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Wildlife are adapted to winter | News, Sports, Jobs

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — Wintery weather has brought a big dose of reality to people and wildlife this past week. Snowy conditions were a sure sign that planet Earth’s chaotic weather machine is alive and well. What we need to do is adapt. Wildlife is already prepared for this natural cycle of shorter days, colder air and harder times to find food. In today’s images, snow accumulated on fallen tree branches in the Iowa River is reflected in mirror-smooth water, an interesting combination. Falling snowflakes can be seen filling the sky when this image was taken. And on a harvested farmer’s field, 24 wild turkeys and at least two deer were looking for ears of corn or just dropping corn kernels to eat. Wildlife with good body fat accumulation can survive a long winter.

The winter weather is upon us, even if the fall season says otherwise. This week’s weather was quite a surprise but not unexpected.

November is a big transitional month for weather events, and Mother Nature just made us recognize who’s boss. A quick look in the weather history books tells us everything from mild and above normal air temperatures to rain or snow, and of course we can’t forget about the wind in Iowa.

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

My answer is “No thanks. I am an Iowan 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 now that I’m retired, now in my 18th year, I have obligations. My wife also does this in her volunteer work. Our schedules are largely flexible on our terms, not an employer’s.

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

From October 1991, when I started offering outdoor adventure highlights, nature and wildlife photography to share, writing stories and sharing observations in the natural world has become a passion. I can educate the readers of this column with natural history events, good images and fact-based information as we learn together more and more about the wonderful natural world in which we live.

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

Hard work was instilled in me through the example of my parents, other family members, and friends. After the hard work was done, time was occasionally found to explore.

Ring-necked pheasants beckoned me to chase them after a school bus dropped me off. A quick trip past weedy fences could be accomplished before the cows needed to be milked.

My intention was to bring home a rooster. Our farm dog named Sport knew that an excursion to go hunting was a good thing. A pheasant meal a few days later was food we didn’t have to buy.

The intriguing thing about that pheasant hunt was a small piece of uninterrupted prairie in the middle of the section. This place was fantastic. It had all kinds of ‘exotic’ plants and a unique earthy smell.

I learned much later that big bluestem, prairie cordgrass, switchgrass, and a host of other native grasses and forbs were persistent examples of native vegetation once predominant in Iowa. But at that time I was young and interested in pheasants. That small patch of land was usually good for a cockerel who burst out excitedly behind a clump of grass, his wings screaming for more air and more speed.

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

My days on the farm ended after graduating from high school in 1963. I had enlisted in the Air Force. Soon I would be whisked away to new places in the United States and abroad, where I would observe strange habitats and no pheasants.

Four years later, when my military time was up, Iowa State University said, “Come over, glad to have you.” At the age of 23 and as a freshman at ISU, I took the Fish and Wildlife Biology course. It was interesting to watch my own fascination with nature and natural systems grow into a career path that eventually landed me a job with the Marshall County Conservation Board.

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I started the Marshall County adventure in 1972 and retired in 2004. I found a place in writing for work. As a corollary, writing for the Times-Republican filled a gap as the late John Garwood’s outdoor adventures titled Sighting Upstream concluded.

His appreciation for nature was evident. Some people, like Garwood and many others, share a bond with nature that has been cultivated in part by participating in hunting and fishing, hiking or canoeing, camping, or simply relaxing by the river watching clouds float by.

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

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

So I’d like to thank the loyal readers of this column for their continued interest in the great outdoors, our Earth’s natural environment, and the long-term conservation needed to sustain a healthy world. That’s my proclamation as we all enjoy Thanksgiving this week. Enjoying.

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

If I hadn’t diligently picked up those walnuts, walking on the ground under the tree would have been problematic. My collecting technique was to try to keep up with the collecting as the walnuts fell to the floor.

I started a daily routine of picking up whatever fell the night before in late September. I was done at the end of October, when wind and time had allowed all the once heavily loaded branches to release the fruits. Baskets, bins, and later a trailer filled to the brim confirmed 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 State Center. First, I took my trailer load of walnuts over a scale. After the sale, that same scale showed that I had a bulk weight of 1,640 pounds.

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Those were the walnuts with their outer shells/hulls. At the buying station, a shelling machine stripped off the hulls and dutifully deposited the nuts into waiting sacks. When everything was done weighing the shelled walnuts, I had 746 pounds to sell.

The Hammon Company has buying stations in many locations in 16 Midwestern states. They ingest over 30 million pounds of walnuts annually. The factory process takes the nuts to the next step: separating the core from the nut meat inside.

Nut meat goes one way and the broken shell fragments go the other way. As the nut meat finds its way into numerous food products, the shells become food to be ground into smaller and smaller pieces.

Special production sandblasting operations use those by-products. It’s an interesting process.

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Here’s a quote to think about:

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

– Henry David Thoreau, American writer and naturalist.

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Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He graduated from Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

PO box 96

Albion, IA 50005

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