BALD EAGLES are starting to show up along the Iowa River, or even in remote segments of the county. One never knows where this big raptor with its white head feathers and white tail will be seen. One family reported to this scribe of seeing 13 eagles on or near a road killed opossum. What a sight that had to have been. Fish are a common food source for eagles. However, they are quite content to take anything dead and put it on their menu. Open water in the Iowa River downstream from Marshalltown will allow eagles to hunt for fish. Three Bridges County Park is also a great place to observe eagles.
While we observe eagles, it is a sure bet that they see us also. In fact eagles see lots of things we don't because of their superb vision. The eagle's ability to see detail at long distances is extraordinary. It's eyesight is 4 to 8 times sharper than a human's. The eyes are fixed in their skeletal sockets, so eagles have to turn their whole head to look around. A bony extension of the skull above the eye socket creates a protective ridge line as additional protection for the eye.
Bald Eagles mature at age 4 to 5, marked by white head and tail feathers. Female eagles are about 30 percent larger than males. A large female may weigh 13 pounds. Wingspans are 6 to 8 feet. Nesting and egg laying take place in early spring with clutch sizes of two to three eggs common. Incubation takes 35 days. Eaglets need anywhere from 70 to 90 days to grow to the point of fledging, first flight. If lucky a wild bald eagle can live for 25 years.
An “Eagles of Iowa” poster is one promotion tool of the Iowa DNR’s Wildlife Diversity Program. One way average citizens have assisted the program is through a donation made via the Iowa tax form. It is known informally as the “Chickadee Check off.” Iowa has documented at least 300 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles throughout our borders. Overwintering eagles will temporarily raise the population to about 3,000 birds. Winter time eagles are sociable and tolerate each other. However, during nesting season they are very territorial, defending air space and lands and waters that they need to support themselves and a clutch of hatched eaglets.
During 2013, there were some serious investigations going on. In these cases, groups of volunteers and Iowa Wildlife Diversity staff went looking for neat wild things in the Hawkeye State. Teams of people checked out all four corners of the state and a host of interior counties in their search for critters not commonly seen or even known to exist here. The teams call themselves Multiple Species Inventory and Monitoring project volunteers.
In southwest Iowa's Riverton area, Loess Hills and Missouri River bottomlands they documented Plains Spadefoot Toad, Prairie Racerunner and Bullsnake. The Missouri River team found Blanding's Turtle, Bullsnake and and up close encounter with a Bobcat. Northwest regions of Iowa had those team members searching grasslands, marshes and riparian areas. Here they tallied Ermine, Clay-colored Sparrow and Vesper Bluet. The Big Marsh crew found these animals: Central Newt, Wood Turtle, Smooth Green Snake and Timber Rattlesnake. At the Dubuque area, Black Rat Snake, Smooth Green Snake and Meadow Jumping Mouse were documented. Central Iowa team members at Saylorville found Spangled Skimmer dragonflies, Smooth Earth Snake, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Yellow-bellied Racer. In southeast Iowa around Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge's water areas were Copper-belly Water Snake, Black-necked Stilt and Diamondback Water Snake.
The teams are looking forward to 2014 work. And they also say thank you to a host of 2013 helpers. Included in that list are Iowa landowners, county conservation boards, State Park staffers, Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, and Iowa DNR forestry and wildlife bureaus.
This weekend is the start of DEER SEASON for shotgun hunters. Even with severe cold weather and perhaps a skiff of new snow on the ground, whitetail deer herd management is taking place. As always, firearm safety is key to great outdoor experience. The rules are straight forward: Always point the muzzle in a safe direction; treat every firearm as if it were loaded; unload the firearm and open its action when crossing obstacles; keep the barrel clear; and chose proper ammunition. Safe and ethical transportation of the firearms while traveling on public roads means the owner of the firearm cares enough about themselves and others to have unloaded weapons fully and securely cased. Blaze orange colored vests are minimum exterior clothing to be seen by other hunters.
During 2012, there were nine deer hunting related incidents in Iowa: five personal injuries and four property damage. There were no deer hunting fatalities in 2012. DNR officers hope that is the case during all 2013 deer seasons. Safety is a number one concern all the time.
History note: Iowa's white-tailed deer were almost wiped out by early European settlement activities of the mid to late 1800s. Slowly the deer population responded to early attempts to protect them. By 1953, the first Iowa deer season was opened in 45 counties. Total deer in Iowa at that time was 12,000 to 15,000 animals. This first deer season was held on Dec. 10 14. By the end of the last deer hunting day in 1953, 3,782 deer were killed by hunters.
The 2013 deer seasons (for all weapon types) is likely to take about 115,000 deer, a significant count but still one that allows an adequate number of deer to carry over into 2014. Shotgun hunters will easily take well over one-half of all deer killed during 2013. Much of the deer management strategy hinges upon shotgun hunters during seasons one and two.
CHRISTMAS TREE sales are again being offered by the local Izaak Walton League. The cost is $35 per tree, any size you feel will fit your intended setting. And each tree is a cut your own arrangement. Tree cutting times are on weekends on Saturday and Sunday between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the Ikes grounds located 2 miles south of Iowa Avenue on Smith Avenue. If you miss the Dec. 7 or 8 times, come the following weekend of Dec. 14 and 15 or Dec. 21 or 22. The Izaak Walton League is a national organization dedicated to long range conservation issues of clean air, clean soil, clean water and support for wildlife of all kinds upon our landscape.
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.