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Published: Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012 11:15 a.m. CDT

Blizzard affects birds

A blizzard was not the way Iowa’s pheasant and quail wanted to start winter.

About half of Iowa received 6 to 12 inches of wet heavy snow that collapsed most “grassy” cover. The cover that did not collapse was drifted full of snow from the high winds.

“This was a bad storm for upland game birds,” said Todd Bogenschutz, state upland game biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “It’s very likely we saw some bird mortality with this blizzard.”

Winter snowfall from December 1 thru March 31 is a good predictor of whether upland bird populations will increase or decrease the following year, and to have upwards of one foot of snow only 20 days into December does not bode well for pheasants, said Bogenschutz.

“Iowa had only 17 inches of snow last winter. Parts of Iowa are close to that total already with this first storm,” he said.

Iowa’s pheasant and quail populations were decimated by five consecutive winters of 30-50 inches of snow from 2007 thru 2011. The winter of 2011-12 with only 17 inches of snow led to the first increase in pheasant numbers in years.

“Upland bird hunters were hopeful this winter would also be dry and mild to speed a population recovery. Let’s hope there are no more storms like this for the rest of the winter,” Bogenschutz said.

NOTE:

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Pheasants Forever chapters will meet jointly next month to discuss methods to improve winter habitat for pheasant and quail. Iowa has 50,000 acres under a new Conservation Reserve Program called Iowa Pheasant Recovery SAFE. Landowners have the opportunity to enroll in this program first come first serve until the acres are gone.

Unfortunately county FSA offices cannot enroll Iowa landowners until Congress gives USDA authority to begin enrollment under a new farm bill.

Ice fishing

Winter has arrived.

The storm that ushered in winter last week brought with it cold temperatures covering most area lakes with a layer of ice. Since most lakes froze after the snow storm, there is a good chance for rapid ice development.

That’s good news for the ice fishing crowd who have spent most of December looking at green grass and open water. As a reminder, a minimum of four inches of quality ice is recommended for fishing and at least five inches for snowmobiles and ATVs.

“Ice fishing is one of our great winter sports and is really a fun, social activity best enjoyed with a group of friends,” said Joe Larscheid, chief of fisheries for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Early ice offers an excellent chance for success. If fish are finicky, plan to cut a series of holes and spend 15 minutes at each hole targeting active fish. Make sure to use small baits and light line.

Getting the equipment ready should also include ice safety tips.

“Now that we have ice, we need to go through our mental safety check list. Go with a friend and be sure to cut some test holes for ice thickness as you go out,” Larscheid said.

Safety Tips on the Ice

• There is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice.

• New ice is usually stronger than old ice.

• Ice fishing is a social activity, don’t go out alone. If the worst should happen, someone would be there to call for help or to rescue.

• There could be pockets of thin ice or places where ice recently formed, so it would be wise to check ice thickness as you go out.

• Ice thickness is not uniform on any body of water. Things like current and springs slow ice growth. Rocks, trees or docks that poke through the ice like will conduct heat and make the ice around it less stable.

• Avoid off-colored snow or ice. It is usually a sign of weakness.

• The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process.

• Safety items in the bucket: Ice picks, about 50 feet of rope and a throwable floatation seat cushion for use in case of rescue.

Source: Iowa Department of Natural Resources

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