February 15, 2013
Winter Swans Across Iowa By Joe Wilkinson Iowa Department of Natural Resources As I walked closer, four trumpeter swans paddled effortlessly to the far side of the open water. An aerator keeps an area of this pond from icing over. Displaying their nonchalance, one or two cut loose with their namesake ‘trumpet’ calls. More like a French horn, I guess. “They’re just beautiful to watch; kind of entertaining. We’ve actually had them walk up in the yard. That, we didn’t expect,” recalls Sandy Tull. She and husband Terry Tull look out on a real-life wildlife canvas from their home just outside Sheffield, in northern Iowa. The female swans are here for the long run; sustaining injuries which prevent their return to the wild. Since they can’t fly, they need to be kept near open water—a buffer zone against predators—and have feed. The Tulls provide those. The DNR keeps track of them; perhaps to match them with mates to bolster the agency’s restoration program. That involvement, though, is being scaled back from 10 or 15 years ago. A big reason for that is that swans have done a good job of returning to wetlands which historically supported them. “We had 45 nesting swan pairs (in 2012), down from 51 pairs the year before. Swans (though) have done well statewide,” assesses DNR wildlife technician Dave Hoffman. “We did have some struggles with the drought. Some wetlands were dry when the cygnets (young) hatched. As those swans took off cross country, some unfortunately perished because of the dry conditions.” Still, wildlife officials think swans are at viable levels in northern Iowa; where more wetland remain in the Prairie Pothole Region. About 20 will be released this year…primarily in the south. Meanwhile, wild swans are showing up in more and more places—in cold weather as well as during nesting season. Besides spreading the wealth, so to speak, they hope swans – the largest waterfowl in North America – continue trumpeting the cause for wetlands. “(They) stress the importance of wetlands for habitat—a place to nest,” says Hoffman. “However, those wetlands are also sources to improve our water quality; Nature’s filters. They act as sponges, too; releasing water slowly during floods.” Ironically, these big birds thrive in the shadow of a long-shuttered clay tile factory; tiles used for draining wetlands and fields in the first half of the 1900s, prior to development of plastic products; which are now more economical and easier to work with. You can assist with restoration by reporting any swan sightings through the year. On the DNR website (www.iowadnr.gov), click on the Education bar and then Trumpeter Swan Reporting for details. A key aspect to that tracking assistance is reporting the color and ID of bands on the swans. “Volunteers have been instrumental in the past and will continue that role,” stresses Hoffman. “Volunteers, county conservation departments; other passionate people, too. They certainly help promote and continue the swan restoration.” The grounded swans also attract wild swans. Tull says they’ll touch down on the pond; stay a few days and move on; geese, too. “It’s been a great experience; being able to watch them; to tell people about them,” says Tull. “We love wildlife and nature. We are thrilled with the opportunity. It’s been a great experience.” Hosts Needed For Eight State Park Campgrounds The opportunity to spend the summer in an Iowa state park is available for individuals who serve as campground hosts. Campground hosts receive free camping at a designated site while they help state parks staff by assisting campers, explaining park rules, helping with registration and serving as an impromptu local tour guide. Hosts will help park staff to keep the park clean and with light maintenance. Hosts are needed for the season at Brushy Creek, Dolliver, Geode, Nine Eagles, Lake Ahquabi, Lake Keomah and Lake Wapello. If an entire season is too much, Backbone State Park is looking for a host for September and October. Applications are available online at http://volunteer.iowadnr.gov then click on the campground hosts link toward the middle of the page. Or, call 515-242-5704 to have an application mailed. “We would like to get hosts placed in parks around the middle of March so they are ready to go in April,” said Linda King, with the DNR’s office of volunteer services. OUTDOOR NOTES: Vilsack Talks Pheasants Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is the keynote speaker this weekend at the National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic in Minneapolis. His appearance comes as the national non-profit organization works to address tremendous loss of grassland habitat in the last few years and with prospects for the next Farm Bill still up in the air. More information is available at www.PheasantFest.org *The walleye season at Iowa’s Great Lakes closes Feb. 15, and reopens at 12 a.m., May 4. Walleyes caught during the closed season at East Okoboji, West Okoboji and Big Spirit lakes must be immediately released unharmed. *Memorial Day weekend is closer than you think. Campsite reservations for the popular holiday begin Feb. 24, for a May 24 arrival. Campsites can be viewed and reserved online at http://iowastateparks.reserveamerica.com/ Iowa’s state parks hosted nearly 710,000 camper nights in 2012, and if the weather cooperates, 2013 could be equally busy. *The deadline to remove permanent ice fishing shelters from state owned land and water is Feb. 20, or ice melt, whichever comes first. Shelter owners are encouraged to not wait until the last minute to remove their structures, to avoid deteriorating ice conditions. *The 16th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count will be held Feb. 15-18, and anyone can participate. Simply watch birds at your feeders, or any location you wish, count the number of birds for each species you see in 15 minutes and report the results on online at www.BirdCount.org. Yes, you can conduct surveys at multiple locations. Click on how to participate at www.BirdCount.org for more information. *Looking for hunting opportunities? Iowa’s crow season is open until March 31. The special conservation order to hunt white and blue phase snow geese and Ross’ geese is open until April 15 statewide. There are additional regulations that apply. Trapping season for beavers is open until April 15. Coyote hunting has a continuous open season. *Hunter education classes are being held across the state ahead of the spring turkey season. To find a class, go to https://www.iowadnr.gov/training. Early registration is encouraged as class sizes are limited. *Ice in central Iowa is becoming unpredictable after a series of temperature swings from mild to cold and back to mild, wind and rain. If going out, use extra caution and test the ice often. Bring safety equipment – 50 feet of rope, a throwable floatation device and ice picks. *Visit the Iowa DNR’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/iowadnr for more outdoors discussion and photos.
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