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Nature thrives in summer to survive winter

June 16, 2012
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

CEDAR WAXWINGS are cool birds. They usually are found in flocks of six to 12 as they dart into berry laden bushes. They may hover a bit to pick a fruit, or hang upside down from a branch to pluck its meal. Berries are swallowed whole. You can expect waxwings in and around berry-producing bushes all summer until about mid October when they head for more southern climes.


Another cool bird observed mid week was an adult BALD EAGLE soaring over the Iowa River at Timmons Grove. This adult eagle is most likely one of a pair with a nest somewhere in the remoteness of the river valley. A check of the eagle camera website for the Decorah eagles shows those young eagles almost ready to fly away, but not quite. Young eagles at this time of year are flapping their wings while on the nest to strengthen flight muscles as they develop. They will hop and flap short distances to nearby branches of the nest tree. However, the big plunge to actually fly away will come later this month. The parent eagles will continue to feed the young for several more months until instinct takes over and they begin to find food by themselves.

Article Photos

Berry picking is high on the agenda for this Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum). While the berries of this scribe’s nanking cherry filled the tummy of the bird, I used the opportunity to fill the camera memory card with its image. I hope you enjoy the picture. Waxwings are very slick looking birds due to the fine texture and subtle color variations of its brownish tan to yellow feathers. However, its black Zorro face mask is a trademark. In addition to berries as food, add insects, flower petals and sap.


PHEASANTS made the news this week with information from DNR Biologist Todd Bogenschutz concerning pheasant nesting forecasts. A neat thing about biology and research has been the ability to plug in major factors related to winter and spring weather from a data set that is over 50 years running. From this data, Bogenschutz said "we should see our first statewide pheasant increase in more than six years. This is the best combination of winter and spring weather we've seen for ground nesting birds since 2003. Over the past 50 years, Iowans have seen similar weather conditions to the past winter and spring about 6 times. In each scenario, the average increase in pheasant numbers was 42 percent."

So, we can look forward to an increasing population of pheasants this year, modest as it may be. If 2013 and 2014 weather over the winter and spring would be similar to this year, even more pheasants are going to be produced and survive. While the computer model is helpful, caution is always a factor in forecasts since biologists know that the model is correct up to about 80 percent of the time. Many other factors impart their influences in real world conditions.

Conservation reserve acres enrolled in long-term grass plantings is on a downward trend. There were 1.97 million acres enrolled in Iowa in 2007. As of the fall of 2011, CRP acres had fallen to 1.66 million. In Minnesota and the Dakotas, CRP acreage drops are even more pronounced. Iowa has several CRP continuous sign-up programs on-going with a new proposal being formulated now from the US Department of Agriculture targeted toward pheasant production.


Lots of new whitetail deer FAWNS are breathing new life right now. Now is peak fawning time after a seven month gestation period from last November's deer mating season. Deer are very adaptable animals as each fall's deer season reduction programs can attest to. The need to manage the overall herd to the 'social' carrying capacity must be balanced with the actual carrying capacity of the land. Influencing all of this are landowners, hunters and politicians. The tight-rope of prudent regulations that deer biologists must walk without falling off is not as easy as it may appear. This scribe puts his money on sound science -based biology, and not on emotional coffee shop , back room, truck stop, water cooler for break room blabber.


RAIN. We could use some gentle showers. But what actually falls from the sky is part of long term cycles of the interactions of our sun and earth's atmosphere. Adding to the situation at hand is the current sun spot 11-year-repeating phenomenon. Deep within the sun, huge magnetic eruptions reach the surface and are somewhat cooler than the surrounding gasses. Thus the spots appear darker to our filtered telescopes on earth. Pulses of energy from the sun in the form of cosmic winds of charged particles impact high altitude clouds on earth. This does ultimately impact rain patterns.

If you recall the drought of 1977, 1988 and dry times of 2000, this current sun spot cycle is not unexpected. A drought in 2012 is possible. Given a few years into the future, when sunspot cycles subside, we can expect more rains with the inevitable occasional flooding of the Iowa River ... again ... just like it has done for tens of thousands of years of geologic time. For humans, our only option is to adapt to the current time.

From the history climate rainfall books come the following: In this area, the 33- year average rainfall in June is about 5.5 inches. The least amount of rain in the last 33 years was in 1988 with 1.1 inches. The most rain was in 1998 with 13.8 inches of the wet stuff.


Next week is the mark of the SUMMER SOLSTICE, the first day of summer on June 20th. At this point in earth's orbit around the sun, we are farthest from the sun than at any other time of year, a mere 152 million km or about 94.4 million miles. In the winter we are closer and the distance is reduced to 91.3 million miles. What makes all the difference now is that the northern hemisphere is tilted about 23.44 degrees from the orbital plane and facing the sun. Result: we get more daylight length in the northern hemisphere. Our friends in the southern hemisphere have the opposite effect and are now beginning the first day of winter.

Day length and photoperiod are important biological signals to plants and animals. They respond to sunlight length in terms of kicking in the mechanisms that allow for life, preproduction and necessary food production to survive the coming winter. It is a grand mechanism indeed. Even people grow their garden produce now in preparation for hard times to come when we can't grow crops in frozen, snow-covered soil.

Day length data shows the following facts: Our earliest sunrises will be at 5:34 a.m. from June 9 through June 20. On June 21, the sunrise will be one minute later at 5:35 a.m. As to sunset times, the latest begins June 22 at 8:50 p.m. and continues through July 3. On July 4 the sunset will be one minute earlier at 8:49 p.m.

All of nature is preparing for the coming winter right now by stocking up on nutritious foods. Are we doing the same? Hopefully yes.


Here are some additional cosmic perspectives to contemplate. Our sun is located on just one segment of one of many spiral arms of the Milky Way, about 25,000 light-years from the MW's center. At 186,000 miles per second, if one could travel that fast, it would take 25,000 years to reach the middle of the Milky Way. On a clear, dark, moonless night, without a telescope, the human eye can see about 6,000 stars. If the entire galaxy was a giant pizza, all the stars we can see would fit on one pepperoni. For every star you can see, there are 20 million you can't see because they are too far away, too faint, or blocked by cosmic dust.


Global warming/cooling: Entirely natural. Global ignorance: Now that is SCARY!


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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