January 2020

A phenology year - the final dance of 2019

Marla Mertz, Marion County Conservation

Can you believe 2019 has come and gone? December 2019 has been quite pleasant with a little precipitation here and there, but many above normal temperature days. Some were still working on finishing up their harvest in the beginning of the month.

We experienced the Full Cold Moon on December 12. Known to us as “Winter Solstice,” the first day of winter occurred on December 21...the astronomical moment when the Sun reaches the Tropic of Capricorn we have our shortest day and longest night. December 26 was the third and final solar eclipse of this year. Like a total solar eclipse, an annular solar eclipse happens when the new moon is at its farthest point in its orbit around Earth. Such a moon is too small to cover the sun’s disk completely. Instead, an annulus – or thin ring of the sun’s surface-surrounds the new moon silhouette.

Locating wildlife this month has had its challenges. The deer are getting harder to find until dusk, as are owls and other crepuscular (active at twilight) animals. Their activity is hard to capture with simple cameras, so just enjoy the moments of sights and sounds that are meant for you only. Chickadees, cardinals, eastern bluebirds, woodpeckers, sparrow species, cedar waxwings, and blue jays can usually be found around dense edges feeding on their natural food sources. While the songbirds are feeding is a great time to photograph them!

This time of year also brings in raptors to their winter ranges around us in Central Iowa. The ground dwelling grassland birds, like the short-eared owl and the Northern harrier have arrived in the area. It is exciting to catch a glimpse of these amazing birds and note that the creation of more grassland areas has brought these birds back to their natural hunting grounds. Long-eared owls and rough-legged hawks have also arrived to their winter ranges.

The trumpets have been sounding as trumpeter swans have been seen with hundreds of Canada geese, mallards, and a few other ducks. In Marion County, below the Red Rock Dam, approximately 50 American white pelicans and thousands of gulls are over-wintering. Open water and food abundance gets them through our winters.

Stop by Horn’s Ferry Bridge below Red Rock Dam to see a good number of bald eagles congregating in the trees along the Des Moines River. Bald eagle pairs are performing courtship behaviors and we see many resident nesting pairs in their nest trees.

Winter sunsets, rainbows, and halos are always magnificent in the winter months. The crispness of the air, the ice crystals hanging in the sky, and the memorable color almost makes Iowa look like an exotic island. What a great time of day to stop for a moment and enjoy. I encourage you to check out the links and information in the Winter Night Sky feature!

The monthly phenology segments are now complete. It has been quite fun to photograph the wolf tree and woodland creek at Cordova Park in Marion County each week for a full year. This was a weekly phenology challenge that becomes pretty impressive as you look at the albums as a whole. We encourage you to take a look at the albums below and possibly challenge yourself or family member to do something similar. A 4-H project comes to mind.

Happy New Year to you all.

Phenology happenings in Marion County, Iowa

As we notice the things in nature that are changing, we'll be adding to this calendar.

Each week a new photo of the woodland creek and the wolf tree will be added to each album! Both of these locations are within Cordova Park. This park is managed by Marion County Conservation.