September begins transition toward fall

Images by Garry Brandenburg — Stocking up on fat nutrient foods, this immature red-headed woodpecker likes suet and peanuts. As for today’s orioles, they may be of the same species but are hesitant to share grape jelly at this feeding station. A spike in heavy feeding activity is normal for birds who want to pack on fat layers for an upcoming migration and/or a long winter that is also only a few months into the future. September is a big month for many species of birds to gather and begin migration treks to southern wintering sites.

SEPTEMBER is here, ready or not. So adapt as we must for the time is right for our normal northern hemisphere transition into the fall season. Birds are just one indicator of seasonal changes. Many species of avian wildlife are busy with the business of preparations needed to move onto warmer locations. Destinations could be the southern United States, Central America or even South America. No matter where they will spend the winter, it is an ages old phenomenon to go where it is warmer, where foods can be found easily, and where winter cold and snow will not impair survival.

You may have noticed that this summer Baltimore Oriole birds were present but seemed to be shunning bird feeding stations. The principle reason was dietary preferences. While in the nest incubating young orioles, the main foods were insects such as beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, moths and flies. These protein rich foods are better for young birds who are growing quickly. While fruits and nectar are high on the list, diet preferences change this month to fewer insects and more, if they can find them, any dark red colored berries like raspberries, mulberries, cherries, crab apples,, trumpet vines or oranges. Now orioles are stocking up on fat rich foods in preparation for a long flight southward.

By the way, the reason Baltimore Orioles have the name they do is because those colors reminded people of similar looking birds in the Old World, even though the two groups are not closely related. Red, Yellow and Black are the same colors as the heraldic crest of England’s Baltimore family. And the name Baltimore was also given to Maryland’s largest city.

This fall, after deciduous trees drop their colorful leaves, it will be possible to find Oriole nests high into tree forked branches. These hanging baskets of woven grasses, fibers, and stringy plant material do the job of creating a gourd-like structure. It is a unique nest shape for this neotropical summer visitor that we enjoy.

A RED-HEADED WOODPECKER, with a black head, simply means it is a young of the year bird, not yet having grown its red head feathers. Those red plumage’s will soon transition with time as the bird grows. Summer is short for birds. From hatching to first flight, and then growing stronger and more self confident in its own abilities to find foods, birds need to make a lot of adaptations before winter settles upon them. Mother Nature has it all figured out. Many make it to one year of life, many do not. However, in the grand scheme of things, enough young of the year do survive their first year, come back next summer to begin families of their own, and perpetuate the species. For us humans, these birds add color and enjoyment to our lives as we admire them through binoculars.

HUNTING SEASONS will begin this month. Cottontail rabbit and squirrel season begin Sept. 4. Dove season opened Sept. 1. Youth deer season, and disabled hunters, can set out into forest areas to wait and watch for white-tailed deer on Sept. 18 through Oct. 3.

Urban archery deer seasons begin in many Iowa cities on Sept. 18 and run continuously through Jan. 10. Urban deer hunts are designed to put extra pressure on doe deer in an attempt to control over-population of this animal within city limits. It is a successful program that has been going on for nearly 30 years in some communities. Marshalltown’s urban deer archery only hunts began in 2009. The local Park and Recreation department is the office to contact for archers already knowledgeable about these hunts, or for new recruits who desire to learn the steps needed to qualify for an urban hunt permit.

Ducks, specifically blue-winged and green-winged teal, had a season opener on Sept.1 that goes through Sept. 16. Snipe and rail season began Sept. 4 with snipe ending on Nov. 30 and rail ending Nov. 12. In special areas around Des Moines, Cedar Rapids/Iowa City and Cedar Falls/Waterloo, an early season began Sept. 4 and runs through Sept. 13. See the DNR regulations booklet for specific hunt zones.

Pheasant route count numbers are in and tabulated. Overall the prediction of similar numbers to last year is correct, with some areas a tad higher and other areas a bit lower in route counts. Three of the nine regions of Iowa had route counts in the northwest, north-central and west central above 30 birds per route. Other areas were at their averages of about 20. Pheasant season begins Oct. 30 so that is almost two months away. As crop harvests begin, visibility of pheasants will increase. A prediction about pheasants stands true that if the previous winter had less than 20 inches of snow, no ice storms, and followed by a warm and relatively dry spring, survival of hen pheasants improves. Deep snows and prolonged cold and ice storms followed by a wetter than normal spring will decrease hen survival. A full report of upland game can be found at www.iowadnr.gov/pheasantsurvey.

An axiom of biology needs to be restated: One cannot stockpile wildlife. They are not like inanimate objects that can be manufactured or built and put into warehouses for a rainy day. Living organisms of all kinds live and die, cycle through life’s stages and are subject to all types of environmental conditions both beneficial and harmful. Survival is usually the case but not guaranteed. Wildlife management is a science whereby populations are monitored, habitats are controlled, and therefore a certain percentage of game animals can be taken via regulated hunting without any danger to the breeding population. Science has proven this axiom to be true. Emotional appeals are not science based and far from practical in application. Credibility rates are very high for those science trained biologists who know their stuff. Credibility is very low for some who think they know what they don’t know who get an opinion by examining biased sources. Truth matters. Facts matter.

Other SEPTEMBER HAPPENINGS to be aware of include the inevitable shortening of day lengths. We started on Sept. 1st with a day that was 13 hours and 9 minutes long. On September 30th the day will have shrunk to 11 hours and 49 minutes. Average air temperatures will start at 75 and get to average lows of 50, plus or minus. We can expect about 3.7 inches of rain this month. And for your historic almanac of things that did happen in our past, the year 1881 saw 6 inches of snow in eastern Iowa on Sept. 18. In 1953, on Sept. 28, is the latest date for records of a day with 100 degree air. If that is not enough, try this: earthquakes were felt in Iowa, from other nearby states, in the year 1909 and again in 2016.

Migrations will ramp up for many birds this month. Mid month will be a peak time for broad-winged hawks. Other raptors such as bald eagles, golden eagles, falcons, other hawks and vultures will fly the airways and the Iowa River valley as they work their way south. Birds of prey are not the only ones moving. Shore birds like greater yellow-legs, and common terns may be seen. Check out Sand Lake, Green Castle, Hendrickson Marsh and other water sources for stopovers by feathered critters. Swallows of all kinds will be gathering into larger flocks. The list goes on and on. Looking for these travelers will be a good excuse to get outside this month, and this fall.

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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