Six new cygnets at Green Castle

TRUMPETER SWANS seem to have made a great comeback from the brink of extinction. Prior to settlement, these swans, Cygnus buccinator, nested throughout the state. However, wetland drainage and unregulated hunting during the 1800s brought them to a low point. The last documented Trumpeter Swan nest was in 1883 on what is now the Twin Lakes Wildlife Area southwest of Belmond. This is in Hancock County in north central Iowa.

The DNR program, which began in 1993 to bring back the swans, started with captive pairs in select locations throughout Iowa. In 1998, three cygnets hatched from a wild nesting pair in Dubuque County. That same adult pair went on to hatch five in 1999 and five more in 2000. Gradually, over the next decade, young cygnets that were allowed to be free-flyers took up the task of increasing the species. Many successful nests were documented in many areas of Iowa. This was great news for wildlife researchers, wildlife managers and all wildlife enthusiasts. Many folks supported the swan project in years past by donations to Iowa’s “Chickadee Checkoff.” A big thank you to all who did.

Trumpeter Swans are the biggest waterfowl, having a length of 60 inches and a wingspan of nearly eight feet. They are all white, easy to spot, relatively easy to approach within safe observation distances and their calls are a deep resonating honking that reminds one of trumpets being played, thus the common name for this large swan. Worldwide, there are other species of swans that, at first glance, resemble the Trumpeter. Look for subtle coloration differences on the upper beak in front of the eye. Examples include the Whooper Swan, Bewick’s Swan, Tundra Swan and Mute Swan. The Mute Swan is an old world species that belongs in Europe. It is not native to America.

If you should travel to Green Castle to look at the new cygnets, do stay on the park roadway. Use binoculars, spotting scopes or cameras with long lenses to observe. The swans call the south pond their home. In three months time, these new cygnets will be flying, ready to learn more about migrations by following adult flyers to wintering areas. Snow and severe cold are not really a problem for these birds as many overwinter in Iowa each year.

The following is a study in contrasts. Swans are huge in comparison to a tiny wren. But wrens have a big attitude and know how to use it. This scribe observed a wren sitting on the edge of a metal wood duck nest box entry hole earlier this week. Since wood ducks had not taken up residence in the house meant for them this spring, a wren pair decided to move in. The nest house they are using is a virtual “mansion” for the tiny wrens. Seeing a tiny wren proudly sitting on the edge of 3-inch-by-4-inch oval opening large enough for woodies was quite a sight. Since wrens bring tiny sticks to their nests, a wood box nest hole was no problem when nesting materials were acquired. In this case, the score is wrens one, and wood ducks zero.

WHITETAIL FAWNS are on the ground now. These 7-pound youngsters of the cervidae family are part of nature’s plan to rebuild the population. Young fawns are being found in many unusual places, even near the backyards of family residences inside the city limits of Marshalltown. If you see a fawn or a set of twin fawns, just observe them. Do not “rescue” what is not in need of human care. In fact, in almost all cases, human intervention is unwarranted. Besides that, in the strict sense of Iowa conservation laws, human intervention is also illegal. There is a reason wild animals need to be in their elements where they can truly learn to live and be wild in the environment they are so masterfully crafted to use.

A recent television news item from another state told of a fawn raised by a family inside their home. It was using the family sofa as its bed to lounge in. When the TV film crew recorded some footage of the deer in the home, this naturally highly nervous animal seemed almost ready to flee the scene. In the meantime, the homeowner gladly told of the care they had given the deer as a fawn and the milestones of raising the animal. All of this was illegal of course, but instead of reporting the incident to the DNR for placement with a licensed rehabilitator, the deer was raised as a family pet. Emotions overruled common sense. Emotions overruled the letter of the law. In effect, the deer was artificially conditioned to be anything but a deer. Another name for this unfortunate situation is called “brain washing,” the deliberate conditioning of the animal to be something it is not supposed to be. This is sad. This scribe does not have much sympathy for anyone breaking the law, any law. And I do not place any degree of credibility at all on some folks who seem to get their wildlife biology degree from a box of fruit loop breakfast cereal. What wildlife young of all species really need is a good habitat to live in, to find food and shelter in, and to grow up wild as their nature dictates.

FLOOD damages to portions of those lands managed by the Marshall County Conservation Board have been tallied. It seems the list gets a bit longer upon every close inspection by staffers. For instance, at Grammer Grove, torrents of flood water from heavy rains washed out of surrounding fields and past the huge glacial boulder at the southeast corner of the park. The rock did not move, but hiking trail bridges did move under the relentless forces of high swift water. Salvaging the foot bridges may not be possible. Rebuilding foot trails and walk bridges will take all summer. At the Heart of Iowa Trail near Rhodes, Iowa, portions of the trail surface were cut severely. Subgrade materials washed away. Repairs will take a long time. At other sites along the Iowa River, high water mark stains on the trees will tell stories for a long time of how high flood waters were at peak crest times. It is hard to imagine high water over six feet, or more in some cases, above the normal ground level of floodplain forests. At Sand Lake, the two handicapped fishing piers were lifted by high water from their positions and floated away. For the present, they have been pulled by boat closer to their submerged post sites. Now they are temporarily tied off close by until later this summer when a large crane truck can re-lift the units back onto their post supports. Sand Lake’s east parking lot still has water on it. The parking area near the boat ramp is at a higher elevation and is dry. Three Bridges has lots of new silt to deal with, an all too familiar result of high water flood events. Silted boat ramps at the Forest Reserve, Timmons Grove and Furrow Access will eventually get cleaned of their silt loads. Recovery from the big flood will take time and money. Be patient with the MCCB staffers as they address the issues the flood waters brought to them.

BISON at Green Castle have been and still are one of the main attractions for the public. Started in 1989 with two bison calves, the exhibit has drawn thousands of visitors over the past 25 years. While the individual bison have changed, grown old or the surplus sold to local private bison ranches, the bison exhibit remains. Bison area improvements are being seriously considered now and you can help. Here’s how:

One item involves the rebuilding of the fence that separates the public from the animals. An 8-foot fence is envisioned inside the park area where the public normally views these hairy beasts. Other perimeter fences are to be rebuilt to at least 6-foot tall. All this will cost money of course, an item in short supply within the budget of the MCCB. So they are looking for help from you, if you are so inclined, and I hope many readers of this column are. Please make a donation to this cause of improving the bison exhibit. Part of the plan involves a new storage facility to keep the winter hay supply. Inside this barn-designed building will be a loft for hay, and it will serve as the location for the south pond aerator system used to keep open water during the winter at the swan enclosure. The barn will be built by MCCB staff using salvaged timber made into lumber from county forest lands.

Costs related to fencing improvements and the barn-like hay storage building are being sought from many sources. Some grants have been applied for, but have not yet determined to be successful. The overall bison-related exhibit improvement costs are pegged at $35,000. As in all past fund raising endeavors of the MCCB, gifts are tax deductible. This scribe will be one of the private donors. I urge you to also consider a generous gift to help serve the public at Green Castle for the next 25 years or more. Contact Mike Stegmann, director of the MCCB, if you have any questions. His office phone number is 641-752-5490. Thank you in advance for your financial assistance for this wildlife educational exhibit improvement project.

Today, from 8 a.m. until noon, at Riverside Cemetery, is KIDS FISHING DERBY time. Bring your own tackle and bait. Go fishing with youngsters ages 12 or under. Bullhead fish will be there and cooperating fully in the process. These hungry fish will not disappoint. Sponsors of the event are the Cemetery Association in cooperation with the Izaak Walton League.

“If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” – Zig Ziglar

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.