The fauna adapts to winter | News, Sports, Jobs

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — Winter weather has given people and wildlife a big dose of reality this past week. The snowy conditions were a sure sign that Planet Earth’s chaotic weather machine is alive and well. What we have to do is adapt. Wildlife is already prepared for this natural cycle of shorter days, cooler air, and harder times to find food. In today’s images, snow accumulated on fallen tree branches in the Iowa River is reflected in the calm water like a mirror, an interesting combination. As this image is made, falling snowflakes can be seen filling the air. And in a harvested crop field, 24 wild turkeys and at least two deer were foraging for fallen ears of corn or kernels of corn to eat. Wildlife with a good accumulation of body fat will be able to survive a long winter.

Winter weather is with us, even if the fall season says otherwise. The weather this week was something of a surprise, but not unexpected.

November is a big transition month for weather events, and Mother Nature made sure we recognized who’s in charge. A quick check of the weather history books tells us everything from mild and above normal air temperatures to rain or snow, and of course, in Iowa we must not forget about the wind.

Those arctic gusts from the northwest can sometimes penetrate even the best winter clothing to send chills through our bodies. Our friends in Florida, Texas or Arizona like to call us with open invitations to visit us for the next three months.

My answer is “No thanks. I’m from Iowa and this is where I live.” Home is where the heart is, and while this author likes to visit other places, it’s always good to be home.

Even in retirement, now in its 18th year, I have obligations to meet. So does my wife in her volunteer efforts. Our hours are flexible for the most part on our terms, not those of an employer.

A footnote in this author’s history book is worth noting. Last week’s issue of Outdoors Today was number 1,600. Today, that number increased by one.

Since October 1991, when I began offering outdoor adventure, wildlife and nature photography highlights to share, writing stories and sharing observations in the natural world has become a passion. I am able to educate the readers of this column with natural history facts, good pictures, and factual information as together we continue to learn more about the fantastic natural world in which we live.

My stories and observations of nature began a long time ago. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my curiosity about wildlife and wild places began when I was a young farm boy growing up on a farm in Bremer County, Iowa.

Hard work was ingrained in me by the examples set by my parents, other family members, and friends. After the hard work was done, time was periodically found to explore.

Ring-necked pheasants waved me over after a school bus dropped me off. A quick trip could be made along overgrown fence lines before the cows had to be milked.

My intention was to bring home a rooster. Our farm dog, Sport, knew that a hunting trip was a good thing. A pheasant dinner a few days later was food we didn’t have to buy.

One intriguing thing about those pheasant hunts was a small patch of untouched prairie in the middle of the section. This place was fantastic. It had “exotic” plants of all kinds and a unique earthy smell.

Much later I learned that big bluestem, prairie cordgrass, switchgrass, and a host of other native grasses and herbs were examples of the native vegetation that once prevailed in Iowa. But at the time I was young. and he was interested in pheasants. That little patch of land used to be good for a rooster who bolted from behind a clump of grass as his wings cried out for more air and more speed.

Sometimes they got away, and sometimes he made a good shot. If the bird fell, the dog thought he was the reason for my success. We proudly brought the colorful rooster home.

My days on the farm ended after I graduated from high school in 1963. I enlisted in the Air Force. Soon they would take me to new places in the United States and abroad, seeing strange habitats and no pheasants.

Four years later, with my military time satisfied, Iowa State University said, “Come on, I’m glad to have you.” At age 23 and a freshman at ISU, I enrolled in the Fish and Wildlife Biology course of study. It was interesting to see my own fascination with nature and natural systems develop into a career that eventually landed me a job with the Marshall County Board of Conservation.

I started the Marshall County adventure in 1972 and retired in 2004. I found a niche in writing for the job. As a result, writing for the Times-Republican filled a vacancy when the late John Garwood’s outdoor adventures titled Sighting Upstream closed.

His appreciation for the natural world was evident. Some people, like Garwood and many others, share a bond with nature cultivated in part by participating in hunting and fishing, hiking or canoeing, camping, or simply relaxing by the creek watching the clouds roll by.

My goal in writing the Outdoors Today columns is simple. I want to share any natural history topic from A to Z. I love science and I love facts.

I do not like or condone political correctness and the misuse of science, as some will do, to misrepresent the world according to their politicized version of the “facts.” I like critical thinking and honest discovery of the truth, even if it’s not what we want to hear.

So I thank the loyal readers of this column for their continued interest in the outdoors, our earth’s natural environments, and the long-term conservation work necessary to maintain a healthy world. That is my proclamation as we all enjoy Thanksgiving time this week. Enjoy.

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I have a walnut tree in my garden. It was planted by me almost 50 years ago. That tree has grown well and has produced many nuts over the years. This year was the great cycle of production of nuts from that tree.

If he hadn’t diligently collected those nuts, walking on the ground under the tree would have been troublesome. My gathering technique was to try to keep up with the gathering as the nuts fell to the ground.

I started at the end of September with a daily routine of picking up what fell the night before. I finished at the end of October when the wind and the weather had allowed all the branches, once heavily laden, to drop the fruits. Baskets, bags, and later a trailer full to the brim attested to the fact that 2022 was a bountiful time for this tree.

When it came time to sell the walnuts to the Hammon Products Company of Stockton, Mo., I contacted the local walnut buyer near the State Center. First I put my load of trailer nuts on a scale. After the sale, that same scale showed her to have a total weight of 1640 pounds.

Those were the nuts with their outer shells/shells. At the buying station, a shelling machine removed the hulls and obediently deposited the nuts into waiting sacks. When it was all over with the weighing of the shelled walnuts, he had 746 pounds to sell.

The Hammon Company has buy stations at many locations in 16 Midwestern states. Annually, they receive more than 30 million pounds of nuts. The factory process takes the walnuts to the next step of separating the core from the pulp of the walnut inside.

Nut meats go one way and broken shell fragments go another. As the nut meats find their way into many food products, the shells are turned into fodder to be ground into smaller and smaller pieces.

Sandblasting operations for specialty manufacturing use those by-products. It is an interesting process.

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Here is a quote to ponder:

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

— Henry David Thoreau, American writer and naturalist.

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Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Board of Conservation. He graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in fish and wildlife biology.

Contact him at:

post office box 96

Albion, IA 50005

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