September 2019

A phenology year - fall is around the corner

Marla Mertz, Marion County Conservation

What we have seen this past month

August is always such a hurried month. The race to get ready for school, sprint car races, fairs, last minute vacations, yard work...whew. August 2019 was a cool temperature month. We have had a few storms, tornadoes in the general area of Marion County, high winds in others, which left paths of downed trees and changes in our landscape. This month was also a labor-intensive winter preparation for our wildlife.

August 15, we saw the Sturgeon Moon.’ The full moon arrived one day after the peak of the Perseid meteor shower and three nights after making a close pass to Saturn.

Many songbirds are appearing throughout the woodlands and edges. Young woodpeckers, cedar waxwings, flickers, bluebirds, mourning doves, and many others are being seen and heard. The American goldfinch (Iowa’s State Bird) nested late July and early August were seen feeding on seeds from the prairie plants. They rely on the composite flowers like asters, coneflowers, sunflowers, ironweed, goldenrod, and others. It won’t be long before the males begin molting to their winter color plumage.

The young bald eagles are soaring with family members and turkey vultures. Although they can still be a little clumsy and unpredictable, they are getting more confident with their hunting and flying skills.

Prairies are bursting with the colors of yellow, white, and purple. Coreopsis, sweet black-eyed susans, brown-eyed susans, sneezeweed, and many species of sunflowers are various shades of yellow. The white common boneset is beginning to bloom. Many butterflies and insects are visiting this blooming plant. Round-headed bushclover is also making quite a show. The tall grasses including, big bluestem, little bluestem, Indiangrass, and side-oats grama are waving their colorful seed heads. The splashes of silvery green of sage make a lovely contrast in any area. The bloom of the white cream gentian can be found along and within the prairies.

The woodland paths and edges have been blooming with mullein foxglove, hog peanut, goldenrod, a small type of lobelia, great blue lobelia, sweet Joe-pye weed, common boneset, white snakeroot, jewelweed, cup plant, partridge pea, wild lettuce, pokeweed, starry campion, frog fruit, Indian pipe began appearing toward the end of August, and the brilliant red berries from spring’s Jack-in-the-pulpit and Green Dragon are beginning to appear. New England asters, heath asters and others are also appearing around woodland and prairies edge. One of the most spectacular plants that bloomed in August is rose mallow boasting its large blooms.

The prairies are filled with numerous insect predators and spiders ready to take advantage of the end of the warm season. Webs are being built high, low and ground level by species of orb weavers, grass spiders, tunneling spiders, and wolf spiders.

The rocky cliffs of Cordova park are filled with rough blazing star reaching from the rocks to the sun, numerous species of goldenrod, flowering spurge, and a few blooms of wood sorrel that forgot that we are heading into Fall.

The wetlands are boasting numerous sedges, arrowhead plant, Pennsylvania smartweed, and the areas that have rich bottom muds may still have blooming American lotus. You never know what you may find in the wetland - check out this pad!

The monarchs that are hatching in August are considered the third generation and will be migrating to Mexico in September. Many other butterflies were seen along paths, driveways, prairies, and woodland edge. This month was a great time to see the red-spotted purple butterflies, eastern-tailed blues, little yellow, dainty yellow, clouded and orange sulphurs, dog-faced sulphurs, cabbage whites, coral hairstreaks, viceroys, fritillaries, checkered skippers, American snout, wild Indigo duskywing, common sootywing, great-spangled fritillary, pearl crescent, tiger swallowtail and, black swallowtail. Remember to check out the butterfly forecast.

Some fawns are beginning to fade their camouflaging spots and the velvet from the bucks antlers are shedding. Muskrats are beginning to cache their winter food in our wetland areas. Squirrels and nut eaters are locating a wealth of food for the winter as the hickorys, oaks, and walnut trees are dropping their bounty. We are still seeing young rabbits and squirrels. Most hatch year great horned owls have been sent out on their own. Species of swallows are lining up on the power lines and being seen in large groups. This gathering is in preparation of migration. Some of the young of the year pelicans have arrived in Marion County to take advantage of the weather as they move southward. Some always appear in August as the shad are abundant. A few shorebirds are appearing within our area also. Several young great-blue herons, great egrets, and green herons are dotting the areas in preparation for movement.

