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Singing the sounds of spring

May 5, 2012
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

It is hard to not notice the small critters of our world. I'm talking about birds, that quick splash of color that just darted across the roadway. Or it could be the singing sounds of a bird high in a tree top but invisible to the human below at ground level. In either case, we know it is that time of the year for a big push of migrating birds. Going north is an unstoppable urge. For Iowans, some of these species will stay to nest. Others are just passing through on their way to places much further north. If they present themselves at local feeders, area wildlife areas or parks, all the better as we enjoy what a new spring season brings us.

I'm not a super serious birder, but this scribe is an avid wildlife enthusiast for all things of the natural world, whether it flies on wings, runs on the ground or swims in water. I like nature. It renews my spirit and helps keep me active in pursuits to see them, take pictures of them, or when appropriate fall seasons draw close, bring one home to eat.

Past visitors at my bird feeding station include catbirds, orioles, kingbird, brown thrasher, rose-breasted grosbeak and Harris's sparrow. The Harris sparrow is just one example of a bird passing through Iowa. It will continue north all the way to the high arctic lands of low boreal forests and tundra to nest. A Harris sparrow still has at least 1,500 more miles to fly before it is home for the summer. If you want to see and hear warblers, the place to be soon will be Grammer Grove, the Marshall County Conservation Board area southwest of Liscomb. This is a favorite haunt of one local serious birder Mark Proescholdt. If he hears the bird or sees the bird, you can take that observation to the bank.

Article Photos

T-R PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG 
Singing its heart out, a Dickcissel (Spiza americana) tells all of its species that all is well. This bird is bit larger than a sparrow, and is more commonly mistaken as a too small meadowlark. Male Dickcissels have black “V” on a yellow chest. It is a bird of the grasslands. This species is also well known for its sometimes erratic migration habits. It may turn up in unusual places one year and not the next. May is a big month for the return of many birds from South America or other tropical locations as they make their way north to summer breeding territories.

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I recently accompanied two friends on a short canoe trip on the Iowa River. We were fortunate that the water level in the river was low for this time of year, just right for canoeing. We launched off a sand bar near Le Grand and paddled downstream a bit to make another observation for wildlife. What I photographed from the north bank of the river was an bald eagle nest on the south bank. High in a cottonwood tree was the big branchy nest. Periodically I could see just the head of a young eaglet move about. Meanwhile, one of the parent eagles remained perched a dozen feet away on a branch near the nest. We discretely left the area after a bit of binocular observation time satisfied us that all is well in the eagle world.

The Decorah eagle camera web site is still getting literally thousands of viewers every day. Well, I'm one of them. The three young eagles are growing quickly. Pin feather patterns are easy to see. Soon more feather development will transform them into eagle-like looking birds. At that 'teenager' stage of a young eagle's life, too soon to fly away on its own and still 100 percent dependent on its parent, they eat a lot and sleep a lot. Typical teenageritis.

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When asked recently how nice it would be if a remote eagle watching camera could be installed locally, I decided to check it out with folks from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Web cameras are certainly neat additions to help learn more about bird behavior and biology. Across America many sites have installed cameras to watch all day and all night the happens at the nests of a variety of birds. Guess what? It takes money and lots of infrastructure to even begin to make it possible. The Lab representative told me that at a minimum, one is looking at $15,000 and lots of other associated equipment, computer time and volunteer time to make just one nest camera operational. Point being that it is impractical and monetarily prohibitive to do too many nest camera setups. We are fortunate that those web site nest cameras in operation are doing good work to allow people all over the world to see, from their computer desks, what real life in the natural world is all about. It does serve a purpose of raising the awareness level of the public of another one of nature's wonders.

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Dave Tierney, state conservation officer in western Iowa, forwarded me a photo of a recent wild turkey hunt. What made this one special was what was found after the 17 year old hunter, Ty Gidden, had the bird on the ground at the Warren/Lucas County hunting area. The big tom turkey weighed in at 24 pounds. But get this ... it had six, yes I said six, beards! The longest beard was 11 inches with the total length of all beards being 51 1/4 inches! The old tom's spur length on its legs were each 1.5 inches. According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, the final score of this Iowa turkey will put it in second place. Ty had to do a long belly crawl down a dry creek bed to get close enough to call and eventually make the shot that took this old tom to the family freezer.

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HUNTER SAFETY's first class of the year for Marshall County is coming up on May 17 and May 19. The local Izaak Walton League buildings and grounds is the host for hunter safety instruction. Sign up is via the internet at the DNR web site, www.iowadnr.gov/training. Find the class schedule sign up page for Marshall County and one will be good to go. The class is primarily for youth ages 12 or more, but older folks and parents are most welcome to attend and participate also. May 17 is the first segment from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 19 will cover all the remaining seven hours of topics beginning at 8 a.m. and lasting until the end of test at 4 p.m. All equipment is furnished and lunch is also furnished.

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The members of the IZAAK WALTON LEAGUE will host its annual barbecue this coming Wednesday at the Ikes grounds clubhouse. If you are a member, or want to become a member, consider this an invite to attend. Bring a burger, hotdogs, brats, steak or pork chop to grill. This a potluck supper so bring a desert or other side dish of food to share. Drinks will be furnished. Be there at 6 p.m. to put the food on the already hot grill. The program will be a report from Toni Proescholdt as the Piper/Marshall County Izaak Walton League Scholarship recipient. See you there.

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Registration is open now for NATURE FRIENDS and/or the UNCLE IKES DAY CAMP. Call Diane Hall at the Conservation Center, 752-5490, for details, to sign up and pay the fees. Enrollment in each is limited. Day Camp will be held June 5, 7, 12 and 14 at various county parks. The cost is $8 per child and is due on or before May 25. The Uncle Ike Day Camp is for kids grades first through fifth and will be conducted July 2 and 3 at the Izaak Walton League grounds. This session called "Close Encounters Underfoot" is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. This fee is $15 per child. Enjoy.

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Thought for the day: "I'm glad I shall never be young without wild places to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?" -Aldo Leopold.

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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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