Natural wonders big and small

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — Two winter time visitors to feeding station allowed me to capture images of these interesting woodpeckers. One is the the Yellow-bellied sapsucker and the other is titled Red-bellied woodpecker. As for the Red-bellied, its name is somewhat confusing since its belly has only a faint reddish tint. A better name would be ‘Bar-backed’ or ‘Red-naped Woodpecker.’ However bird naming authorities have not agreed to take up that issue. Today’s other woodpecker image has a yellow belly and likes to hang out in conifer or deciduous forests where it pecks a series of holes horizontally into a tree’s bark. When tree sap oozes out of the hole, sap may also attract insects. When returning to the tree, this woodpecker lives up to its name by eating the sap and any insects stuck in the mixture. Note each bird’s color pattern differences, all important distinctions to make for proper identification.

WOODPECKER BIRDS are interesting animals to observe as they probe tree cavities or even lawns looking for something to eat. It seems Mother Nature made enough woodpecker species to allow for exploitation of just about every niche in every forest on every continent (except Antarctica). There are 23 species in North America. They range in size from small to medium bodied birds.

One species, the Pileated Woodpecker, is large with a body about 16 inches long. Pileated are fairly common but not as plentiful as all of its smaller cousins. This author can count on seeing and hearing Pileated woodpeckers every year while sitting quietly in one of my tree deer stands. An extinct cousin of the Pileated is the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Museum specimens exist for this bird. Wood carved likenesses of this 19-inch long bodied bird have been made to represent what the once living bird looked like. It white-ish gray bill color gave it a name that prevailed with bird identification authorities. The last known sighting for Ivory-bills were in 1944 in northeast Louisiana.

The Yellow-bellied woodpecker (image is of a male) is the only migratory woodpecker. Some will go as far south as Central America and have been seen in Panama. Other common year around woodpeckers for Central Iowa include Red-headed, Northern, with its sub-group the Yellow-shafted Flicker in the East and the Red-shafted in the West, Downy and lastly the Hairy woodpecker. Enjoy them all whenever and wherever you may encounter them.

HUNTING TIMES are special in many ways. The time I spend observing nature in all of its known and not so well known ways is precious. All observations add to my knowledge base. I follow it up with research and always ask myself why? I go “hunting” every time I venture out into a native prairie, wetland or forest. I hunt 365 days a year, mostly with binoculars at easy reach or camera and long lens close by. During later winter, spring and summer, my observation tools are my eyes, my binocs and my camera. Then when fall times arrive, my hunting tools may morph to the addition of a gun or a bow to allow for the licensed taking of a pheasant, a deer or other critter.

I love wildlife. So how is it that I can also take a few critters during fall seasons? Ethical hunting puts the survival of the population first, a long term sustaining conservation management tried and true process. Hunting dollars support habitat for all species, hunted or not hunted. I hunt because my contribution to conservation agencies, along with every other hunter’s fees and license purchases, is so much greater than non-conservation dollars. Money conservation agencies collect annually supports the management of critical habitat projects and programs. By legally taking a game animal, I gain valuable food to eat and I provide some of that game to others so they may eat. I hunt and thereby make decisions for the long term good of the entire population. And I hunt to lend support to fish and game law enforcement departments so that they can educate new and older hunters about ethical takings, legal takings and when appropriate, arrest poachers who cheat the system for selfish greed.

Wildlife cannot be stockpiled. They are biological creatures that live and like everything, eventually die. There are limits imposed by Mother Nature we all must face. Wild animals are not inanimate objects that can be accumulated, stored up for a future rainy day. Careful management is the key to the future. Not hunting a particular species does not necessarily mean there will be more of them in the future. So when and if a non-biologist who thinks they know what they do not know tries to pontificate the non factual opinion on you, your truth detector antennae can go on high alert. Being lied to is not good. Knowing the truth is good.

SATURN and JUPITER put on a planetary alignment show for us last Monday evening. In the southwestern sky, the two planets appeared to be very close together. Because of the unique alignment of earth’s orbit and the orbits of Saturn and Jupiter, it appeared to us earthlings as two bright star-like objects. It was the Great Conjunction , the apparent closing of distance between these two gaseous planets. The last time these planets were so close was on July 16, 1623. Some of our kids or grandkids or great-grandkids may be around for the next Great Conjunction on March 15, 2080.

Imagine you are at a racetrack. Only two cars are going to run around the track. One car is faster than the other. From the start, the faster car continues lap after lap to gain ground on the slower car. Finally the faster car passes the slower one. Give enough time and even more laps, the fast car will again pass the slow one. When the cars are next to each other, it appears from a vantage point as a close meeting, a conjunction.

For planets in orbit, the mean interval of recurring planetary events is called synodic, Greek for “coming together.” For the time it takes one planet to orbit the Sun is called sidereal period. Synodic period is always longer than sidereal. This sets up unique timing because as seen from earth, which is also on its own moving orbit around the Sun, alignment of Earth, Saturn and Jupiter is a rare happening.

Saturn is 792,248,270 miles from Earth. Saturn is huge compared to Earth, a big hydrogen gas giant that takes about 29.4 earth years to orbit the Sun one time. Saturn’s axial tilt is 26.73 degrees, so this planet has seasons. The effect is different due to the tremendous distance from the Sun. And Saturn has many icy rocky rings around it.

Jupiter is also a big hydrogen and helium gas giant planet and is 390,674,710 miles from Earth. Jupiter eats up 11.86 earth years to orbit the Sun one time. Its axial tilt however is only about 3 degrees so therefore no seasons occur. Sixty-seven moons orbit Jupiter. On the brightness scale, Saturn is brighter even though it is physically much farther away from Earth. Jupiter is closer but appears to reflect less light.

Now that the Earth’s winter season has officially begun, us earthlings can envision other planets in the solar system. But what counts is how we adapt to the natural cycles of earth. Let 2021 begin on good notes and fact based science findings.


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