Sizzling summer photo opportunities

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — It is August in Iowa, so hot days are to be expected, and if one looks carefully, also offers unique opportunities to record photo images that help define summer. An early morning sunrise on July 31 created lots of warm light highlighting low lying fog in the Iowa River valley near Timmons Grove County Park. It was a quiet and peaceful setting worthy of note. Another summer treat were swallowtail butterflies feeding on pale purple coneflowers. Lastly, the yellow blossoms of cup plants growing prolifically at the Stanley Mill Mitigation Area will soon offer seed treats for many species of birds.

August is here, and us humans may prefer some other kind of daily weather that is a touch cooler. Never satisfied, humans can be a vain bunch.

How about trying to adapt to daily weather, a good thing, and then when next January arrives with an abnormal cold spell, we can resume complaining again. See what I mean by never satisfied? Life is full of variety. Enjoy it, accept it, and adapt.

Mother Nature gives us four seasons with plenty of natural variety within each spring, summer, fall and winter. The daily weather machine is always mixing air masses of cold air, warm air, and various degrees of atmospheric water vapor in an interplay that is tremendously complex, somewhat predictable, yet Mother Nature always retains her options for surprises.

The jet stream is a high altitude high speed system of air currents that travel around the globe in sometimes more or less straight pathways, or often will curve and undulate deeply into North America to bring pockets of very cold air into the mixture. Jet streams do work as a system that can drag storm components to unusual places.

You have probably heard the expression, “If you do not like the weather, wait five minutes. It will change.” How true.

Remember this: weather is the daily mixing of air masses. We get what we get. One day’s weather does not by itself define climate. Climate is a compilation of long term observations and data that can only be defined by hundreds, thousands and even millions of years.

Then climate history and data, recorded in rock strata, help tell us of earth times of the past that were very hot and dry, hot and wet, cold and wet or cold and dry. Those broad definitions existed at one time or another over enormous spans of millions of years.

In his book The Rocks Don’t Lie, author and geologist David R. Montgomery details how science can learn to read the history of the earth from rocks and landforms. Just one of those findings tells us that the earth has had a long long geologic history of violent beginnings, complete with continental sized building of tectonic plates that are always on the move, being pushed up from the earth’s interior, and subsiding at other locations back into and under the crust.

Volcanoes help to release internal earth pressures while spewing forth great quantities of gasses and ash. Earthquakes release crustal pressure squeezes and we see those effects as fault zones, mountain range building and erosion, with scenes of solid rock being split, offset and folded like taffy. Ocean levels rise and fall in response to worldwide glacial maximums and interglacial warmer times.

When one takes the long term view of how the Earth formed, and is being continually shaped even today by unstoppable galactic and geologic forces, it helps put in perspective how our dynamic Earth and its climates have changed repeatedly by natural processes. Keep these facts in mind next time someone tries to tell you that climate change is a man-made thing, and that if only we give the government all our money, we can “fix” the political problem. I do not buy that argument, and you should not either.


August happenings we can relate to, in our daily lives, are fun to know about and fun to participate in. Obviously one of those is the Iowa State Fair, August 11-21 at Des Moines. This summertime celebration is a highlight for many folks, exhibitors and common folks that want to see, smell and hear about all kinds of good things Iowa has to offer.

On the natural history side of this month of August, waterfowl are getting the urge, due to shorter day lengths, to assemble and begin migration forays. Blue-winged teal and mourning doves are congregating right now for a soon to happen migration movement mid-month. Swallows will soon do the same thing. They know time is running out for their summer and nesting time. Hummingbirds have August and September to prepare for their southward journey. A normal departure date for hummingbirds is the end of September. White pelicans will be seriously into migration mode by the end of August.

August day lengths for us at 42.41 degrees north latitude was 14 hours and 27 minutes on Aug. 1. By Aug. 31 that will have shrunk to 13 hours and 13 minutes. Our August first sunrise time was 6:03 a.m., and sunset was at 8:30 pm. Come the end of the month, sunrise will be at 6:34 a.m. and sunset at 7:47 p.m.

Historical notes of Iowa August happenings include the documentation on Aug. 16, 1956 of how Dutch Elm Disease was discovered. A once staple shade tree was the target for a little beetle who infested that species of tree. The tree in effect commits suicide by plugging its own water bearing pores in a futile attempt to counteract the alien invader.

The takeaway message now is to diversify shade tree planting with a wide variety of species. Elms were easy to establish back in settlement times because little elm saplings with bare roots could tolerate less than ideal handling techniques. When planted, they took off and grew into graceful shade trees.

Aug. 15 is when Iowa deer licenses go on sale for any of the fall seasons; youth, archery, gun or combinations depending upon your interests. Iowa biologists expect to have an off take from the population of 100,000 to 110,000 deer between mid-September and Jan. 10, or any special late January seasons.

On Aug. 20, 1804, Sgt. Floyd, a member of the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery into the western United States, passed away at Sioux City from appendicitis. His death is memorialized at a monument in that city overlooking the Missouri River.

On Aug. 25, 1916, the National Park Service was formed by Congress. That has led to some of the most scenic and most interesting geologic and botanical land features of the United States becoming important vacation destinations. These milestones of land are set aside for all generations of Americans.

Lastly, on Aug. 20, 1950, the cities of Britt and Sibley recorded the earliest frost and freezing air temperatures of 30 degrees Fahrenheit. It can happen, and it did.

We can blame that frost event on an oscillation from the jet stream that pulled cold Canadian air into the Midwest. It was just an example of a natural weather phenomenon.


Pheasant roadside counts have begun. State conservation officer Tyson Brown has one of his two assigned routes completed. On his first route to sample game animals, trying to dry off from a night of heavy dew, he observed nine pheasants, four gray partridge and one rabbit.

This basic data by itself is not the end all. Upland game bird biologists will put all 200 Iowa roadside count data into their trend line programs at the end of the month. Each route in Iowa is 30 miles long, and each route is a standard route used since the 1960s.

By counting game birds and rabbits or other wildlife on a clear morning with light wind and heavy dew from the night previous, count data can denote trend lines for overall population estimates. The things that change adjacent to each 30 mile route is how the land is utilized. The count data and known quantities of weather from last winter’s snow and rains this past spring combine to help biologists predict Iowa’s overall pheasant population as we move toward this fall. Pheasant season will open on Oct. 29, 2022.


Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.


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