ALASKA fishing fun for the family of the Armstrongs and Browns was a top priority this summer. While the U.S. Army had stationed Jacob Brown in Alaska, that did not keep the military from assigning Brown to a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He went, he served, he returned. We thank you Major Jacob Brown for a job well done. Meanwhile back at their home, Tammy had to hold down the household with her two children Noah and McKenzie. In addition to enduring the time away from her husband, last winter's weather in Alaska was abnormally cold and wet, or wet and cold, take your pick.
A celebratory family visit and fishing trip was planned and executed for the Armstrongs and the Brown family after Major Brown's return home. The Armstrongs bought commercial tickets and flew up to meet everyone. Then it was off to a charter boat that works the gulf waters of Cook Inlet, Alaska. As the photo attests, they caught 18 halibut ranging is size from 30 pounds to 115 pounds. Noah, age 5, hooked several 30 to 40 pound fish. He had so much fun the skipper invited him back for a second day of hook, line and sinker. But the real hook was for Noah, he is hooked on fishing in the best way possible for a 5-year-old boy. Way to go. As for the 115 pound halibut, it was caught by Tammy. That is nice too.
The Brown family is now stationed at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., a long, long way from the great fishing waters of Alaska. But their memories of Alaska and Alaska fishing will live on forever. The question of when they will return to Alaska to fish is not a question of if, but only a question of when.
Marshalltown connections to Alaska helped bring these Halibut from Cook Inlet to the boat. The occasion for the fishing excursion was the safe return of Army Major Jacob Brown from a year long deployment to Afghanistan. Major Brown in married to Tammy, daughter of Marshalltown residents Steve and Shelia Armstrong. Grandchildren Noah, age 5, and granddaughter Mckenzie, age 4, are shown with Steve in today’s photo.
Another CELEBRATION took place in mid-August. It was the 75th Anniversary of The Wildlife & Sport Fish Restoration Program. This long term plan has funded acquisition, construction, restoration, research, surveys, stocking, and many other activities in Iowa from the federal excise taxes paid on hunting and fishing equipment, bait and ammunition. The list is long but includes such things as wildlife or fish research, population surveys, expanding public land, installing boat ramps and many more.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed a proclamation on Aug. 16 officially recognizing the role of hunters, anglers, recreational shooters, boaters and allied industries in supporting the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. "This is probably one of the most important pieces of legislation dedicating funds for conservation all across the United States," said Chuck Corell, Iowa DNR administrator for wildlife, fisheries, parks, forests and law enforcement bureaus. The proclamation states in part, "The cooperative partnership has resulted in the most successful model of fish and wildlife management in the world, restoring populations throughout the country."
Another CELEBRATION took place last weekend when a bird rarely seen in central Iowa was observed at Otter Creek Marsh, the 3,500 plus acre wildlife area east of Tama. Birders that were in Marshalltown to attend the annual meeting of the Iowa Ornithological Union observe the black and white hawk with a deeply forked tail. It's name is Swallow-tailed Kite. Only three or so past documentations of this bird in Iowa have ever been made perviously. Now we have a new confirmation that has also been re-verified this week. The new report has inspired others who made trips to the Marsh to try and find the Kite. They did.For some birders, this is an addition to their on-going life list records.
The Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) is a very distinct raptor with black and white color patterns to its plumage. A deeply forked tail is also unmistakable. As a medium-sized hawk, it rarely flaps its wings as it circles in the sky. It feeds in the air by catching insects. It will also buzz tree tops to pick off insects or small reptiles. And it drinks water by flying low over the surface to drop its lower bill to scoop up the precious liquid. It prefers habitats that are forested, often bottomlands or riverine forests or open pine woodlands. But if one looks at the range map of a good quality birding book, the range is normally restricted to Louisiana, and the southern parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and all of Florida. Iowa is a long way form those states.
PHEASANT roadside count data has been submitted and compiled into an 11 page summary. Its findings are modestly optimistic considering the weather conditions that were not exactly the best this year. Only 75 percent of the 215 standardized routes, each 30 miles long, were conducted with heavy dew conditions at sunrise. But be that as it may, the work had to get done within the prescribed time frame.
Given that Iowa pheasants began 2012 at a low point due to the previous five winters of lots of cold weather and deep snows, we could only hope for a break. That pattern may have broken for 2012 when the winter just past was mild and with less snow. That was followed by a warm and relatively dry spring, just what upland wild game needs. If averaged statewide, the count went from 6.8 birds per route in 2011 to 7.9 birds per route in 2012. Biologists can only hope for 3 more years of mild winter temperatures and moderate snowfalls. Central Iowa counts, a 12 county area, went from 11.6 sightings per route to 13.0. Some progress is better than none.
Two major factors determine the abundance and distribution of upland game in Iowa - weather and habitat. Iowa pheasant numbers increase with mild winters and warm, dry springs. They decline with snowy winters and cold,wet springs. Iowa experienced five consecutive severe winters with 30 or more inches of snow from 2006 to 2010-11. During the 50 year history of using those 30 mile standardized roadside counts sites, there had never been any previous five year consecutive winters of the type we experienced in '06 to '11.
Conservation Reserve Program acres continue to slide downhill. In 1990 there were 1,951,061 acres of grasslands enrolled in Iowa. By 2010, that had slipped to 1,672,601 acres. This equivalent to 2,615 square miles of grassland habitat disappearing. Another way to visualize this is to take a 9 mile wide swath of land from Davenport to Council Bluffs and make it disappear! USDA data shows the potential for additional CRP land losses due to contract expirations by 2013 of another 188,290 acres. With habitat shrinking, sportsmen can only hope for mild and less snowy winters. What we wish for and what Mother Nature gives us is yet to be determined. What we can count on is this truth: There is no average year in terms of rainfall, snow, warmth or cold. Every year is different. We must adjust as best we can. If given substantial habitat, pheasants will try their best to adjust.
The IOWA RIVER is poking along at a measly rate of 49 cubic feet per second. Its stage is presently at 9.16 feet, a relative number only to the gauging equipment located at Highway 14 at the north edge of Marshalltown. Actual water depth under the Highway 14 bridge averages about 12 inches.
"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...'" -Isaac Asimov.
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.