Hawk watch teaches about local migration

HAWKS are big and numerous at this time of year. Middle to late September is the perfect time to watch the skies for these raptors as they move southward. Hawks and eagles take the easy road by drifting south on currents of warm air that rise from the ground. One updrafting thermal gives altitude to the birds, who then set their wings to glide effortlessly until they sense another updraft. Repeating this process is a good way to put many miles behind them with a minimum of expended energy.

Broad-winged Hawks are one of the first species to be seen in large numbers … if you have the right day and wind conditions. Mark Proescholdt has lots of experience in this regard. His record keeping diaries from many decades ago attests to how many Broad-winged Hawks are possible to see at one time. Hundreds may be observed in large circling “kettles” at all altitudes as they slowly ply their way south. Red-tailed Hawk migration peak times are late September to mid-October with lingering members of this species still migrating in early November.

Red-tailed Hawks are one of the most common buteos. They have broad wings that are somewhat rounded at the tips. Plumage coloration can vary quite a bit from the normal browns with speckled lower chest feathers. A mature red-tail has a reddish colored tail which is easily observed when the hawk is in flight and makes a big lazy circle in the sky. Wait for the sun angle to illuminate the red tail like a flash of bright red light.

A hawk watch can be conducted anywhere. It is more fun however with the company of others. Proescholdt knows what to look for as the birds sail past an opening in the tree canopy near his observation site. Eagles are common, as are turkey vultures, falcons and accipiters of many kinds. Knowing what to look for in a few brief seconds allows Mark to add a tally note on his record book. If he says the bird is a (fill in the blank), then you can believe it. Lots of observation time allows one to get good at what they do. You will get the hang of it in short order. Give it a try. Attend the Hawk Watch on Wednesday.

Birds of a different shape and size have been making a feast at this scribe’s feeder. They are HUMMINGBIRDS, lots of them. They need to fill up on sugar water to help them migrate toward states to our south. Hummingbirds will fly to the gulf coast of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida later this fall. Then when they feel ready, they take off to cross the Gulf of Mexico on a non-stop flight to their wintering areas. One would not think they could store enough energy to complete the task. But we know they do it. Long ago, when some folks speculated on a hummingbird’s migration abilities, the thought was that hummingbirds found a large bird, such as a hawk, and piggy-backed a ride on the big bird. This was of course a false assumption from the start. But not knowing the details or biological facts at that time allowed this rumor to gain some traction. Scientists and ornithologists have long sorted this mystery out. What remains as part of scientific inquiry are lots of new unanswered questions. That is the beauty of science, to observe, test theories, re-test and confirm so that definitive statements about wildlife can be made. That is what squashes rumors.

Land in Iowa was very dry this summer. However, further north in Canada where waterfowl nest and bring forth new families, there was enough water in area ponds, lakes and streams to accommodate the hatch. One index to the potential success of ducks and geese are pond counts. Instead of counting the birds, count the ponds, i.e. their habitat and a fairly good idea emerges of waterfowl survival. Within the Prairie Pothole Region last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported 5.5 million ponds. In 2013, the pond count was 6.9 million, an increase of 24 percent. The Service’s estimate of breeding birds was pegged at 45.6 million, a slight decrease from 2012 but a tie with counts of 2011. Seven of the most common duck species remained at levels similar to last year. Mallard numbers appear to be unchanged at 10.4 million compared to last year. The good news is that mallards are 36 percent above their long term average. Widgeon numbers are up 23 percent. Scaup and Blue-winged Teal declined by 20 percent and 16 percent respectively.

Other waterfowl species totals point toward canvasbacks, redheads, gadwalls, blue and green-winged teal and northern shovelers remain above their North American Waterfowl Management Plan goals. Scaup and northern pintail populations remain well below their long-term averages. On-going habitat loss across the Prairie Pothole Region is still happening at a fast pace. All of the survey data that leads to the numbers cited above are obtained by aerial counts and ground surveys by U.S. and cooperating Canadian Wildlife Survey teams. Good data is what allows the appropriate setting of hunting seasons along all flyway segments in the United States.

HUNTERS of waterfowl or other upland game birds can hone their skills at an upcoming CLAY BIRD SHOOT on from 8 a.m. until noon Oct. 6 at the Marshall County Ikes grounds. The financial proceeds of this shoot will go entirely to benefit Iowa River Hospice. For details or other information, call Ruth Dolash at 641-751-1121.

An OUTDOOR EXPO is happening the weekend of Sept. 28 and 29 in Des Moines. This adventure packed two day event will offer great fun for kids and families to learn more about the great outdoors. All can try their hand at fishing, bow fishing, canoeing or kayaking, outdoor cooking, trap shooting, archery, BB guns, off-road vehicles, hunting dog demonstrations and more. The place is Waterworks Park in Des Moines. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 28 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 29. For details, check out the website www.iowadnr.gov/expo.

Keep Oct.19 open for the local PHEASANTS FOREVER banquet. Marshall and Tama County chapters have combined to offer a great evening of fun, games, fellowship and fundraising for wildlife endeavors that benefit upland game. Contact Steve Armstrong at 751-1668 for advance ticket sales. PF has been very helpful in several area land acquisition projects, The Marietta Sand Prairie addition and the Iowa River Wildlife Area to name just a few. You can help the cause of conservation by your attendance at PF’s banquet this fall. See you there.

Tomorrow, Sept. 22 is the FIRST DAY OF FALL. We are at that point in the earth’s rotation around the sun that the axial tilt of the earth provides for equal amounts of daylight and nighttime in the northern hemisphere. A quick check of time charts that accurately give sunrise and sunset times pegs the actual date of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark happening on Sept. 26. For Marshalltownians, the sunrise will be at 8:02 a.m. and sunset will be at 8:02 p.m., an exact 12 hours for each. From now on, the days will get shorter quite quickly and night times will get longer just as quick. This scribe has not determined how many shopping days remain until Christmas. I’ll leave that to others.

For your funny bone: A hunting friend told me how busy he was. His analogy is this … busier than a mouse in room full of hungry cats. So much to hunt and so little time to do it in. That’s dedication to a sport he loves. Many sportsmen can identify with that. Hurry up FALL! Let cooler weather be upon us.