Whitetail shotgun season opens Saturday

With temperatures in central Iowa projected to be in the 50s to go along with a little sunshine, who wouldn’t be happy to be outdoors this weekend?

Waterfowl and pheasant hunters? Yes.

Anglers? Definitely.

Hikers, bikers and paddlers? Absolutely.

The only hardcore outdoors people maybe not thrilled about this weekend’s weather forecast are deer hunters.

The first of Iowa’s two shotgun deer seasons opens Saturday with some 60,000 hunters expected to be pushing and chasing whitetails through timber, and dry conditions without any snow on the ground will make tracking deer a challenge. The warm weather is expected to stick around until the middle of next week when temperatures start to drop.

The first shotgun season runs through Wednesday, Dec. 6, with the second shotgun season to follow from Dec. 9 to 17. Another 60,000 hunters will take part in that season. Some 40,000 tags also are expected to be purchased for the late muzzleloader season that is Dec. 18 to Jan. 10.

Last year, hunters killed more than 101,000 whitetails during all the regular and special seasons, and officials from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources expect a similar harvest this year.

If you’re carrying a gun in the woods this weekend, be careful. For those who aren’t but plan to be outside recreating, take precautions all the same. It can be dangerous time of year to be outdoors.

“Owl Be Home for Christmas” … The holiday season is fast approaching and you can get in a festive mood a little early with “OWL Be Home for Christmas,” a Shop for a Cause Fundraising Event Friday to Sunday, Dec. 8 to 10, at Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop, 213 Duff Ave., in Ames.

The eighth-annual event will benefit the Iowa Wildlife Center, a local nonprofit organization that provides professional rehabilitation services for native wildlife. Cash or check donations of any amount can be dropped off at the store throughout December.  At designated donation levels, donors will receive WBU gift certificates in return for their generosity.

Marlene Ehresman, IWC executive director, will present a pair of programs at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, at the store, that will feature live owls, which attendees will be able to see up close. Seating is limited and space fills up quickly for these programs, so please call ahead to reserve yours.

Here’s a chance to give a hoot about a good cause.

For more information, visit www.wbu.com/ames or contact Linda Thomas at (515) 956-3145.

Ikes offer helping hand to Wounded Warriors … Earlier last month the Ames Izaak Walton League teamed up with sponsors from the Wounded Warriors Project to host five soldiers for a series of trap and skeet shooting instruction as well as an upland pheasant hunt and afield hunt for geese.

The Wounded Warriors Project serves veterans and service members who incurred a physical or mental injury, illness, or wound, co-incident to their military service on or after Sept. 11, 2001.

William Davidson, Nicholas Ellis, Cory Buchenholz, Lorenzo Bello and Cory Weeks, the five soldiers who arrived in Ames on Nov. 9, are from Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. All five are stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.. They were assisted by Ames Ikes Mark Robson, Bill Scott, Taylor Scott and Steve Olson and Wounded Warrior sponsors Bernie Becher, Jason Becker, Duane Booth, Brad Pottorff, Nichlas Holland, and Lee Kiewiet.

Kudos to the Ames Ikes and volunteers with the Wounded Warriors Project. Most of all, thanks to the soldiers for their service and sacrifice. Godspeed to all.


Todd Burras can be reached at outdoorstoddburras@gmail.com.


Some birds can cause quite an irruption

It occurred to me while lying in the recovery room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn., (carpal tunnel surgery — too much keyboarding through the years) two weeks ago Thursday and several hours after the Tribune’s deadline for the outdoors page that week (‘Oh, no!’ or something along that line) that in writing about backyard birds, I had used a term not necessarily familiar to all readers, especially those with limited interest in birding.

The word was “irruptive” and I failed to define it while describing a couple different species birders might see this fall and winter. The term “irruptive” describes various species of northern-wintering birds that don’t always show up this far south, or, if they do, they do so in relatively small numbers.

During an irruption, which is caused primarily by low food availability, the population density of one or more species of birds changes suddenly and sometimes dramatically.

For example, pine siskins, a small member of the finch family, routinely show up in central Iowa in small numbers, but on years when there is a shortage of their primary food source — conifer seeds — larger than normal numbers of pine siskins will “irrupt” and travel outside their regular northern wintering range in search of food.

