Teal time at local wetlands

BLUE-WINGED TEAL are just one of more than a dozen species of waterfowl that move through Iowa each spring during migration. They are fun to watch. Use good binoculars or a spotting scope to close the distance. Then smile as you see the behavior of the species unfold as males and females go through the courtship rituals prior to nesting. Hendrickson Marsh located west of Rhodes is just one excellent place to observe all kinds of ducks.

The blue-winged teal female does the nest selection work. She flies over possible areas to observe the land and its vegetative growth. A potential nest site must be at least 12 inches above water line and have enough vegetation to provide complete secrecy from over flying predators. Once the nest site is selected, the hen will breed, and then go about the business of building the nest by scraping out a circular depression, lining it with dried grasses and downy feathers from her own body. When finished, the 8 inch diameter nest bowl will be 2 inches deep and available to hold anywhere from 6 to 14 eggs. Incubation takes 19 to 29 days. The creamy white eggs are about 1.5 to 2 inches long. Ducklings at hatching are covered in yellow down with a gray-brown eye stripe. The little ones will leave the nest soon after hatching, usually the next day. Following the hen to water, they will feed on insects, invertebrates and algae.

These teal are very numerous. U.S. Fish and Wildlife surveys every year show total population estimates range from 2.8 million during dry years to 7.4 million in years with good wetland water supplies. They are a population of least concern as they are one of the most abundant ducks species. Mallards are number one in population. Hunter allotments for teal is closely regulated by wildlife agencies to accommodate the taking of 200,000 to upwards of 500,000 BWT’s per year.

Statewide WILD TURKEY harvests have passed 7,200 tom turkeys so far. Marshall County hunters have noted just 21. As for this scribe and his bow hunting attempts at a tom turkey, my score is presently zero, even though I’ve had close encounters/possibilities at least times. The vital target area on a turkey is a small target to hit even at a mere 20 yards. And a bow and arrow setup is not so easy to move quickly or silently. No run and gun scenarios here. It takes pre-planning and set ups in the right place, hopefully, and then giant doses of good luck help too. It is fun to keep trying even if the effort requires wake-ups at 0430 every morning for arrival in the forest decoy site well before first light. I like to call that time “inky-dark thirty”. Other forest critters are waking up also. A few raccoons have been seen and several deer. Geese, ducks and especially wood ducks frequent the area I travel. Bald Eagles sometimes make their appearance as they glide along the Iowa River. A nest can’t be too far away, I know not where. A special treat several weeks ago was a close encounter with a pileated woodpecker, the crow sized bird with its big black and white body and red head top notch. Now that the rains seem to be over, the forest floor is alive with new flowers: Dutchman’s breeches, May apple, Bluebells and others. Green is popping up everywhere as the dominant color. Nature provides a large array of life to observe in the spring turkey woods. I’m glad for that.

Here is a bit of history related to the forest flower, the May apple. It has a mini umbrella leaf arrangement on top of its single stem. It can grow to 18 inches tall. A single saucer-shaped white flower is found under the leaves at the end of a short stalk near the leaf bases. The fruit, when ripe, is about 2 inches long and is greenish-yellow in color. And it is irritable to the skin of people, some say poisonous. Cooked well, pioneers used it as a “purge”, requiring 10 to 24 hours to work. Potawatomi and Meskwaki tribes favored May apple as a treatment for snakebite. And for food plantings by Indians, they boiled the entire plant, then splashed the resultant liquid brew on potato plants to control insects.

WOOD CARVINGS are now on display at the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm. A great selection of very well done wood carvings by artist and wood carver Phil Kohler of Ankeny is free for you to check out anytime during May and June. Kohler has detailed life-like carvings of birds, mammals and plants to capture the essence of each subject. His work during the past ten years has earned him some excellent credits for nature appreciation. A carving of Africa’s Kudu antelope was best of show at the 2012 Iowa State Fair. Conservation Center hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. until noon.

The first HUNTER SAFETY CLASS for 2014 is set to go for May 15, Thursday evening from 6 to 9 p.m. The following Saturday, May 17 is the all day portion of the class. It starts at 8 a.m. and goes to 4 p.m. This type of hands-on class is required before youth can purchase their first hunting license. Kids ages 12 and up who have never taken a hunter safety course need to pay attention to this legal requirement. Over time, hunter safety classes and the knowledge gained from it are the main reason for highly reduced firearm related hunting incidents. The goal of course is zero incidents and zero accidents. To register for this hunter safety class, go to the web site www.iowadnr.gov/huntered. Look for the Marshall County class and date for May 15, 17.

Last reminder … the STATE SALE of DNR acquired items will be May 10, next weekend. The sale area opens at 7 a.m. and the auction begins at 8 a.m. For sale will be more than 700 firearms, bows, tree stands, traps and related gear. All will be sold as is, no warranties implied. Firearm purchasers must have a valid permit if one desires to buy a pistol or revolver. The sale will take place in Des Moines at the State Fair Grounds.

Last week’s rains have soaked into the soil. Now it is time to enjoy sunshine and warmer temperatures, something good for mankind, wildlife and May flowers. Enjoy. But save a few morel mushrooms for me. Rains have caused a bit of runoff into the Iowa River. It has increased its flow rates and depths accordingly. On average the river level is 3 feet higher that is was during late April. With that depth of water, a boater or canoeists/kayaker can make a journey anywhere between convenient put in/take out points. Check the canoeing guide at the Conservation Center for details on where, and how long a river segment you are willing to tackle. Have fun in the sun.

Funny bone time: How do you know a spider is going to have a bad day? He spins his web in front of a baseball pitching machine and then takes a nap. -An excerpt from Ben Goode’s book, The Bad Day Book.

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.