects to the over abundance of these large waterfowl and how they impact ecosystems for other avian critters. So here are some factual informational items about snow and Ross’s geese.

Starting in the 1970s, researchers began documenting rapidly increasing populations of light geese. And documentation included impacts to critical habitats in central and eastern North America. To attempt to lessen negative impacts on habitats caused by too many light geese feeding and grubbing for food on the tundra, wildlife officials sought and gained the go ahead for special spring hunting seasons to try thinning the number of light geese making way to nesting grounds. Regulations in Canada and the USA were established which allowed for harvest of light geese in the spring time. It was a wildlife management decision since just using fall goose hunting seasons was not adequate by itself.

The special conservation order allowing spring hunting of light geese is always being evaluated for what works and what doesn’t. Conservation Order regulations are allowed in the Atlantic, Mississippi and Central Flyways within the United States. Special measures also exist in Canada’s provinces of Alberta to Quebec and all three Territories within Canada.

History has shown that these special spring hunts as authorized has allowed hunter harvest to remain the preferred management tool to reduce light geese populations. Spring Conservation Order regulations has allowed light goose takings so that now about 50 percent of all light goose harvests in the three USA Flyways occurs under these regulations.

However, geese adapt to changes, both made-made and of their own making in tundra habitats. The positive and negative impacts on ecosystems vary from different geographical regions. Many factors interact to make management goals by biologists difficult as they contemplate changes to goose altered vegetation and habitats, food chains and nutrient levels. Goose grubbing of tundra vegetation impacts negatively other arctic nesting birds that depend upon those low to the ground growing arctic plants. The science of wildlife management is never an easy undertaking. The ultimate goal will remain how to develop accurate information and promote sustainable and ethical use of the resource.

FALL SEASON begins at 8:31 a.m. central daylight time on Sept. 22. Astronomers have long ago calculated that the earth’s position around the Sun has two times when both north and south hemispheres get equal amounts of sunlight and radiation. As fall progresses, us in the northern hemisphere will begin to observe less than 12 hours of daylight and more than 12 hours of darkness each each day progresses. That is because the axis of the earth remains tilted with respect to the plane of its orbital pathway. The tilt angle is about 23.5 degrees.

It takes 365.26 days for the Earth to complete one cycle around the Sun. And the Earth’s orbital pathway is not a circle but is slightly elliptical. This phenomenon is not responsible for Earth’s seasons. Seasons occur due to Earth’s axial tilt. Solar radiation varies in each hemisphere by about 6 percent throughout each 365.26 days of one year.

Fall begins for us in two days. The southern hemisphere friends are welcoming the first day of Spring. That is what happens to a sphere shaped planet called Earth in our little corner of one small arm of the Milky Way galaxy.

Quote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

— Albert Einstein


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