“They’re an annual winter bird that show up here in small numbers,” said Steve Dinsmore, an avian ecologist in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Iowa State University. “But every few winters, there is a major irruption.”

Dinsmore said when pine siskins that can’t find enough conifer seeds show up in places such as Iowa, they shift their focus to birdfeeders where they feast on Nyger and sunflower seeds, the favored food choices of goldfinches, as well.

Doug Harr, president and chief operating officer of Iowa Audubon, said pine siskins are showing up in good numbers all across Iowa this fall.

“I’ve had a flock of eight at our Ogden feeders, more than we’ve ever had in this little prairie town,” he said.

Another member of the finch family that’s an annual “regular” irruptive species is the purple finch, which, because of similarities in its appearance, is sometimes confused with the house finch, a species that’s a year-round resident of Iowa. Dinsmore said purple finches always show up in the state in at least small numbers.

“Their numbers are less variable from year to year than most other irruptive species,” he said.

Purple finches prefer conifer seeds and mountain ash berries, but when they travel south into Iowa, Dinsmore said, they are most attracted to sunflower seeds at feeders.

Another regular irruptive species familiar to many birders is the red-breasted nuthatch, a smaller cousin of the common white-breasted nuthatch, a year-round resident of Iowa.

In their boreal homes in the north, these perky little birds prefer conifer seeds, especially from small-coned species. But if one shows up at your feeder here this fall and winter, it will be after sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet.

“Red-breasted nuthatches have been seen in good numbers this fall, although some are just passing through on their way further south,” Harr said. “But many are also still being reported at feeders and in evergreen trees, so we will likely see quite a few this winter.”

One regular irruptive species not likely to visit your yard this time of year unless you live in the country is the rough-legged hawk, a raptor that prefers to nest on cliffs in the tundra during the summer before traveling afar during the winter in search of ample food supplies.

“There are always a few, but they can be fairly common some winters,” Dinsmore said.

Rough-legged hawks feed primarily on small rodents in the winter, such as mice and voles.

Another occasional visitor from the far north that prefers open spaces where it can hunt is the snowy owl, a raptor Dinsmore describes as a “rare irruptive species.”

“We get at least a few most winters, but a major irruption occurs less than once per decade,” Dinsmore said.

Fortunately for avid birders, Dinsmore and Harr both said this winter may be an exceptionally good one for seeing snowy owls.

“National Audubon just posted an article … about snowy owls and the fact that this could be a really big winter for them in the states,” Harr said. “Several have already been seen in Iowa, but while Audubon’s story relates to a large population (of snowy owls this year), they fail to mention possible tundra food shortages, which could also be a partial cause (for the irruption).

“Some of the owls seen in Iowa so far are in poor shape or have even died.”

Like the rough-legged hawk, snowy owls feed on rodents, probably mostly meadow voles in Iowa, Dinsmore said.

Three other rare irruptive species to Iowa worth mentioning are the Bohemian waxwing, red crossbill and white-winged crossbill.

The Bohemian waxwing, not to be confused with its more common cousin the cedar waxwing, is “very rare to absent most years, and during an ‘invasion,’ there may be 105 reports statewide,” Dinsmore said.

Bohemian waxwings feed on fruit, mostly ornamental trees, such as highbush cranberry, in towns in Iowa, he said.

When it comes to the crossbills, which are members of the finch family and feed on a wide range of conifer seeds, Dinsmore said there is typically “at least one sighting every winter of each species, but occasionally there are major irruptions. Irruptions are usually one or the other species and not both at the same time.”

This fall has been an “excellent” one for red crossbills and “mediocre” for white-winged crossbills, Dinsmore said.

One more finch that’s showing up this fall in places not accustomed to hosting it is the common redpoll. This light-colored bird has brown stripes, a yellow beak and splashes of raspberry coloring, including its namesake red stripe or “poll” on the crown of its head.

“They are being reported in more places than normal — usually just in northern Iowa but now in several central-Iowa locations,” Harr said. “Overall, this is likely to be a good winter for northern invasions.”


Todd Burras can be reached at outdoorstoddburras@gmail.com.



