From the Naturalist!
Goodbye, September. Welcome, October. It has been a warm Fall here in Marion County. The drought is being felt by everyone and everything. October is about to give way to a month of color and one of the best times of the year. The warm days and cool nights, and lower humidity, brings brilliant colors to our trees and landscape. The Iowa DNR predicts that the peak colors for South Central Iowa will be the second through the fourth weeks in October. https://www.iowadnr.gov/Conservation/Forestry/Fall-Color
The Harvest Moon occurred September 20, 2021, it was the full moon nearest to the date of the autumnal equinox September 22, 2021. The Hunter’s Moon is the first full Moon to follow the Harvest Moon which will occur on October 20, 2021.
Many of our birds are still migrating from the North Country pushing through Iowa. Sightings of the ruby-throated hummingbirds are continuing and will continue through the latter part of October. Keep your feeders up – they need the energy! Some warblers have been moving through Marion County, but observations are far and few between. If you are out and about, watch for ruby-crowned kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers, orange crowned warblers and, eastern towhee. They will be feeding on ivy, dogwood, honeysuckle and other berry producing shrubs. This month will also bring some of our beautiful sparrow species. Shorebird sightings have been extremely low. Egrets, herons, and pelicans can easily be seen on most larger bodies of water. The pelicans have been quite impressive flying in their circular and v-formation around the Lake Red Rock area.
Autumn dragonfly sightings have been extremely low compared to past years. Although their migration runs late in the season, sightings of darners, meadowhawk species, gliders, and others, observations have been less than rewarding. As an indicator species, it becomes quite a concern.
Numerous praying mantises are out and about. We have two species in Iowa, the small Carolina mantis, and the much larger, Chinese mantis. This is the time of year when you can find the unusual looking egg case, called an ‘ootheca’. It is an odd, frothy type of egg case that can hold 30 to 300 young. Orb weaver spiders continue making their daily webs and providing their services feeding on end-of-the-year insects within the tall grasses, woodlands and even your own backyard.
There are still straggler migrating Monarchs making their way south. Monarch numbers seem to be up this year, but many other species have been very low in number. This month will hold mostly the Sulphur species, such as the Clouded and Orange Sulphur, Cloudless Sulphur, Dainty Sulphur, Gray hairstreak, Meadow fritillary, Fiery skippers, Wild Indigo duskywing, and Pearl crescents and possibly a few Buckeye butterflies. Keep looking for other migratory butterflies, such as the Red Admiral and American Lady. With all the aster and goldenrod species growing along the roadsides, pastures, and prairies, these are one of the finest attractors to all our butterflies and moths.
The deer will be showing themselves a little more this month. Pre rut season will be coming in the next few weeks. (mid-October). Most of the bucks within our areas will be moving from their early season areas to their fall ranges. The fawns’ spots will be fading and the does and young will be out and about. The fur color is changing and is very thick. Did you know that deer hair is hollow?
Groundhogs belong to a group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. Though we usually see them on the ground, they can climb trees. During the summer and early fall, they eat as often, and as much as they can to build up nice fat reserves to get them through the winter deep down in a burrow. So, what do groundhogs eat? Plants, fruits, and berries. So…answer me this. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?
Of course, we cannot overlook our helpful bats valued for their insect control services. Iowa has three forest-dwelling bats and five cave-dwelling bats that spend at least part of the year in Iowa. Most of us are familiar with the big brown bat. They are the most widely distributed in Iowa and will hibernate in human structures as well as caves and rock crevices. This specie is the last to enter hibernation in the fall and the first to emerge from hibernation in the spring. The beautiful Hoary bat is Iowa’s largest bat. These bats undertake long seasonal migrations, sometimes traveling as far south as Panama to spend the winter before returning to Iowa in the spring. You can learn more about Iowa’s Bats: https://www.gladysblackeagle.org/topics/2014-topics/bats-begin-with-b
Snakes, turtles, frogs, and many other cold-blooded creatures are migrating to their winter homes. Whether it is deep down in the muck of a pond, or deep down in a hibernacula, all things are preparing for winter. This month will be beautiful, but bittersweet.