Sandhill Cranes return to Otter Creek Marsh

SANDHILL CRANES are big, tall and slender. But their eerie call of trebling notes is what usually draws the attention of people. They will usually be seen high in the sky in lofty circling patterns as they ride southerly winds. Look for long outstretched necks and long legs held straight back. A gray body and red head are diagnostic colors. Researchers have taken note of a wide variety of calls made by cranes, all specialized for a purpose. There are purring contact calls for young to remain in touch with parent, and food begging calls. Alarm calls tell of predators. Flight intention calls seem to coordinate groups to fly away together. It is good that the cranes know what all the nuances of the vocabulary mean.

Worldwide there are 15 species of cranes. They live on all continents except Antarctica and South America. East Asia has the most crane species followed by Africa. All are dependent on wetlands and require large open space. Nesting takes place in or along shallow wetlands. Cranes can be very social during periods of migration. However once on the nesting grounds become very territorial. They need there own space and lots of it. Pairs will stay together for many years, even for the lifetime of the birds in many instances.

Two organizations of note may interest you. One is the Crane Trust located in Nebraska. It was started in 1978 for educational purposes. It does an excellent job of promoting the science and conservation needs of Sandhills. The other group is called the International Crane Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the study and conservation of the worlds 15 species of cranes. They have headquarters in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Their mission is research, education, habitat protection, captive breeding and reintroduction. The Baraboo facility is open April 15 to Oct. 31 each year. Within its facility are about 100 captive cranes, and the only complete collection of all 15 species.

Enjoy cranes this spring, along with all the other critters of the air that will be passing overhead while on their way toward northern summer homes.

A few days ago, BALD EAGLE eaglet number 18 hatched at the Decorah nest. Today may be the time for egg number two to do the same. Time will tell. In any event, the adult eagles at Decorah had to brave some terrible weather while attending to chores of the nest. The first egg was laid on Feb. 23. From then until now, there were times with -40 degree wind chills, direct temperatures of 20 F, multiple snowfalls with one snow event placing 10 inches of while stuff on and over the birds. Even drenching rains plundered the birds. The chance of losing the eggs was high. However, this experienced pair of eagles stood firm to their tasks, taking nest sharing duties faithfully and switching incubation duties only when the weather would allow. So now there appears to be another successful eagle nesting season for us to see, live, via remote camera, at the comfort of our computer screens. The web site is

TROUT stocking at Sand Lake will take place at 11 a.m. on April 1. This time around, 1,800 Rainbow trout will be trucked to the site. And there will an additional 200 Brook Trout released into the waters of Sand Lake. The Brook Trout will substitute for ‘tagged fish’ and be eligible for special prizes. Bring a brook trout to the staff of the Marshall County Conservation Board who will be on-site to claim a prize. Good luck next weekend while you fish for trout.

PRAIRIE GRASS BURNING is a spring ritual, a management tool that is time tested. In the hands of trained personnel, it works. A burn schedule on any prairie site is used to get rid of old growth vegetation that may be getting a bit thick. In doing so, burned areas allow for the sun to warm the soil and kick-start the regrowth of the plants for this year. Fire takes off the above ground material without endangering the growth points of the new grasses. Fire also can kill woody invading species of shrubs or trees. If all goes as planned, the public can watch a controlled prairie grass burn at the Grimes Farm on an evening night of the week of April 14. The event is entirely weather and wind dependent. If all goes as planned, a 7:30 p.m. start time will see a fire line set for the controlled burn. The actual day of the burn will be a short notice thing. Stay tuned to local radio stations or call ahead to the MCCB at 752-5490.

The People’s Choice Award at last week’s Iowa Taxidermist’s Association meeting at the Regency Inn was the snapping turtle trying to pull down a leopard frog. I’ll set the stage for this very well done mount. The scene depicted a submerged tree stump. A plexiglass top layer simulated the surface of the water. A frog was just below the water with its head just poking through. Below the surface was an old mossy back snapping turtle, mouth open, and about ready to clamp down on the extended foot of the frog. At the base of the stump was a bass hiding in the roots of the stump. Aquatic vegetation replicas judiciously adorned the setup. It looked real. To the average person observing all the other options to pick from, this aquatic scene of nature in the raw seemed to pick the interest of the voters. It was a good choice. Taxidermist who use their skills in this fashion help tell a natural history story. In this case it is an underwater story of life and death, a story most of us never see. But it happens.

Vendors and exhibitors to the taxidermy show were in Marshalltown from Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. A total of 131 exhibits were displayed for the public to see. Thanks are in order to Marshalltown for hosting the ITA group. It was good for business and good for the general public. They’ll be back in 2015.

“Education is the best provision for the journey to old age.” -Aristotle, Greek Philodopher

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.