A black-capped chickadee picks up a black-oil sunflower seed from the free hand of the photographer, who took the picture with a cell phone in the other hand. Chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches can be rather easily coaxed into taking seeds from the hands of people. Photo by Todd Burras

Settle into some backyard entertainment this fall and winter

Enhanced by a seemingly rare instance of full bright sunlight, the distinctive field markings of numerous small birds flitting about under shadowy trees, in the hedge and on some open areas of the yard made their identification an easy undertaking: white-crowned and yellow-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, black-capped chickadees and house finches.


These were the sorts of birds one would expect to be seen in central Iowa at this time of year, but it’s always interesting and fun for those who enjoy backyard birding to confirm their suspicions or what they’re hearing from other birders. In this case, there was nothing out of the ordinary.


Sparrows and finches are among the last and most lingering of small songbirds to make their way south in large flocks from breeding territories farther north during the latter stages of the fall migration. Many will hang around as long as they can find adequate food sources with some even spending the duration of the winter here.

Others, such as white-throated and white-crowned sparrows, will continue farther south in search of suitable habitat and food sources that will get them through the coming months before they make their return journey north to summer breeding grounds.


Finches, whether they be purple, gold or house, and pine siskins, another member of the finch family, are common migrators to the region that overwinter here and assimilate into the Mid-Iowa landscape, joining existing flocks of local finches, primarily gold and house, that are their cousins and year-round residents.


Juncos, a member of the sparrow family, mix with other non-migrating local birds, such as chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, and downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, as they hunker down and scratch out an existence, waiting out the cold and dark of winter. These are the birds most casual backyard birders are seeing at their feeders now, and they’re the same ones they’ll be watching for the next five to six months.


However, there could be other late migrators to mix in with the regular assortment of wintering backyard birds, and sharp-eyed birders who spot these irregular visitors will be happy and amused to see them. Brown creepers are small unassuming birds that are well camouflaged and often go unnoticed amid the flash and panache offered by other more vivacious visitors to backyard feeding stations.


Brown creepers are recognizable by their habit of slowly spiraling up a tree in search of invertebrates and, after reaching the upper branches, flying back to the tree’s base and starting its search all over. Brown creepers will repeat the process over and over until they satiate themselves or until they decide to move on to a different tree, where they continue their foraging.

Another occasional backyard visitor that is similar in size to the brown creeper is the red-breasted nuthatch, a small relative of the white-breasted nuthatch and a real acrobat when it comes to its feeding antics. While brown creepers climb from the base of the tree upward, red-breasted nuthatches scurry down trees headfirst in their search for invertebrates. They’ll also visit feeders and, like most backyard feeders, enjoy black-oil sunflower seeds and will cache the ones they don’t immediately consume in crevices of tree bark. But their real entertainment value for viewers is in watching them race down trees.


Other irruptive species that are already being reported in various places across the state this fall include large numbers of pine siskins and red crossbills (another member of the finch family), as well as smaller numbers of common redpolls and white-winged crossbills (two more members of the finch family.)


The crossbills, according to Doug Harr, president and chief operating officer of Iowa Audubon and the former coordinator of the Iowa Department of Natural Resource Wildlife Diversity Program, “are probably from the Rocky Mountains, where pine cone crops are low and forest fires have destroyed so much food habitat this year.”

Harr, who lives in Ogden, said this may be the biggest year for red crossbills Iowa has seen in decades.


Both crossbill species “might be seen at almost any big cemetery with lots of pines and spruces,” he said.


The Nevada Cemetery, for one, has been a popular destination for central Iowa birders wanting a glimpse at these rare visitors.


Once one gets out of a suburban or urban backyard setting, the possibilities to see a number of other winter visitors that might not show up in your backyard increases significantly. Northern saw-whet, short-eared and even snowy owls have made their way into Iowa already, as have rough-legged hawks and migrating bald eagles.


A few Lapland longspurs and snow buntings have been reported, as well, said Eric Ollie, president of the local Big Bluestem Audubon Society group, but large numbers of those open-field birds, which breed in the Arctic, have yet to make their main push into the state.


Other visitors that could show up in your backyard include American tree and Harris’s sparrows.


