Waterfowl wonders: many species are on the move

PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG Waterfowl are on the move, migrating northward, a predictable happening that is just one of many guaranteed signs of the Spring season getting closer. In today's image made at Hendrickson Marsh, the wetland area in southeast Story County/southwest Marshall County, a wide variety of waterfowl were observed recently, resting and feeding. The next day these birds will likely have taken to the airways only to be replaced by a new group of ducks and geese a few days later. The mix of waterfowl constantly changes. If you or other wildlife enthusiasts care to venture to Hendrickson, do have a good bird book, and binoculars, to study all the various bird types one is likely to see. On this occasion, Common mergansers, mallards, scaup, widgeon, canvasback and red head ducks were seen. There were probably other species observed but not identified. They are all waterfowl wonders.

Waterfowl wonders, as exhibited in the annual tradition of bird migration, will be on the high end of the observers scale for the next two months. One has to keep your eyes on the sky and your ears open to the sounds of high flying waterbirds at this time of year.

It is a fun activity that all folks of any age can take part in. To make this recipe happen, add these ingredients: spring like weather, a good wetland habitat with open water, a curiosity about natural history, new bird arrivals, a bird identification field guide book, binoculars, and checklist. Stir frequently with anticipation. Add good friends who also like to observe birds, and who may have a strong magnifying spotting scope.

Add snacks and water to drink while carefully consulting the guide book for specific details of coloration and feather patterns of each species of birds. Add enjoyment to these outdoor excursions to make the day special. That is it.

I might add another reason to go birding or waterfowl watching. The cost of admission is free to Mother Nature’s theater.

What is also free is your time. What is not “free” are the tools you might use, onetime investments that will pay dividends long into the future. There is a cost for bird identification field guides, binoculars, spotting scopes, a vehicle and the gas to travel to favorite natural area birding sites.

Will these costs be worth it? Yes, definitely.


At Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri, during this week, an estimated 1.1 million snow geese were using the shallow water wetlands to rest and frequent short forays into adjacent crop fields to find food. I have mentioned this awe inspiring place to visit in previous editions of Outdoors Today.

I keep returning to this magnetic place as a place of inspiration of how nature operates, and the fact that technological advances have advanced observers’ abilities to count extremely large groups of geese is also a thing to marvel at. It is always a challenge to count large flocks of waterfowl, whether on the water in large groups, or while in the air landing or taking off.

Enter the use of satellites. SkySat images can be obtained that help obtain counts with a higher degree of accuracy.

How do refuge personnel with a long history of trying to be accurate in waterfowl counting do this? One method involves known densities on a particular site, then estimating how many of those “units” are within the entire area.

Using satellite images, which are straight down looking views, the same technique can be applied to estimate birds per acre, and extrapolate into the total acres covered by waterfowl. Since snow geese numbers are usually in huge flocks, the white bodied birds are conspicuous against darker blue water lakes.

In the long run, estimates of 1.1 million show geese on a particular day are pretty close to correct. All will change up or down as the days progress. Snow geese migrate and arrive at Loess Bluffs NWR between mid February and mid March for the highest concentrations, and snow geese flocks may migrate during the day or at night.

While small song birds migrate primarily at night, birds of prey operate during the daytime hours. Large scale weather patterns with good south winds help the geese move long distances for the energy they must expend.

Snow geese may stay in one area for one day, or maybe up to one week. This is highly variable from place to place and year to year. There is never a guarantee of how long the snow geese bonanza will persist.

Snow goose habitats have adapted to new wintering areas, rice field stubble for instance, in addition to coastal wetlands. Overwintering areas may be far inland now where corn or other grains dominate.

As food source types may be expanded and utilized, snow goose populations have increased by a large amount. This has led to expansion of special hunting opportunities under regulations called the Light Goose Conservation Order.

It was an attempt to hold down the overpopulation of snow geese. It may have made a dent, but for the most part snow geese have bred beyond projections and as a result, continue to degrade their tundra summer nesting habitats inflicting long term damage to slow growing tundra plant life.


Nature is full of wonders. Even for the well known physicist Albert Einstein, who dealt with complex theories and computations about solar phenomena, he stated “We still do not know 1,000th of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.”

That is an amazing observation coming from a man who was considered highly intelligent, on average way above what us blue collar working folk know from our formal educational backgrounds. New things are revealed all the time as scientists and explorers find and document new species.

The “new” species of plant or animal life are not really new, as in some kind of new invention. They have been around for eons of time. What is new is that someone somewhere was exploring carefully and observed or found evidence of living things that are new to science.

So more investigations will take place in attempts to learn more. That drive to learn more is a natural curiosity innate in many people. That can be the fun part and the good part of natural

discoveries all over the globe.

However, what really made me angry recently was the tone and underlying false premises of an announcement of a new discovery of an animal not previously known to science. The good news is that this animal exists in real life.

What scientists know about it is on the very low end of the spectrum at this time. What can be inferred about the new critter can be speculated by initial comparisons to long known similar species, if they exist.

Good science investigations can now take place to find facts to share with the world. The bad part was the news release and its claims.

What was absolutely ridiculous about this news release was that climate change was having a negative impact on its survival. With zero evidence, with zero data, and no way of placing into proper perspective how this animal could exist at all in our modern world where we humans may think we know it all, the news release script writers followed the politically correct narrative of blaming climate change as the reason this animal was struggling to survive.

The news release tried to emphasize why average everyday people should be very concerned about this “new” animal. I find this an outlandish claim! It used sensationalized headlines to misinform, to try and keep a false ideology front and center, without any regard to what true science investigations can and should be allowed time to evaluate.

Scare headlines abound on all kinds of topics, just to try to keep a lot of people upset and disturbed, and thus under the thumb and control of politicians. And while the political types talk and gesture with one hand, their other hand is silently and stealthily picking your pocket, stealing your hard earned cash to waste on ideological fantasies or other utopian false dreams of how to “save the Earth.”

There is a common man name for this delusional elitist mind game, and it comes out of the south end of a horse facing north. You may click like if you like it.

Science done correctly is the investigation into the whys and hows of how nature works. Let the search for truth be the ultimate end result.

Facts matter.


On a more somber and serious note, and one every high school senior or already enrolled full time college student in a natural resource science curriculum should be aware of, is a scholarship opportunity through the local chapter of the Izaak Walton League.

The Ikes were given a large endowment many decades ago. The interest on this account can only be used for advanced education opportunities for young people continuing their formal education into areas of study involving environmental science/engineering/education, natural resource management, forestry, wildlife, fisheries, parks and recreation, range management or other natural and earth sciences.

An application is now in the hands of every local and surrounding school district counselor or career advisor. This application is for those students seriously considering a natural resource line of work as their future.

The award of a scholarship is on a competitive basis, which may or not be given, depending upon how the student answers and can convince the Ikes board of directors of how they qualify. If awarded, the scholarship comes with a $3,500 credit toward the tuition account of that student at the college or university where they will be enrolled full time.

So a word to the wise and to the students, to the parents or grandparents who know of a student inclined toward a conservation related field of work for their lifetime, obtain a copy of the Izaak Walton League scholarship application.

The due date is on or before March 31, 2024. Thank you for your attention to this opportunity.


“Life is meant for good friends and great adventures.” — Anonymous


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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