A woodpecker as big as a crow

PILEATED WOODPECKERS (Dryocopus pileatus) are big birds that do draw attention to themselves. They are not particularly common for us in central Iowa, but they do call our mature forest areas home. Almost the same size as a crow, this woodpecker makes a lot of noise whether it is its load calls or its hammer loud chiseling on dead trees. The drumming sound of pecking at a tree is not just for finding food, but it also plays a large part in defining territories between other pileated woodpeckers.

This scribe sees them every year but most often during wildlife observation times while sitting in an elevated tree stand. I’m primarily there to watch and wait for deer. However, I’m entertained by a large variety of other critters big and small as I pass the time. If one wants to hear pileateds make more noise, get two of them together. I’ve seen an acrobatic forest flight of two from my observation posts. The birds are fast flyers, very agile, and able to navigate a forest full of trees with great ease.

A dead tree may hold carpenter ants. If so, the pileated woodpecker will find them. And for some dead trees of just the right age, a large rectangular hole will be excavated to enter a chamber that is carved out to a depth of 24 inches. Each spring a pair will work together to raise a brood of young offspring. Four white eggs will be laid. Incubation is accomplished by both birds with the male sitting on the eggs at night. Hatching takes place after eighteen days. Twenty four to 30 days later, the young will take their first flight. Learning takes place during the summer and fall as the parent birds demonstrate what it takes to survive. Come late fall, the young birds are on their own.

Several years ago in the forested wetlands of east central Arkansas, an observer claimed to have seen the big cousin of the Pileated, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Teams of expert researchers explored the flooded woodlands of Mississippi River backwaters for several summers. A lot of work and time was involved to determine if the birds were indeed Ivory-billed. The reason for all the excitement is that the last known living Ivory-billed was from the 1930s. One can hope the Ivory-billed is still alive with a small but viable population. Even in the best of times, this species is very wary and secretive. This species may be extinct. Good bird books qualify the status as perhaps extinct.

OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES are big business in Iowa. One way to gage the impact and importance of fishing and hunting is to look at the numbers. Here is a tabulation of licenses purchased in Iowa during 2012. On the fishing side of the equation, residents of the Hawkeye State laid down cash for 328,718 fishing licenses. Of this 318,003 were for the annual fishing license, 6,938 were lifetime, 1,215 were seven day permits and 2,562 were for just a one day license. For those interested in trout, there were 39,351 trout stamps sold. Non-residents purchased 40,090 fish licenses and trout enthusiasts paid for 4,306 trout stamps. Most of the trout fishing takes place in the streams of northeast Iowa where cold spring water is vital to the rainbow, brown or brook trout.

Hunting licenses show a total of 164,194 for residents of which 161,843 were the annual tag and 2,351 were lifetime licenses. If the habitat fee was required, as it is in most cases for persons age 16 to 64, that item sold was 161,228. Migratory game bird fees numbered 24,301 which are needed by waterfowl hunters. However, anyone can buy this game bird fee as the funds are vitally important for wetland habitat research and management. Fur harvesters bought 19,219 licenses to legally pursue their passion. Spring turkey tags numbered 16,919 just for seasons 1, 2 and 3. Season 4 tags came in at 12,368. In addition archers bought 5,295 spring tags. Youth turkey licenses were 3,789. Landowner turkey numbers came in at 5,017.

Deer are big part of the total picture in Iowa. Residents wanting shotgun season 1 totaled 57,783 and an additional 45,971 were shotgun season 2. Archers purchased 55,075 bow tags. Muzzleloader sales were 20,425. Landowners wanting to take bucks or does paid for 33,707. If they wanted antlerless deer only, that total was 32,613. Non-residents going for deer had to buy the regular hunting license and habitat fee first and this came in at 23,421. (Non-residents also paid for 2,162 migratory game bird fees.) Deer tags applications came to 4,073. Shotgun season 1 total was 2,760, 961 were for season 2, and muzzleloaders were 1,291. For those willing to wait for any sex deer tags, they applied for annual preference points. How many people was that? … 9,257. It take three years on average for a non-resident to draw an Iowa deer tag if they want to legally take a buck deer.

A bigger picture emerges from the data I reviewed for you. As big as hunting, fishing and trapping are as indicated by license sales, add in other outdoor recreational pursuits such as camping, hiking and family gatherings. Where do many of these events take place? In state, county and city parks. According to a recently completed economic impact study regarding natural resources, Iowa’s state and county parks, lakes, rivers and trails generate over 56.5 million visits each year. That generates over $3 billion in spending, $700 million in income and nearly 31,000 jobs. It is quite apparent that the people of Iowa want natural resources in all of its variety, utilized in many different ways, to continue in a strong relationship toward our well being and constructive quality of life issues. This something to think about. Our forefather conservation leaders had a vision for what could be in Iowa. Will we have the foresight to carry on that vision? Iowa will be a better place if we do.

WINTER. The air temperatures are cold. Some days are a bit warmer and some a lot colder than what we think of as average for January. By the time February and March get here, winter’s holdout will be gradually loosing the race to an advancing spring. Consider these facts of natural history: Just a few weeks ago, on Jan. 2, our Earth was at its closest point of its orbit around the Sun. We were a mere 91,402,560 miles away that shinning orb. As the earth continues on its orbit, we will gradually get farther from the sun until the whole process starts to repeat itself after June 22. The angle of the northern hemisphere’s tilt toward the sun is increasing each day. More solar insolation will build as we approach a new summer season. Photons of light from the sun take about eight minutes to reach Earth. Just one of the sun’s solar cycles, the 11 year phenomenon, is a natural variation in the number of sunspots and flares that affect solar irradiance levels on Earth. The current cycle began in 2008 and is expected to peak in May 2013.

WINTER AND EAGLES also go together. Jan. 26 is one of Iowa’s Bald Eagle Day celebration at Lake Red Rock, Pella. Hours for eagle watching are sunrise to sunset. Eagle programs however will be held from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. To learn more about eagles at Red Rock, call 641-828-7522. If you don’t to travel to Pella, then make a short drive to Three Bridges County Park located between Marshalltown and Le Grand. Eagles like to perch in the tall cottonwood trees overlooking the open water of the riffles.

PHOTO CONTEST entries to the Marshall County Conservation Board are due by Feb. 1. A $3 entry fee will be charged per photo to help defer the cost of a chili supper on Feb. 7. For details on submission of photos, call 752-5490 at the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm.

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” -Dale Carnegie

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.