While ducks, geese, loons and swans are only just now moving across the continent in large numbers, the bulk of the songbird migration is over. It’s time, therefore, for those backyard birders among us to load up on birdseed and settle into a comfortable seat with a good field guide, a set of binoculars and an earnest desire to be warmed by some of winter’s most colorful and talented entertainers.


Todd Burras can be reached at outdoorstoddburras@gmail.com.


This hitchhiker is holding on to autumn

I have a new-found appreciation for Asian lady beetles.

Yes, you read that correctly. After a two-hour drive across a portion of the eastern half of the state with a few of these gypsy hitchhikers early last month, I have a growing interest and respect for the frequently annoying creatures.

You know the ones I’m talking about. Those hard-shelled little bugs that come in various shades of orange with black spots that you see climbing around your window sills, door frames and walls – both inside and outside. In fact, you might have just set down your vacuum cleaner, or perhaps you’re already reaching for it again, in an effort to suck up a few more of the seemingly omnipresent little buggers.

As the name indicates, multi-colored Asian lady beetles are non-native to North America. Instead, they originate from eastern Asia and were imported to California about a century ago to help control aphids — sap-sucking pests — that were damaging pecan and citrus trees. A half century later, they were reintroduced in California, and then, in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, several more states followed suit, importing them for biological pest control. However, it wasn’t until some showed up in Louisiana in 1988, possibly from a shipping container, that they got a solid foothold in the United States. By the mid-1990s, they had begun spreading into the Midwest, much of the rest of the country and parts of Canada, displacing many native ladybugs in the process.

Asian lady beetles are very similar in appearance to other lady beetles, but they are generally larger, at about one-third of an inch long. Like other beetles, they are predatory insects that can be beneficial in controlling many common garden pests, as well as soybean aphids, a serious pest of soybeans in agricultural states, such as Iowa.

While they offer benefits in the way of their innate pest-controlling capabilities, Asian lady beetles can make themselves a nuisance in September and October when their survival instincts lead them to start seeking out warm, sunny places to hibernate ahead of winter. For countless legions that means trying to get inside buildings, especially human homes.

The good news is Asian lady beetles don’t feed or reproduce indoors. They don’t damage furniture or clothes or wood or the siding of your home. They don’t carry diseases and while they might pinch your skin they don’t bite or sting. The worst they do is emit a distinct odor if they are intentionally or inadvertently smashed.

But back to the car ride I shared with one in early October. Actually, the story began with a couple dozen of the small saucer-shaped beetles milling about on top of our vehicle while we dined at a pub in the German colony of Amana. Upon leaving the establishment, I noticed numerous beetles clinging to the hood and windshield as we pulled out of town to drive back to Ames. It was a bit curious to me as I gradually increased speed that only a few of the beetles peeled off and vanished in the wake of the speeding vehicle.

Perhaps I should have been paying more attention to my driving, but in the late afternoon light I found myself captivated by the tenacity of these miniscule mites to stand their ground and be unmoved by the natural forces all about them. Mile after mile ticked off our two-hour journey and only on rare occasions did a previously ensconced beetle disappear. At a stop sign some 20 miles into the drive, most took the occasion to fly off to find shelter in a foreign environment that by scale must have been as far away from their homes as the moon is to us.

Still, three unflappable beetles held their ground as we eventually reached even greater speeds once we jumped onto the westbound lanes of U.S. Highway 30. Somewhere on a sweeping curve near Tama I glanced down and noticed one beetle had disappeared, yet the other two remained, fastidiously holding their posts on the car’s hood in defiance to the massive draft generated by a couple of passing semis.

Farther down the road near Marshalltown, with my wife and daughter sleeping and the sun beginning to set in earnest, one beetle either had had enough or could no longer exert the strength needed to hang on. He, or she, had slipped away into the darkness. Now, all that remained was one lone beetle, and I suddenly began actively rooting for it. Could it make it to State Center or even Colo? What about Nevada? Was Ames a possibility or only a pipedream? Thirty miles to go, and I could barely take my eyes off the tenacious creature that had lost all color and now appeared only as a dark spot in the sun’s fast-fading afterglow.

