Big birds start off a big new year

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — As we humanoids begin a new calendar year 2022, wildlife just calls it another day in their life of trying to survive. Bald eagles were observed and captured by a long lens camera on Dec. 23. They were standing in shallow water over river ice, and the snowy owl was photographed on Dec. 24 near the Rhodes turnoff from Highway 330, a tad south of Melbourne. These big birds are the subject of how our 2022 year begins.

Happy new year to all the readers of this column. We begin a journey today for another chapter involving outdoor adventures of all kinds, of wildlife sightings and sharings of all kinds, and general observations of all things natural history related that I hope to bring to your attention. As we contemplate together the wonders of our natural environment, let us keep a critical eye and ear tuned to fact based information, to truth as it is, and make judgments and actions based on those truths and facts. If you want my New Year’s resolution in a nutshell, that is it. Truth matters.

Welcome to January 2022. What can we expect in this typically cold winter month in the Midwest at 42.41 North, 92.33 West? These coordinates are our general location on the surface of Earth, northern hemisphere. Us Iowans know that winter weather is highly variable, still cold overall, but with its ups and downs of snow, wind, sunny days, cloudy days, and all the above possibly mixed into just one day.

For our snow bird friends that are basking in warmth in Florida, Texas or Arizona, we welcome you all to come visit us soon. I have a snow shovel that fits your hands, and I may need help shoveling the white stuff off driveways and sidewalks. I know, your comment is, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I have to shovel sand off my beach towel in southern Florida.” Sympathy for snow bound Iowans is not their top priority.

Okay, enough of that. January is a time when in just a few more days, many hunting seasons begin to close. Regular deer season ends Jan. 10, and as of midweek when this story was being written, Iowa hunters have taken 91,264 deer. Compared to last year at this time, that number is about six percent below from the data of a year ago.

There are special late January deer seasons, however, in select counties that have a large remaining number of license quotas remaining. Those counties are Allamakee, Appanoose, Decatur, Wayne and Winneshiek. Special deer antlerless only hunting may continue in these five counties from Jan. 11-23.

Other hunting seasons end on Jan. 10, specifically late muzzleloader, archery and archery fall turkey. Pheasant season also ends Jan. 10. On Jan. 31, seasons close for quail, partridge, ruffed grouse and squirrel. Beaver trapping season remains open while other fur bearing critters draw to a close. Canada geese, and white-fronted goose seasons have a staged closing depending upon location in northern, central or southern Iowa. Do check out the DNR rules and regulations booklet for details.

Hunting and fishing licenses expire on Jan. 10. Be sure to buy a new 2022 license anytime at a favorite store outlet. Our cold weather is allowing lake ice to thicken, but it takes a long cold snap to really allow the ice to become strong enough for ice fishing. Always be cautious if walking on lake ice if this is one of your outdoor adventures planned for this winter.

The average January temperature in Iowa is about 30 for a high and 15 for the low. The lowest air temperature was 47 below in Washta in 1912. The warmest January day was 73 degrees in Keokuk in 1950.

And finally, on Jan. 3, our Earth’s position regarding its orbit around the sun will be at its closest, a mere 91,403,554 miles.

In addition to big birds like eagles and owls, snow covered fields and forest edges will allow wild turkeys to be more easily observed. Look for them along any waterway, river, creek, or even open harvested crop fields. Other large birds include the obvious plethora of Canada Geese. They will stay locally if the snow cover is light enough so they can fly out to feeding areas to find food. If the snow cover becomes too thick, they will go south to wherever the snow line quits and stay there to feed. If the snow line retreats due a spell of warm winter weather, many of those geese will follow the retreating snow line.

Because Iowa sightings of snowy owls have seen an uptick in reports, and this is only early January, we can expect more snowy owl appearances. When I got the call that a snowy owl was near Melbourne, I made a quick foray to find it.

It was right where the report said it would be, perched on the top of a power pole seemingly unconcerned with vehicle traffic along Highway 330. That was okay with me. A long lens helped immensely to bring the image within closer range. I feel fortunate indeed to be able to bring this image to the pages of the T-R for all viewers to enjoy.

Measuring deer antler requests are starting to filter in to me. Some hunters during this past season have been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to take a fine trophy white-tailed deer. Such was the case last Oct. 23 for a hunter who traveled to southern Iowa. He arrowed a very nice basic five by five buck that had lots of mass and length to its antlers. So, arrangements were made to measure this deer’s antlers after the mandatory 60-day drying time. On Dec. 28, this hunter brought his antlers for official calculations and final score.

The gross score, a tally of the primary criteria of main beam lengths, inside spread and beam lengths was 172 … . As in any antlered deer species, no two sides are ever perfect reflections of each other. Differences are taken into account on the Pope and Young Club’s scoring sheet. Deductions for point length differences and subtraction of a few non-typical sticker points brought the final net score to 154 … . Both numbers will eventually show up in official record book entries.

This antler set had eleven points on its left side, of which nine were measurable. Its right side had eight points, of which seven were measurable. The difference between measurable and non-measurable is well defined by both the Boone and Crockett Club and Pope and Young Club policy statements. To be measurable, a point must be at least one inch long and at least one inch below the tip, and its diameter must be less than one inch.

Technicality aside, this policy is a fair way of helping to come to a final net score that has meaning when this antler set is compared to every other white-tail deer in the history books of each organization. P&Y records for white-tailed deer have over 62,000 entries, and their minimum score is 125. The Boone and Crockett Club minimum is 160.

The Iowa Deer Classic Show is coming up Mar. 4-6 in Des Moines at the Iowa Events Center. This is a fantastic show with many excellent vendors for outdoor adventures for the public to see, and there will be a new crop of Iowa trophy deer antlers on display in the Big Buck Contest.

This contest never disappoints. The variety of how Mother Nature grew antlers of all different shapes and sizes will be there to observe and compare. Hunters wishing to get a white-tail scored can wait for the Iowa Deer Classic. By entering the Big Buck Contest, the hunter also gets a three day pass into the show.

Gray foxes live in Iowa. Not many, however, based on very infrequent sightings, and very few taken as a result of legitimate trap lines by furtakers. Still, a few gray fox reports trickle into Iowa DNR biologists. Dave Hoffman and Vince Evelsizer are continually working on Iowa native fur bearing animals — how many, the where and when, and other data to help get a feel for the population dynamics of these furred creatures.

A study is currently being ramped up to learn more and find evidence for gray foxes. A series of trail cameras and other telemetry data is being evaluated for this fox species that is smaller than the red fox and obviously smaller than common coyotes. Gray fox coat colors are unique with a body pelage of gray guard hairs. Its tail has a black top stripe all the way to its tip. Chest colors are typical fox reddish brown fur with a white patch low on its chest. Since not a lot is known about this fox, even a roadkill carcass, if still in decent condition, may provide data for this research project.

Gray foxes were listed as a species of greatest conservation need in Iowa in 2015. This was based on a steady decline spanning 25 years. Similar trends have been reported in other Midwest states. One factor may be competition from coyotes, raccoons and bobcats. Raccoons are highly probable vectors for the spread of canine distemper disease, and it is known that gray foxes are highly susceptible to this disease. Obtaining facts on the interactions of wildlife, predation and disease will help in fact finding studies for gray foxes. Live sightings can be sent to vinse.evelsizer@dnr.iowa.gov., or call him at 641-231-1522.

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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