SPRING BEAUTY wildflowers are nice to look at. And if insects know anything at all about survival for their species, it is apparent that lots of six legged critters know what tastes good. In the meantime, the insects are helping spread pollen from plant to plant, insuring next years green carpet of woodland wildflowers.
Anyone interested at all in Iowa forests needs to get outside right now, this weekend, to enjoy the sunshine, warmer air temperatures and to marvel at the natural wildflowers on the forest floor. Pick a path less traveled. Enjoy the beauty for what it is, a gift for the senses of sight and smell. Adding to the opportunity of a wildflower walk is the possibility in a few weeks of finding morel mushrooms to take home.
Spring Beauty has tubers under the ground that can be eaten for food. Our pioneer forefathers tried and found it only a bit better than going hungry. The starchy bulbs can be eaten raw or boiled as a potato substitute. The flavor is bland. In other parts of the USA, grizzly bear country for example, the tubers are sought after by the big bruin. Above ground, moose, elk, and deer will eat the foliage.
T-R PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG
A natural arrangement of woodland wildflowers, these Spring Beauty flowers attest to the fact the spring is here. Good. Sunshine and warm weather are much needed after a long rainy spell. Now is the time for woodland wildflowers of all kinds to offer a carpet of green and a variety of colorful blossoms to greet our eye. Spring Beauty's scientific name is Claytonia virginica, in honor of early American botanist and physician, John Clayton.
As a spring turkey hunter, this scribe has spent a good number of days trying to get a turkey to cooperate. Score so far: Garry zero, turkeys have all the points. But that is OK. I'll allow a turkey with a brain the size of a pea to outsmart me with its superb hearing and excellent eyesight. A human big brain does not necessarily give us bipedal critters survival skills of the same caliber as the turkey.
However, turkeys do make mistakes. If the camouflage hunter is in the right place at the right time and lucky, its next trip will be out of the forest on the back of the hunter. A big gobbler may just be too engrossed with a set of decoys to know what is about to happen. Iowans this spring have taken about 6,000 wild turkeys home to the cooking pot. About 20 big toms have found a Marshall County hunter carrying them out of the woods as he or she walked over a bed of wild Spring Beauty wildflowers.
All morel mushroom hunters will be trying to return to their 'Honey Hole' secret spots where previous forays into the forest have been successful. Mother Nature needs to warm up the air and the soil a lot more before things can happen. It takes more than a few days of 60 degree temps during the day and lows in the high 40s to get the mycelium stores under ground to pop up above ground. Here is another clue of when to go mushrooming. Go when apple trees are starting to bloom or when May Apple wildflower leaves look like miniature umbrellas.
Locally, the IOWA RIVER crested about noon last Wednesday at 15.6 feet representing a rise of about 5 1/2 feet from 'normal' flow rates. The recent batch of rain showers did replenish soil moisture but also caused just enough runoff to peak the river. Therefore, fishing on the river is going to be iffy for the time being.
While fishing in the river will take some time off, fishing next weekend will be heating up big time. At one minute after midnight, specifically at 0001on May 7, Iowa great lakes WALLEYE SEASON opens. This will be the 135th season in Iowa's history. East and West Okoboji and Spirit Lake will host thousands of anglers from Iowa and all the surrounding states. In the water will be two dominant year classes of walleye fish. One is from 2001 with average lengths of 21 to 24 inches. The 2007 hatch is generally in the 14 to 17 inch length range.
A slot length of 17 to 22 inches is in force. Walleye in this category must be returned to the water. It took a lot of research and time to determine what factors will work for the long term benefit of the fishery. If the regulation proves to be the best long-term solution of a sustainable walleye fishery, it will stay in place. Lots of factors impact walleye including watershed conditions, perch population dynamics and efforts to keep invasive species out of great lake waters.
Walleye are now done with spawning runs. They have provided millions of walleye fry for future stocking programs in Iowa in addition to natural reproduction in Iowa's great lakes. Now the big fish will seek out foods to recharge their systems. Minnows, leeches and night crawlers will work as bait on many a finely tuned jig or Lindy rig of sport fishermen and women.
A friend greeted me at my bird feeder this week. It was a Harris's Sparrow. This species is on its way to the Churchill area of Manitoba where it nests along the boreal forests and tundra edges. Iowa just happens to be in between its wintering grounds and summer home. Harris's sparrows are big and have a black top cap, face and bib. Its bill is yellow. The size of its black bib tells its rank within populations. The more black it has, the better it is at holding and keeping food sources for itself. Harris's sparrows are the only bird species that breeds in Canada and nowhere else in the world. Its Canada summer ground nest will consist of an open cup of mosses, small twigs and lichens lined with dried grass and caribou hair.
A major tenet of the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation is that all wildlife has value whether we understand it or not. Intelligent tinkering means saving all the pieces. A commitment to conservation of game and non-game species is admirable even when the costs to do so can be a bit vague. Hunters and anglers have proven over many decades that they are motivated to support all kinds of programs for wildlife. It may start with self-interests for big game of fish that they wish to have in abundance. There is another factor too, namely that hunter and fishermen posses a keen understanding of the basic interconnectedness of wild things in wild places. It is those folks that have done the lions share of monetary support to insure all wildlife has a place to call home. In the next 50 years, long term solutions to wildlife and conservation issues will have to include a broader range of people. Will you be one of them?
"One must wait until evening to see how splendid the day was." Will Rogers.
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.