Stress began mounting as I raced toward home. Breathe, I had to remind myself. Ames lights in the distance. We can do this. We can do this.

Crap! Onramp to Interstate 35. Will the change in speed, wind direction and increased traffic disrupt “our” concentration? We have to do this. Just a little farther.

Thirteenth Street. Slow down. We’re almost home. Don’t fly off. Not now. We’ve come too far.

Northwestern Avenue. Hang on. Almost there.

McKinley Street. Just a few more blocks. It’s dark. Are you there?

Van Buren Avenue. Street light. Yes! Still there.

Five more driveways. Four. Three. Two. One. We’re here. We made it!

I jumped out of the truck to inspect the beetle, which was still very much alive. Incredible. Simply amazing. Into the house I went to give it a chance to lap up a little water, which it did, and then back outdoors to a plant container holding several geraniums. If I were an Asian lady beetle, I think I’d be happy there.

No, if I were an Asian lady beetle, I’d be attempting to get into your house, or at least trying to hitch a ride with you, wherever that might lead.


Todd Burras can be reached at outdoorstoddburras@gmail.com.


Ringneck, bobwhite seasons open Saturday

Upland hunters may have to contend with standing corn, some mud and possibly a little snow cover in their search for their favorite gamebirds this weekend.

Iowa’s annual ring-necked pheasant opener is Saturday, and some 50,000 hunters are expected to fan out across the state’s private and public lands.

“Hunters can expect to find similar bird numbers to last year, but the October rain has our harvest running behind schedule so opening weekend may not be as successful as years past,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “However, a late harvest could lead to success later in the season.”

Last season hunters shot an estimated 250,000 roosters, and Bogenschutz said he expects a similar harvest this fall despite an August Roadside Survey that indicated numbers were down around the state.

Bogenschutz said the lack of dew in and ditches and fields during the survey timeframe was likely a major factor in skewing this year’s survey results. He said landowners have consistently reported seeing good numbers of birds this fall.

According to the survey, the statewide pheasant population dropped 30 percent from 2016. The numbers are derived from a total of 189 30-mile routes driven around the state. On average, the routes averaged 14.9 pheasants in 2017 compared to 21.4 in 2016.

In Iowa’s central zone, which includes, among others, Story, Boone and Hamilton counties, the survey showed pheasant counts dropped by 24 percent over last year from 31.6 birds per route to 24 this year. None of the nine zones saw an increase in pheasant numbers this year with the central zone second only to the northwest zone, which saw 26.3 pheasants counted per route.

Bogenschutz said the summer drought is also likely responsible for fewer bobwhite quail counted during the August survey. Quail numbers declined 23 percent from last year’s count, but, again, anecdotally, Bogenschutz said landowners are reporting seeing quail in areas that they had not seen them in years. The majority of the quail population is in the state’s southern three tiers of counties.

Shooting hours for ringnecks, quail and gray partridge are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. The partridge season opened Oct. 14. The ringneck season runs through Jan. 10, while the quail and partridge seasons are open until Jan. 31.


Todd Burras can be reached at outdoorstoddburras@gmail.com.





Iowa is experiencing a gradual change in its upland habitat. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, between 1990 and 2016, Iowa lost nearly 3,000 square miles of small grains, hay land and land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – all potential pheasant habitat.

“That’s equivalent to a strip of habitat 10 miles wide stretching from Omaha to Davenport. With the loss of small grains and hay lands to corn and soybean production, CRP is critical for Iowa pheasants,” said Bogenschutz.

CRP is a federal farm program. Congress is scheduled to begin discussion on the 2018 Farm Bill this fall.




Youth ringneck season this weekend

A dozen local youngsters got a jump on Iowa’s ring-necked pheasant season thanks to Story County Pheasants Forever, which hosted its annual youth hunt last Saturday at Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt in Polk County.

Twelve boys and girls, all of whom were required to either have completed the state’s mandatory hunter education course or have participated in one season on a school-sponsored trap-shooting team or club, took part in the hunt. The event started with an introduction to outdoor ethics and gun handling safety, and, after lunch, proceeded to the field where the youngsters were accompanied by hunting dogs and several adult mentors.

