July 2019

A phenology year - and it's summer!

Marla Mertz, Marion County Conservation

What we have seen this past month

And it’s summer. We have experienced the full Strawberry Moon on the evening of June 19 to morning of June 20, the brightest of our planets Saturn appeared near the full moon.

June brought us more of a ‘calm’ from the speed of spring. Numerous birds have gone through their nesting season and the young are out and about with their parents learning the ropes of woodland, prairie, and wetland ecosystems. The young eagles have branched and are now entering their next journey of learning flight, hunting experiences, and trying to figure out why their presence creates issues with songbirds. They may get a few bonks on the head and a major ‘chewing out’ from red-winged blackbirds and other birds that are raising a family in the area.

Mammals continue to rear their young. Young fawns and does were spotted in early and late June.

The bass and bluegill have spawned and the little fish are gathering together in pools feeding on small insects that thrive in the water. Pond lily leaves are unfolding and blooms are on their way to create a shaded haven for dragonflies, damsels, butterflies, Northern water snakes and frogs. The Boreal chorus frogs have been changing from their tadpole stage and gaining lungs and finding their wetland homes within the vegetation.

Marion County Conservation staff monitors dragonflies and damselflies to document occurrences in our areas. The information and data is recorded to help the state’s conservation organizations of these indicator species of critical habitats. Dragons and damsels provide information about our water quality and issues of Iowa environmental concerns within our watersheds.

Learn more here:

June 17-23 was National Pollinator Week. In 2007, the U.S. Senate approved and designated one week each year to highlight the urgent issues of the decline in many of our pollinator populations. Marion County’s pollinator plots and reconstructed prairies have been beaming with numerous bees, butterflies, beetles, flies, moths, and birds. It’s a great time to visit these areas to discover the many insects and birds, look carefully as some like to hide. If you’re unsure of and curious to know the names of these pollinators, this a great use of that smartphone and take pictures! Use those pictures to help you identify when you return home.

The first generation of monarchs have been flourishing and their vivid colors are seen more regularly. Butterflies that have been observed in our areas include spring azures, numerous hairstreaks and wood satyrs, painted ladies, American ladies, red admirals, monarchs, pearl crescents, cabbage whites, clouded and cloudless sulphurs, least skippers, peck’s skippers and silver-spotted skippers.

Be sure to check out the Poweshiek Skipper Project and their monthly butterfly forecast for central Iowa.

The prairies and cliffs are home to many wildflowers. We found these plants blooming in June: alumroot, spiderwort, blue-flag iris, beardtongue, sawtooth sunflower, daisy fleabane and black-eyed susan’s, yarrow, pale purple coneflower, pimpernel, four’o’clocks, Venus looking glass, common and purple milkweed, and our Iowa State flower the wild rose. The non-native periwinkle-colored chicory is being seen along the roadways along with Queen Anne’s lace. Numerous trees are beginning to fruit with nuts and berries. It’s a good time to go outside and forage for gooseberries, wild raspberries, and mulberries.

A closer look at something from the previous month

Milkweed is essential food for monarch caterpillars and there may be caterpillars hiding in plain sight in your yard.

Honeyvine milkweed is known by many names such as sand vine, bluevine milkweed, climbing milkweed, smooth swallow-wort, dog’s-collar, Enslen’s vine, peavine, and smooth anglepod. It is often mistaken for morning glories, bindweed, and buckwheat all bearing heart-shaped leaves. Honeyvine is a hardy vining plant that can quickly take over gardens and bushes, however it is actually a native variety of milkweed that creates vital habitat for monarch caterpillars.

If honeyvine is in your garden, removing it in this season is not a great plan for it could come at the cost of many young monarchs. Monarchs often start laying their eggs on milkweed as soon as the plants start sprouting and by late fall when the monarchs have left, the seeds of next year’s honeyvine have already spread.

The best course of action to protect both the caterpillars and your yard would be to cut the seed pods from the plant before they have time to fully develop through the summer, then remove the plant after the monarchs have migrated, and plant other, less invasive types of milkweed so the monarchs have habitat to return to next summer.

What we are expecting to see next month?

Continue to get outside to forage for those wild raspberries and mulberries. The berry season is running a little later than normal. We will be seeing blackberries this month.

The beginning of July is considered the peak nesting season of our Iowa State bird, the goldfinch. They are one of our later nesters as now is when the plants and food needed to feed young are abundant. Did you know goldfinch love catnip seeds?

Wetland plants like arrowhead plant and water lilies will be blooming. Numerous other species of dragonflies, damselflies, flies, as well as toads, tree frogs, salamanders, and other aquatic species will be changing from their nymph and tadpole stages.

On July 4, Planet Earth reaches its most distant point from the sun for 2019. Astronomers call this yearly point in Earth’s orbit our “aphelion.”

Saturn is closest to the earth on July 9 this year. You may be able to view the rings and moons of Saturn with a telescope.

Prairies and grasslands will be full of many species of birds, insects, and wildflowers. The cool pathways below the native grasses and forbs provide needed shelter from the heat for many species of wildlife. We will be watching for the blazing star within our prairies and cliff areas.

An activity to try!

Toad-ally awesome

A toad is a gardener’s friend because it eats a lot of insects. Invite a toad to live in your garden by making a toad-ally awesome toad house.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A medium-sized clay flowerpot
  • Acrylic paints
  • Paint brush
  • A towel

What to do now:

  1. Wash and dry the pot if it has been used.
  2. Paint leaf and flower shapes in greens, browns, and other earth toned colors all over the outside of the pot, including the bottom.
  3. When the paint is completely dry, go outside to the garden and find a sheltered spot among your plants. Lay the pot on its side. Use the trowel to bury it halfway beneath the soil. Put some dead leaves and other garden debris in the bottom of the toad house. Check back after a few days to see if any of the debris has been moved. If you are patient, you may catch a glimpse of your toad sometime. If no toad seems to come to your house, try moving it to another location

Next time you see a toad, stop and get acquainted. No, you won’t get warts, but be really gentle or your hand will get slimed.

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.