Nature’s clean-up crew in action

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG Nature’s clean up crews include many species. Turkey Vultures can easily spot and smell dead carcasses and then begin the process of converting that energy for their own good. Bald Eagles will scavenge also as their ‘eagle eyes’ leave nothing undetected. In today’s image, both vultures and eagles, mature and immature, were vying for buffet line positions to eat on the carcass of a deer next to the Iowa River. What was left of the deer was its articulated skeletal framework devoid of just about any meat fragments. These clean up crews had performed the task of recycling quite well.

RECYCLING and using an item to its fullest functions is a task performed by Mother Nature’s cleanup crews every day. In the overall picture of eat or be eaten in the tooth and claw give and take of predators and prey relationships, everything gets recycled. So it is when a wild animal passes. Its body becomes food sources for many other critters large and small until what is left will be the bleached white bones of a once vibrant body. It is good that recycling tasks have been assigned by Mother Nature to many of her mammals and/or birds.

The how did I get this short photo essay begins during one of my recent archery hunts? While perched comfortably in my tree stand, I had a full 360 degree observation platform for what transpires around me. Tree stand time does include many hours of not much happening with respect to deer movement. Hunting can be defined in part as lots of boredom punctuated by a few moments of excitement when lots of things happen quickly. Be ready.

So while observing with binoculars the scene around me, I spotted through a leafy tangle what appeared to be large dark bird bodies on the sand bar of the Iowa River. It took a while but I was able to deduce the reasons for seeing what was happening. A small buck deer had died and was the buffet line meal source for several turkey vultures. And it became quite evident that bald eagles were also not going to let the vultures have it all to themselves. Eagles flying overhead protested loudly and when they committed to alight on the bone pile, vultures gave way.

My next assignment was to obtain photos. So with a long lens on my 35mm camera body, I began my stealthy approach to the river bank. It required me to crawl on all fours and then subsequently belly crawl into tall grasses a bit at a time until I could poke my lens through an opening. Now I could see this recycling operation in more detail. I was able to capture images of nature in action.

The deer carcass was mostly skeletal remnants. All of its soft tissues had been utilized by critters well prior to may discovery of the scene. For whatever reason the deer had died, its body had served as food for lots of animals. I would speculated that way more than just vultures and eagles had consumed this deer. Nearby were a few crows. Coyotes also inhabit this vicinity of Marshalltown’s City Limits where the deer died. Red-tailed hawks perched in nearby trees may well have fed on the deer if and when vultures were absent. Smaller mammals such as mink and raccoons probably took their portions during the night.

We have all probably observed turkey vultures circling or standing at a roadside near a raccoon carcass. As vehicles pass, the birds temporarily fly away and relight on the carcass after we have passed. The birds need to grab bites while they can until the next vehicle imposes upon them. Repeat and repeat is the vultures tactic until the carcass has been utilized. While us humans may not totally appreciate the messes on a road from vehicle/animal contacts, we do need to understand Mother Nature’s scheme assigned to cleanup crews.

PILEATED WOODPECKER sightings have been one of my bonus sighting while sitting quietly in my tree stand. This past week I was privileged to have this very large bodied woodpecker come flying through the forest and alight on a cottonwood tree trunk about 30 feet away. I did not move. I did not need to move. The bird was perfectly positioned for me to see it. Its bold black and white wings and red top knot head told me it was an adult female. Often I hear this species even before I see it, if I see it at all. This time was special. No, I did not have a camera and long lens ready to capture it image. In my mind and memory, I do have images of this magnificent large woodpecker.

RAINBOW TROUT will be arriving at Sand Lake later this month. The actual day and time will NOT be announced on purpose. Why? Guesses should include social distancing. To help keep a large group of people gathering in close proximity, Iowa Department of Natural Resources fisheries folks who deliver the trout do not want publicity. That is unfortunate but understandable. Being outside and being outside fishing is good for people. The China virus has impacted just about everything we do in some manner or shape. So we must adapt. There are always fishermen or women at Sand Lake. I’m sure cell phone owners will take due notice of a DNR fisheries tank truck driving to the release site. And it will not take long thereafter for the word to spread…new rainbow trout stocked at Sand Lake.

HUNTING IS CONSERVATION. Hunting is a legitimate, highly regulated conservation activity. It has a rich heritage in human evolution. Hunting is a huge part of conservation history. Hunters are bound by personal and professional ethical guidelines. Laws for the ethical and legal taking of game animals during regulated seasons exist to help keep those takings within biological carrying capacity of the land. Hunting helps maintain wildlife populations at levels in line for the ability of the land to support. These points you should remember if and when a ‘self-appointed’ busy body tries to use their uninformed emotional opinions as a replacement for facts. Facts matter. Truth matters.

The NORTH AMERICAN MODEL OF WILDLIFE CONSERVATION contains a set of principles that when collectively applied, have led to the formation of many wildlife management success stories in the United States. Key to this Model is that fish and wildlife belong to all Americans and secondly, populations are managed for the long term using science based data.

What follows are seven tenants that have proven to work for conservation. 1. Wildlife is a Public Resource, managed by federal and state agencies for long term good. 2. Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife — does away with commercial hunting and sales of wildlife products. 3. Rule of Law — access to wildlife for hunting is only allowed through ethical, legal means via licensing, set dates for seasons and bag limits, 4. Non-frivolous Use — Wildlife as a shared resource is not to be wasted. Takings are regulated and uses are for food and fur, self-defense and property protection. 5. International Resources — Some species cross international borders, state lines or local jurisdictions. The United States cooperates with other nations for migratory species. 6. Scientific Management — To manage wildlife resources responsibly, fairly and objectively, decisions must be based only on sound science. and 7th, Hunting Opportunities for All — Access to wildlife resources is allocated to anyone regardless of wealth, prestige, land ownership or social class.

The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is entirely based on the foundation of sustainable — use hunter — conservationists. It is a proven system that works and keeps on working for wildlife recovery programs nationwide.

Quote: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.” — Thomas Edison

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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