“Even a rainy day did not stop 12 young adults from having fun,” said Patrick O’Connor, an officer for the chapter. “All the hunters had a great time harvesting a pheasant and learning more about conservation.”

This Saturday and Sunday marks the annual statewide residents-only youth season that gives boys and girls age 15 and younger the chance to hunt rooster pheasants without purchasing a license, habitat fee or taking hunter education. However, participants must hunt under direct supervision of an adult age 18 or older who has a valid hunting license and habitat stamp. Only the youth are allowed to shoot pheasants and they can bag one rooster per day.

The state’s regular ringneck season starts Saturday, Oct. 28, and runs through Sunday, Jan. 10, 2018. The gray partridge season opened Oct. 14, while the bobwhite quail season also opens Oct. 28.

“Let’s Go Hunting” … Youth hunts are one recruitment tool supported by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as a way to try and grow the number of hunters across the state. Another is a new campaign orchestrated by the DNR with the backing of numerous outdoors organizations.

Launched this past Monday, “Let’s Go Hunting” is geared at encouraging more people to “either try hunting, to get back into hunting, or for passionate hunters to share their favorite pastime with a beginner.”

Dale Garner, division administrator of the DNR’s Conservation and Recreation Division, says the main reason someone tries hunting for the first time is because “they received an invitation from an experienced hunter — often a parent, family member or adult mentor.”

The campaign promotes hunter education, the apprentice license, a website with new videos of why people hunt and a social media photo contest, among other features.

Check it out at www.iowadnr.gov/letsgohunting.

HUSH … Iowa’s early muzzleloader season closes this Sunday, and several other deer hunting seasons are either underway or already in the books. Others are yet to come.

No matter, the Food Bank of Iowa’s Help Us Stop Hunger (HUSH) program is once again working with whitetail hunters and the DNR to provide high-quality protein to Iowans struggling with hunger. Last year, hunters donated more than 3,000 deer, providing more than 600,000 meals for Iowans in need. Here’s how it works.

When a participating hunter wants to make a donation, he or she takes a legally harvested deer to a participating meat locker where the deer is dressed and converted into ground venison. Two-pound tubes of frozen ground venison are distributed through Iowa food banks to food pantries, soup kitchens and other emergency food providers.

For more information, visit www.foodbankiowa.org or contact Alicia Kuiken at alicia.kuiken@dnr.iowa.gov or (515) 725-8263.

Deer hunters, here’s your chance to not only fill your own freezers but to help some of your fellow Iowans, as well.

Award nominees sought … Know someone who is perhaps unheralded but does a lot of good for the outdoors, specifically as it relates to the conservation of natural resources through the person’s actions, advocacy or both?

If so, the Story County Conservation Board and the Ames Chapter of the Izaak Walton League is accepting nominees for the 2017 Olav Smedal Conservation Award. The award was initiated in 1988 by The Tribune to honor Olav Smedal, who spent 22 years as an outdoor writer and 17 years as the outdoor editor for the paper.

The award seeks to honor those who, by their actions or communications, have done the most to accurately present to the public of central Iowa excellence in the conservation of natural resources and outdoor pursuits representing the highest standards of ethics and sportsmanship. Preference will be given to candidates who, as volunteers, exhibit excellence in providing public information, leadership and/or involvement.

For more information, contact Mike Meetz at (515) 291-5218.

Parting shot … Story County Pheasants Forever will host its 32nd-annual banquet this weekend. The event that raises money for local habitat projects starts at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, at Quality Inn and Suites, 2601 E 13th St., in Ames. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $60 each. A spouse or child can get in for $30.

Iowa has PF chapters in all 99 counties, and the Iowa State University chapter was the first student-led campus group in the nation when it formed 17 years ago. Its annual banquet will be this upcoming winter.


Todd Burras can be reached at outdoorstoddburras@gmail.com.


Ada Hayden trout stocking date set

For the 15th time since it became a public fishery, Ada Hayden Heritage Park Lake in Ames will be stocked with rainbow trout.

The biannual event is scheduled for around noon Friday, Nov. 16, at the north end of the lake.

