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Orioles brighten summer skies

July 7, 2012
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

This week's featured critter is the BALTIMORE ORIOLE, a colorful orange and black feathered bird with a body size similar to a robin. It's flame orange color can be seen as it darts about the top branches of trees during its feeding expeditions. This oriole gets its name from its bold plumage, the same colors as were used on the heraldic crest of England's Baltimore family. Well adapted to human settings, this bird prefers open woodlands, forest edges, river banks and small groves of trees. Backyard feeding stations are readily used in addition to natural foods of insects such as beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, moths, flies, spiders, snails and other small invertebrates. They will also feed on tent caterpillars, gypsy moths, fall webworms and the larvae of plant galls. The nest of the female oriole is a small hanging basket of woven grass threads from the tall branches of elm, cottonwood or maple. Most people will see the nest only after the fall leaf drop exposes the nest site. Summer nesting is in all of the midwest and eastern parts of the USA and southern Canada. Winter home is Central America.


DROUGHTS happen and this year is surely shaping up to be another very dry year. It does all seem to fit into the current 11-year sun spot cycle whereby the Northern hemisphere is susceptible to the whims of cosmic energy inflow variances combined with Pacific ocean water's temperature fluctuations. The bottom line is that us humans have to accept the inevitable mood swings of weather that Mother Nature throws at us. What goes around comes around. In a few years, rain and too much of it may be what we have to deal with. In the long run it will average out, and a state climatologist can then say that Iowa had an above average or below average year. The trouble is that every year is slightly different, always a tweak or two above or below long term historical data.

Article Photos

An adult Baltimore Oriole feeds grape jelly to its begging young hatchling of the year. After feeding it two times, the third time was a charm as the young bird figured out how to feed itself. Orioles are easily attracted to backyard feeding stations with dark colored fruit. They prefer only ripe deep purple grapes, the reddest of cherries and the darkest mulberries.

If one looks at very long-term geological data of past climates and climate shifts, a bigger picture emerges of the true driving forces of nature that control the environment. There are no computer models that even come close to being accurate in trying to decifer all past climatic shifts, let alone trying to predict what the future holds. The earth's elipitical orbit changes from almost circular to more football shaped over a period of about 100,000 years. There are also variations in earth's axial tilt between 21.5 degrees and 24.5 degrees on a 40,000 year cycle. Then add into the equation precession, or wobble of the axis of the earth on a 19,000-year cycle, and you have the ingredients for climate shifts of huge proportions. Driving all of this is our energy source, the sun, one little star out of millions of stars, in just one little part of one little arm of our galaxy, galactically speaking.

When the sun's energy pulses, and it does, the energy impacting earth at 93,000,000 miles may change a scant part of a percent from year to year, decade to decade and century to century. Depending upon how the earth is configured in the above mentioned orbit, axial tilt or wobble, conditions have been ripe in past geologic times for multiple, very cold conditions and the onset of glacial advances that typically last 90,000 to 100,000 years. The flip side of all these cosmic conditions can lead to very warm climate shifts that can also last for long geologic periods of time. Rocks all over earth tell the story, and rocks tell the truth about what transpired long long ago. Hurray for rocks! And this scribe says 'thank you' to all the scientists that can explore the messages that rocks have to tell us about earth's natural history.

We are presently living in an interglacial warm period between worldwide glacial events. Interglacial warm times last 15, 20 or maybe 25,000 years. It has been about 14,000 years since the leading edge of the Wisconsinan ice wedge covered a big portion of north-central Iowa. That Wisconsinan ice stage is the name geologists put on the most recent full-scale northern hemispherical covering of ice. The leading edge of that glacial system traces a ragged edge from Wahsington state all the way across North America to Maine and the Island of Newfoundland. Similar conditions existed across all the Scandanavian countries, Europe and northern Asia. We must take advantage of our spot in time to adapt as best we can to those conditions of drought today, or too much rain next year or all the in-between conditions that will ultimately constitute the day-to-day weather we must live and work in.


Project AWARE is going to try to do a cleanup of litter and junk from the Iowa River between Dows and Marshalltown next week. I wish them all good luck. Water conditions in the Iowa River are very low, so low in fact that base flow is really all that consitutes the water in the river. Every feeder stream is also low. Viruallty no runoff exists, so there is not sufficient water to create the depth needed to float canoes or kayaks. Sandbars are high and dry and some have been dry enough for long enough to allow green, weedy vegetation to take root. That happened in 1977, and 1988, also drought years similar to now. The Iowa River at Marshalltown is at stage 9.71 feet, a relative number only, and that is very low. Water passing the guaging station is only 180 cubic feet per second. And we have the hottest and dryest portions of the summer ahead of us.


If summer CAMPING is on your mind, Union Grove State Park, located between Garwin and Gladbrook, has a remodeled, modern campground up and ready for first-come-first-served basis. The project was undertaken in 2011 but was set back by the windstorm of last July. The campground upgrades have been finished as of June 29. New shower houses and bathrooms, nine campsites with electricity, water and sewer, plus other campsites with electricity only for a total of 25 stations. All of the $400,000 in improvements is now ready for public use. There is even a new modern family cabin with air-conditioning that opened on March 16 of this year. Contact Park Manager Roger Thompson at 641-473-2556 for details. Union Grove State Park offers a swimming beach, picnicking, hiking and fishing in or on the 110 acre lake.


The IZAAK WALTON LEAGUE of the Marshall County area will host an appreciation "Happy Birthday America" meeting at 7 p.m. at its clubhouse two miles south of Iowa Avenue on Wednesday, July 11th. There is no formal program so the entire evening is slated to say thanks to the founders of our country. Hurray for that and Amen also! A Birthday Cake, ice cream, light sandwiches, chips and drinks will be offered for all to enjoy in an evening of fellowship. Tours of the Ikes grounds, archery and gun ranges and trails will be offered. Any Ikes member, family or prospective Ike member is welcome to attend. See you there. Save some ice cream for me. Yummmy stuff.


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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