Mallards make marshland splash dance

MALLARDS are this week’s featured critter. This duck seems to be found everywhere from its arctic and Canadian breeding grounds to little pot holes of water, farm ponds, streams, wetlands or bogs of the entire United States. Urban parks are also a favorite of this species where they have learned to eagerly take handouts from park visitors, becoming professional beggars. Wild mallards eat aquatic insects, insect larvae, earthworms, snails or agricultural seeds or grains in harvested fields.

What made last weekend’s wildlife foray extra special was the sheer number of ducks of all species that were utilizing every wetland, pond, stream and river. This scribe did not have to drive far to enable large group sightings of ducks and geese. Hendrickson Marsh west of Rhodes had lots of birds and it was a thrill to see them. In all, about 16 different species could be seen. Ice was still occupying the central core of water with lots of open water adjacent to the ice resulted from recent rains and snow pack runoff. From last year’s drought and dry marsh conditions, water has come back to partially fill this old glacial ice age remnant wetland. Submerged vegetation is holding seeds and newly emerging aquatic insects for the birds to feed on.

And here is an interesting bit of mallard fact: Female mallards make the loud quack quack sounds we associate with ducks. The male mallard makes a much softer raspy sound. Mallards behavior is full of little nuances of body language, head bobbing, aggressive attitudes toward other mallards, all designed to intimidate others as males defend a hen and her nesting territory.

A record was set in 2012. This record is the distribution of $882 million dollars to the states for fish, wildlife and recreation projects. So says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This payout would have been even higher if not for recent fiscal federal sequestering of funds which took about $44 million away from the payout. All state DNRs across the nation participate through the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration program. These funds are derived from excise taxes on sporting equipment. And due to a huge uptick in demand on the sale of firearms and ammunition, the accumulated excise taxes will enable an unprecedented $522.5 million to the states for wildlife projects and $359.9 million for sport fish related projects.

Hunters, fishermen lobbied many decades ago for a system to offer supplemental funds wildlife related programs. Excise taxes on shotguns and rifles is 11 percent, as is archery equipment. Handguns add 10 percent from each sale. Fishing related activities of rods, reels, lures and motorboat fuels have a 10 percent fee included in the sale price. This program of excise taxes began in 1937 for wildlife programs. The fisheries side of the program began in 1950. If one adds up all the funding from 1937 and 1950 to the present date, it totals over $15.3 billion. That is a whale of a lot of money dedicated to the cause near and dear to the heart of outdoor enthusiasts with primary contributors being the hunters, anglers, recreational boaters and target shooters of this nation.

The way these funds work is like this: The federal money is part of a match is the form of 75 percent of a project cost. The other 25 percent must come from state funds, generally the proceeds from the sale of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses. Each eligible project can host many factors including fish and wildlife management, scientific study, species and habitat restoration, habitat protection, land acquisition, population monitoring, education programs, boating access and hunter safety education.

SPRING WILD youth turkey season dates are April 6 14. Following that are the regular season dates of April 15-18, 19-23, 24-30 and May 1-19. There will be a total of about 45,000 turkey hunters spread out across Iowa in pursuit of wild turkey gobblers. What causes tom turkeys to begin their strutting actions: Daylight length increasing. It is springtime for turkeys and the urge for male turkeys to impress the ladies is an ages old tactic that can’t be held back. For youth turkey hunters, who must be accompanied by a licensed adult mentor, their nine day youth season is a special time to enjoy the outdoors. In 2012, youth licenses numbered 3,450. Youth harvest success was an amazing 81 percent. For all other turkey hunters in 2012, the take was 10,457 bearded turkeys, a 22 percent success rate.

SPRING is also fire season. In any wildlife managers tool box are lots of options. One of these is properly set and fully controlled burns of specific prairie areas. Fire is one way of maintaining grasses if that is the desired habitat for that site. Fires kill or retard woody encroaching vegetation in favor of native grasses and wildflowers. Burns must be planned so that very light winds will assist with a good burn for slow moving backfire lines. In Iowa, the DNR alone will have wildlife managers burning 15 to 20,000 acres each year. For a prairie state like Iowa, where its original native prairie (83 percent) land cover, fires played an role for eons of time in keeping grasses as the dominant vegetative soil covering. Fires and grass go together … if in today’s world it is properly used. If you would like to watch a controlled prairie burn, do check in with the Marshall County Conservation Board at 752-5490 for a date yet to be set for sometime during the first week of April at the Grimes Farm. Bring a camera for sure.

DEER ANTLER SCORING will take place on Thursday night, April 9, at the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm. The time is from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. Learn about typical and non-typical antler growth, see how official measurers tackle the job of carefully placing cable or tapes on a set of antlers to determine a score. Two basic concepts have stood the test of time, namely symmetry and mass. Symmetry is how equal one side compares to the other. Mass is a measure of bulk as measured in circumferences of the main beam at four points per side. The result of each side is totaled, and then the slight differences of each side are subtracted for the net score, the score that counts, and the score that may allow a deer to be recorded in Boone & Crockett books or Pope and Young record annuls.

TAMA COUNTY’s Conservation Board will host a FUN-NIGHT on April 6 at the Otter Creek Lake Nature Center. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for an evening of great food (from My Mother’s Place), auction items and other prizes. Proceeds from the sale will go toward a new wildlife diorama display currently under design and construction. A special speaker for the fun night will be Bob Weselmann, a retired high school biology and ecology instructor from Northwood. Bob and his wife are still involved with wildlife research and serve as campground hosts at Yellowstone National Park. Tickets for fun night cost $12 per adult, kids age 12 or under are $6. Call 641-484-2231 to get your tickets.

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.