Around 1,000 hatchery-raised trout from Manchester will be stocked as the Iowa Department of Natural Resources continues its popular and ever-growing Urban Trout Program. The program included only three locations in 2001, eight in 2006, 15 in 2011 and 17 in 2016. During that time Ada Hayden has become one of the most popular sites, especially during the winter stocking, with large crowds of 200 or more anglers routinely showing up when the DNR’s fish truck comes to town.

Keff Kopaska, of the DNR’s Fisheries Bureau, said fishing pressure on the state’s urban winter trout fisheries in 2016 increased to 99,444 from 70,202 trips in 2011, 48,868 trips in 2006 and 12,920 trips in 2001. Trips to urban winter trout fisheries increased to 13.8 percent of all trout angler trips in 2016 from 12 percent in 2011 and 9 percent in 2006, he added.

“Around 7,850 trips were taken to Ada Hayden to fish for trout in 2016,” Kopaska said. “Ada Hayden was visited by 2.9 percent of Iowa trout anglers, it accounted for 1.1 percent of all trout angler trips in 2016, and individual anglers fishing Ada Hayden took 4.4 trips to Ada Hayden to fish for trout in 2016.”

Last year, Kopaska said, about 14,000 individuals, or 30 percent of all trout anglers, “purchased their license specifically for fishing at an urban trout location.”

To fish for trout at Ada Hayden, anglers need a valid fishing license and a trout stamp. The daily limit is five trout per licensed angler with a possession limit of 10. Children age 15 or younger can fish for trout with a properly licensed adult, but they must limit their catch to one daily limit. The child can purchase a trout fee, which will allow them to catch their own limit.

At urban trout stockings, the DNR usually has a law enforcement officer on site to check licenses.

Trout anglers frequently use in-line spinners, small blade-style baits, small crankbaits, minnows, wax worms, small worms, jigs, powerbait, corn and flies.


Todd Burras can be reached at outdoorstoddburras@gmail.com.

Honey queen explains some of the buzz about bees

Prior to Tuesday morning, if someone had for some inexplicable reason asked if I knew anything about honey- bees, I might have tried to sup- press a smug little grin, taken a deep breath, puffed out my chest, straightened my back and announced boldly — while attempting to sound modest — “a little.”

After all, I would have rationalized, my wife, Stephanie, has been a hobby beekeeper for more than six years during which time I’ve helped as much as possible; I’ve even taken the Iowa Honeybee Producer Association’s six-week beekeeping class to learn more about beekeeping; and I’ve probably read more about bees than most typical Iowans.

I could have rattled off a number of basic facts about honeybees, such as each colony may have upwards of 60,000 to 80,000 bees, only one of which is the queen; male bees, called drones, serve only one purpose, which is to mate with other queens and once that task is completed they die; and that all the thousands of “worker” bees in a colony are females.

If you opened a hive I could help you pick out the queen from amongst the thousands of other bees. She’s larger than the others and usually quite distinguishable because of her shiny, brighter golden color. What I didn’t know before Tuesday was that the reason she appears to be a different color is that although the queen starts out her adult life just like all the other bees covered by thousands of tiny hairs that are used for, among other things, the pollen gathering process, in the queen’s case the hairs are all worn off by the constant grooming she undergoes by a cadre of some 1,300 bees devoted exclusively to her well-being.
That was just one of many insights about honeybees that Carly Raye Vannoy explained to some 40 attendees at Story County Conservation’s Older Wiser Livelier Seniors program Tuesday at McFarland Park. Vannoy is the Iowa Honey Producers Association’s 2017 Iowa Honey Queen and travels the state as a sort of good-will ambassador for honeybees.

Before hearing Vannoy’s remarkable presentation — she’s a home-schooled high school senior from Urbandale who speaks with the ease, confidence and assurance of a college student working on a doctoral thesis in apiology — I could have described the honey- bees’ waggle dance, which a worker bee performs in the company of the entire colony after finding an ample resource of nectar or pollen that she wants help gathering. However, what I didn’t know after the worker bee makes its discovery and does its “bee line” directly back to the colony is that as she communicates to her sister bees in the total darkness of the hive they gather the information not from any smells or sounds she makes, but rather by vibrations they feel being emitted by the exuberant bee performing her dance.