Hundreds of common green darner dragonflies were moving due to the flying ant hatch that happened in mid-August. Other dragonflies located in the area were, blue-faced meadowhawk, slaty skimmer, spangled skimmer, calico pennant, widow skimmers, twelve-spotted skimmers, citrine forktails, and sedge sprite.

You can tell the air is changing, plants and animals are changing, but we all hope that you can still take some time to visit the out-of-doors before the subtle silence of winter comes upon us. This is a beautiful time of year.

A closer look at something from the previous month

The real life dragons and damsels are magnificent insects. Fossils and historical information studies have noted that they lived here long before the dinosaurs roamed over 250 million years ago.


Dragonflies and damselflies are a big part of citizen science and used to monitor critical areas in Marion County public areas. As a naturalist for the county, it is always difficult to spend adequate time on any one species or ecosystem. Conservation education is a naturalist’s main goal within the conservation areas of the county they are working. You know a ‘little’ about a lot, and a ‘lot’ about nothing. Naturalist’s rely on observation, reading books, asking experts to inform the public on a desired subject.

I always marveled at dragonflies while helping groups study one of our wetland areas. Finding the nymphs of these raptors of the sky was probably the most exciting finds for youth. Dragonflies and damsels spend more time as aquatic larvae than they do in the air. Depending on the time of the year, we would watch the adult dragons fly through the cattail reeds and sedges looking for insects to eat. Students were intrigued about the metamorphosis process that took place with these insects. They only thought butterflies could do that.

The insect that inspired me to do a lot more digging into the life of Odonata (dragons and damsels) was the ebony jewelwing. I had only seen this in books and envied others that had the opportunity to actually witness this tiny damselfly. In the past two cycles of spring, summer, and early fall, I have had the pleasure of meeting almost 50 different dragons and damsels.

The study of Dragonflies and Damselflies have provided new light and great experiences to life and habitats of critical environmental indicators. All species that we study have significance of telling us more about the quality of our environment, if we stop and take the time to listen with our eyes.

The Marion County Conservation Department reports photos and findings to the Iowa Odonata Survey (IOS) and to Odonata Central. The IOS is a data and informational site that holds no meetings and no dues. All you need to do is submit your information and you become a member. Both of these sites have species lists that are always updated by county and state. This is the purpose of the Iowa Odonata Survey: “Our purpose is to maintain good data on the occurrence of odonates in our state, educate folks on the bugs that inhabit many of their favorite nooks and crannies, and provide consultation to the state’s conservation organizations on the critical habitats and environmental indicators as they relate to the odonata. Water Quality is such a major issue in Iowa environmental concerns and odonates provide us with some great information on the quality of our watersheds.” Odonata Central is a nationwide site for reporting finds in your area and a wider range of species noted outside of Iowa.

The Iowa Odonata Facebook page is a great group page to follow. The MCCB utilizes the page on a regular basis noting finds and dates. People all across Iowa report their finds. These sites and administrators are a wealth of knowledge, makes learning fun, and the best of the best experts that assist in vetting (confirming species) your finds.

It’s going to be hard to wait until next spring to begin the Ode season again.

For more learning:

An activity to try!

What we are expecting to see next month?

  • Monarch butterflies begin congregating for migration early September.
  • Fall colors begin in the Northern portion of the state.
  • Insect retirement, bees, flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, etc.
  • Spiders!
  • Hatch year Osprey will begin their journey to Central America.
  • Hummingbirds, orioles, tanagers, and all neotropical migrants begin their southern journey.
  • Larger groups of shore birds will begin appearing on their migration routes.
  • Some common green darner dragonflies are migratory, as well as, other dragonfly species. September will most likely be the last month to find some of our magnificent dragons and damsels.
  • Fall orchids, such as, coralroot and ladies tress’ will be blooming.
  • Blue-jays, squirrels, chipmunks, and others will be caching acorns.
  • Woodduck migration begins.
  • September 23rd is the Autumnal Equinox

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.