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Official greetings for the New Year

January 4, 2010
By Garry Brandenburg

Welcome 2010. Just think, in a mere 525,600 minutes, it will be 2011. Minutes are precious and this scribe does not want to waste any of those time elements. There are just too many fascinating things to see and do outdoors and/or related to the outdoors. All are enjoyable, satisfying and worthy of our constant vigilance in the quest for understanding. The more scientists and average citizens learn about all wildlife the better. Fox sparrows may not be large and charismatic such as trumpeter swans, but they serve well and fill an ecological role in nature's web of life.

Fox Sparrows pass through Iowa on their migration to southern United States wintering grounds. Their summer home is located in the scrubby boreal forests and chaparral of all the Rocky Mountain States. This area also includes all of northern Canada and Alaska.

Four similar coloration patterns are possible in this ground foraging bird. Scientists are of the opinion that it is in the process of differentiation, to become separate and distinct species. Fox Sparrows have had as many as 18 subspecies labels in the past. Geographically and morphologically, all the subspecies fall into three groups, a position supported by DNA analyses. Even the songs of the three bird groups differ. It is possible in the near future to see three names in bird books: The Red Fox Sparrow, the Sooty Fox Sparrow and lastly, the Slate-colored Fox Sparrow. A possible fourth category is being looked at. Its name would be Large-billed Fox Sparrow.

Article Photos

A Fox Sparrow, Passerella iliaca, enjoys sunflower seeds at this author's feeder, and is a nice addition to my wildlife list for the New Year. Treats come in all sizes and this little bird is definitely a bonus. It's foxy reddish back, wings and top of tail are distinguishing characteristics. The fox sparrow is also quite a bit larger than its house sparrow cousins. At a feeder, it uses a double backward scratch to uncover seeds or other foods.

If you see one of this rusty reddish sparrow like birds, take a good long look. Enjoy the minutes it gives you. Those are free minutes during this New Year, a pleasurable time for nature's wonders to be offered.


What has the best eyes, nose and ears of any wild critter on Iowa's landscape? Answer ... the coyote. This wild canine is pursued, hunted, chased by dogs, pulled into range by hunters using calls imitating injured rabbits, or just plain shot at whenever it is seen. Coyotes seem to handle it all in stride. Every time they have a close encounter with a human, they learn from it and become extremely crafty. They are true survivors.

Coyotes are very common throughout the United States. They have learned how to be big city dwellers in places like Los Angeles, CA to Central Park in New York City and everything in between. Iowa's snowy landscape makes it harder for the coyote to go un-noticed. Hunters specializing in calling coyotes like to set up in an area overlooking a wide expanse of land and then with rabbit call in hand, give a blast of 'injured rabbit' into the seemingly vacant land to see what happens. If there is a coyote in the area, the chances of it hearing the call are very good. Whether it comes to the call or not is another question. If it does, the action picks up in intensity very quickly.

Winter time is prime time for the pelts of coyotes. The fur is thick and prime, part of its natural insulation to retain body heat. Brush piles are favorite spots to dig under to create a safe get-away from cold winter winds. The site may also be the springtime home to new litters of coyote pups. But for the moment, coyotes are in survival mode, working hard for any food they can find, catch and eat.

The Conservation Center at the GrimesFarm has several coyote pelts and a mounted coyote inside the prairie-land diorama. For many people, this is the only time they will see this medium sized canine, as part of an educational display. Seeing a coyote in the wild is very likely to be a chance encounter to both man and beast. You can bet that the coyote will be using its legs in overdrive to escape from the human. You have to give them credit, coyotes know how to endure.


WINTERFEST 2010 will be next Saturday at the Marshall County Conservation Board's Green Castle Recreation Area, one mile south of Ferguson. Activities begin at 1 pm and go until 4 pm. Ice fishing hands-on demonstrations will be offered. Sliding on the hills on toboggans or tubes will be lots of fun. Cross-country skis can be used to skim across the land. Snowshoes will help one walk on top of the snow. A sled dog demonstration will start the afternoon activities at 1 pm. There is no sign up: just bundle up, bring your skates and sleds, and come to Green Castle next Saturday afternoon.


Note on your 2010 calendar these dates: Yes, it's early but getting them on the docket now will help schedule your winter-time focus. Tuesday, January 19 from 11:30 1:00 the BROWN BAG BUNCH will meet at the GrimesFarm for a program on Utah! with Ed Siems. Thursday, January 21 at 7:00 p.m. is a MAGNIFICANT MONARCH JOURNEY program at the GrimesFarm & Conservation Center. Photo entries for the MCCB PHOTO CONTEST are due by noon February 5. February 18th is the Photo Contest chili supper and announcement of winning photos. February 20 from 9:30 11:00 a.m. is the Woodworking for Wildlife workshop at GrimesFarm & Conservation Center. February 20th is the date for Whitetails Unlimited's banquet at KC Hall in Marshalltown. February 23rd at 7pm is deer antler scoring at the GrimesFarm. The following week, Feb 27th, is the Iowa River Chapter of Ducks Unlimited membership banquet in Marshalltown. The first weekend of March is the annual DEER CLASSIC in Des Moines. That same weekend is the Spring Banquet for Iowa Bowhunters Association. There will be no cabin fever for any outdoors oriented person that month. Check them out.


"Starry Nights" is the theme for the Wednesday, January 6, Story Hour for Preschoolers at the GrimesFarm & Conservation Center from 10 11 a.m.

"Ice is Nice" will have participants in grades 1 5 and their family members making snowflakes and icicles that don't melt at the UNCLE IKES NATURE PROGRAM on Saturday, January 9 from 9 11 a.m. at the GrimesFarm.


You may have heard of the expression that "time is money." But what about the flip side to this coin?

How about money costs too much time? Just consider this: No amount of money can buy back a missed day of fishing, a day not spent with a grandson or granddaughter, a good friend or a day you didn't go hunting with a best buddy. Being outdoors is about being free for a few hours from the rat race we call work. Money cannot buy back one second of the time it took to earn it. These are comments by author Paul Quinnett in his book Fishing Lessons. Re-reading Quinnett's book on a cold winter day is one way to create quality time concerning the fishing season to come.


I'll close with this review of time, solar time that is. Our sunsets are now eleven minutes later than they were during the ten days of Dec 4th to the 14th. Does that make you feel warm? Throw another log on the fireplace and pull the wool blanket up close around your neck. A long winter is still ahead of us.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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