“If she finds a patch of dandelions two miles south of the conservation center and goes back to the hive to tell the rest of the bees, once she starts the waggle dance they know exactly where they’re supposed to go,” Vannoy said.

Here are a few other fun facts from her presentation:

  • Honeybees have five eyes and can fly 15 mph.
  • Honeybees build tens of thousands of tiny hexagon-shaped cells used to hold eggs, pollen and honey. Each cell is identical in size and shape, and scientists have determined that the design is “less than a percent of a percent from being a perfectly efficient structure for their purpose,” Vannoy said. In other words, bees use their bodies to create the sort of super complex structures that humans can design only with the aid of tools and technology.
  • The nectar used to make the honey is 87 percent water, but by thousands of bees using their wings to continually fan the frames, they elevate the temperature of the hive to the point that the excess moisture begins to evaporate. The bees don’t stop until it contains just 17 percent water. They do this always. Everywhere. Seventeen percent.
  • Honeybees use a method called “festooning” in which they chain themselves together as a way of measuring space within their hive — be it a manmade or natural cavity dwelling. Since honeybees are typically only about a half-inch long, the process allows them to build row after row of honeycomb equally spaced three-eighths of an inch apart. No more. No less. Three-eighths of an inch.
  • One out of every three bites of food a person eats is the direct result of the work of pollinators. Among all pollinators, honeybees account for 60 percent of pollination. Among all insect pollinators, they account for 80 percent of pollination.
  • If you want to help bees but don’t want to be a beekeeper, plant native trees, bushes, vegetables and flowers in your yard and garden, don’t use pesticides and put out a couple shallow dishes of water. If you really want to attract honeybees, add a little lemongrass oil to the water. It recreates the smell of the queen’s pheromones.

Now you and I both know “a little” more about honeybees. Pretty sweet, huh?

Todd Burras can be reached at outdoorstoddburras@ gmail.com.


It’s good to be among ‘old friends’ again

Photo by Todd Burras

I reconnected with some old “friends” this past weekend. Many months had passed since the last time we got together, but as often is the case, we picked up right where we left off.

It helped that I brought several of their favorite snacks and dishes for the occasion. Food is always a great relational unifier. No sooner had they noticed the spread than they began flocking together en masse.

Some were so busy eating that they didn’t have time to say anything, while a couple of the more garrulous among the growing group seemed more intent on chatting than eating. A few mingled on the fringes, curiosity seekers — not interested in what was for dinner, yet drawn to investigate what all the commotion was about. Others tried talking and eating at the same time, and, well, you know how that often turns out. But what’s a few spilt crumbs, or seeds as the case may be, when old friends get together?

By now, of course, you know the “friends” I’m talking about are of the feathered variety. Chickadees, downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, hummingbirds and cardinals helped themselves to sunflower and safflower seeds, sugar water and suet dough, nyjer and sunflower chips, peanuts and tree nuts.

It was the sort of banquet spread not seen in our backyard for a long time, not at least since I left my family behind and moved into our cabin in northeastern Minnesota more than two years ago to deal with some health problems. Stephanie, who enjoys birds almost as much as I do, put out feed on occasion, but between working full time, caring for our two kids and fulfilling all the other duties of managing a household, filling feeders wasn’t high on the priority list. When I moved back to Ames last week, the backyard was eerily quiet.

One of the great things about backyard birding, however, is that the subjects are quite forgiving. If you forget about them, they just keep on doing what they need to do to survive. If you come around to putting out food for them again, it might take a few days for them to find it, but eventually they will. And they’ll keep coming as long as you keep filling the feeders. It’s a good thing for some of us that birds don’t hold grudges.

Birds, like any other creature, are opportunists. Give them a handout, and they’ll gladly take it. But if you fail to feed them for a day, a week, a month, or longer, don’t worry, wild bird populations don’t need the food offerings of humans in order to survive. They’ve taken care of themselves for millennia and will no doubt continue to do so for as long as they inhabit the Earth.

Still, for some of us, there’s great fun to be had by hanging a few feeders and filling them with food. It’s a sure-fire way to reconnect with old “friends” and an opportunity to even make a few new ones.


Todd Burras can be reached at outdoorstoddburras@gmail.com.