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Late Fall Observations

I feel a little like Garrison Keillor when he starts his Lake Wobegon monolog as I sit down to write this week – “It’s been a quiet week in my hometown.” It is a quiet time of year and seems especially so this morning after several days of my five-year-old grandson being with us. We enjoyed good family time over the Thanksgiving holiday and the fireplace was the center of activity each evening. We rarely light a fire in our “recreational fireplace” unless we’re hosting company. It’s likely that as much heat goes up the chimney as we gain, but it does make the living room feel especially cozy when family or friends are around.

Outdoor activities are at a seasonal low point. I fill the bird feeders and bird bath on a daily basis, but there haven’t been any unusual birds so far this year. Last year we had good numbers of red-breasted nuthatches and pine siskins around. Area ponds and lakes are going into their annual freeze-up at about the usual time. Geese and a few mallard ducks have moved to a few larger bodies of water that remain at least partially open. Their numbers and activity could keep parts of those areas open for most of the winter if we don’t see severe cold or deep snow that deprives them of access to water and their primary foods. Geese and mallards feed heavily on waste corn, and geese also enjoy grazing on green grass when they can find it. It’s no wonder that goose tastes a little like roast beef. They eat the same things. I did spot several trumpeter swans feeding on corn in a field just east of I-35 a few days ago, and have seen several eagles.

A few brave (or reckless) souls have begun to try ice fishing on sheltered bays where ice is thicker, but the tragic deaths of two little boys from southern Iowa should serve as a reminder that ice thickness can be highly variable. A minimum of two inches of new clear ice is recommended for a single angler. The key to early ice safety is to test ice thickness often. It’s difficult to determine how thick new clear ice is without drilling through it. Early ice anglers might want to wear a life jacket and always fish with a buddy nearby, but not too close. There’s no use in having both fall through the same hole!

Shotgun deer season begins on Dec. 7 and will continue through Dec. 22. Hunters must wear fluorescent orange clothing by law, but anyone planning to be out in woodland areas where most deer hunting will occur should plan to wear bright colors that don’t look like deer. Colors to avoid include the traditional tan of several brands of coveralls and even white, the color of a deer’s throat patch and its warning-flag tail. Being mistaken for game or not being seen at all are among the leading causes of accidental shootings.

I hope that successful hunters will consider one more thing as they process the meat from their deer, and that’s safe and considerate disposal of the carcasses. Boned-out deer carcasses and hides should be returned to the woods they came from, well off of roads and never left in road ditches. Scavenging wildlife can even consume most of the bones, but they can be killed by cars when they feed on remains left next to roads. A bald eagle was killed on Highway 30 east of Nevada last year for just that reason. Lead fragments from shotgun slugs can remain in the meat as well. Lead is toxic and ingesting it is never good for animals, especially young ones that are still growing. Even very small amounts can be fatal in birds, though. Their crops process food and ingested lead pellets much more efficiently than mammal’s digestive tracts do, leading to much higher levels of absorption in their tissues. Even if ingested lead doesn’t kill them outright, it can leave them sick and too weak to reproduce.

(Steve Lekwa is retired director of Story County Conservation. He lives in Nevada.)

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