Smiling at spring weather

EAGLE EYES are terrific at finding food sources for this majestic bird of prey. Its eyesight is four to eight times sharper than a human’s. Its eyes are fixed in the sockets however, so to look elsewhere the bird must turn its head. They do not miss much. A supra-orbital ridge is a slight extension of its skull above the eye that allows some shade to the eyeball and protection when handling prey. The bill is large and strongly hooked. It can tear flesh from a carcass in bite-sized pieces. As for its toes, the end of each toe has the business end used for restraining and killing prey. A squeeze from the talons will not allow for an escape by a rabbit, squirrel, bird, fish, waterfowl, snakes or even skunks. The soles of each toe has special scales with spiny projections called spicules that greatly help to hold slippery fish. The American Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucoephalus, is one of ten species of sea eagles found worldwide, except in South America.

There are several eagle nests in Marshall County. While most nests are big enough to get the job done or raising young, a nest over time can grow quite large. In fact, if too large, it may weaken the tree it is located in. If wind or other circumstances topple the tree, the pair will rebuild a nest. Such is the case at Decorah’s fish hatchery whereby the nest camera of last year is now looking at an empty nest. The eagle pair decided to set up housekeeping in a different tree. The largest eagle nest known was 20 feet deep, and 10 feet in diameter with an estimated weight of two tons! It takes the right tree to be strong enough to handle that type of load.

EAGLE photos and other nature images are now on display at the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm. Photographer Bobbie Davis of Norwalk is the author of these works. She has been a volunteer wildlife monitor for several years working with the Iowa DNR Wildlife Diversity Program. Her eagle photos were made mostly along the Des Moines River in or near southeast Sixth street in Des Moines, at Gray’s Lake and Lake Red Rock. Davis returned recently from Australia where she was thrilled to have a Koala encounter. Her photos at the Center will be available to view now through May.

While on the subject of spring, April will see the arrival of many new birds in addition to our normal year round residents. Look for turkey vultures, Ruddy ducks, American Woodcock, Herring gulls, Yellow-bellied sapsucker woodpeckers, Tree swallows, Martins,

Golden-crowned Kinglets, Eastern cowbird, Eastern vesper sparrow, Chipping sparrow and Fox sparrow.

On the mammal side of the equation, this scribe had the opportunity to see 13 lined ground squirrels out and about. And while traveling along a gravel backroad recently, I watched a very plumb woodchuck make a mad dash from one road ditch side the the other. He barely had enough time to safely make his destination before my truck tire would have made impact. My brakes worked so luckily he will live another day.

SPRING TURKEY seasons kick of for youth during the season that starts today. A youth hunter (under age 16) and a licensed mentor have the entire next week, through the April 14, to try and fill a spring turkey license tag in Iowa. If 2013 is similar to last year, more than 3,000 youth licenses will be sold. Approximately 45,000 total turkey hunters will be out and about the landscape in pursuit of this biggest game bird. It is a challenge, lots of fun, and even if no turkey comes to the calls or decoys, any time spent outdoors in the spring is well spent time. Spring rains will soon bring out frogs to sing for you. New migratory birds will flit around the bushes and trees. Grass will be getting green as the vegetation wakes up from its winter slumber. Passing deer may look curiously at the turkey decoys and then ignore them.

If a youth you know is successful in taking a spring gobbler turkey, do take lots of photos, from all angles, and from low and positions with nice uncluttered natural backgrounds. Preferred photos should be taken in the field near where the turkey was actually taken. I can make no guarantee of being able to use a submitted picture in a future Outdoors Today edition, but do submit your picture and story facts to this scribe at P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005 or leave the photo and data at the T-R office addressed to my attention. Thanks.

Another rite of spring will soon be upon us. MUSHROOM hunting for the elusive Morel mushroom is a big favorite pastime. Where you found them last year may or may not be where they are this year. The mystery of chance encounters is part of the excitement. Marshall County has many public lands with great opportunities. Check out Grammer Grove, the Forest Reserve, Arney Bend or Timmons Grove. It is probably best to use the refuge sites as turkey hunters will be present in the public hunting areas. And of course, if you use private land to look for mushrooms, you need permission first. Do not trespass on private lands. Doing so is a sure way to close that private land to any future possibilities of morel mushroom picking.

If you are looking for something to do this weekend, take a kid fishing. In fact, if this is the first time ever for fishing, a FIRST FISH certificate can be obtained for a youth by submitting a photo of the catch to Iowa’s DNR First Fish Program. Send the picture and the following information to the Iowa DNR, 57744 Lewis Road, Lewis, IA 51544-5103. Include the name of the youth, their age, boy or girl, address, phone number, email address, date the fish was caught, location of the lake, pond or river, and (optional) fish length and weight. If you so chose, one can email all the above stats to Hint: Since Sand Lake east of Marshalltown has a new batch of catchable sized trout, this would be a great place to take a kid fishing. Just do it.

Before you hit the open water this Spring with a canoe, boat or other watercraft requiring registration, do get the new 3 year title and registration brought up to date. Do so at the courthouse, second floor, northeast corner. Bring in the current registration to help ease the paperwork process. Iowa has about 235,000 watercraft requiring registration. The current registration expires on April 30. Do not wait in line. Get the task accomplished early.

Then when on the water this year, remember to have serviceable life vests on board and do wear them. This is especially important in early spring where a capsize situation will throw lots of very cold water on the person. Cold water saps body heat very quickly to help with the onset of hypothermia. Hypothermia kills by quickly reducing the persons ability to function. Immediate rescue is imperative. If not, the consequences are a high price to pay. Be smart, be safe, be around to smile and enjoy another day.

Being a frog isn’t as bad as it seems. Whenever anything bugs them, they eat it.

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.