Naturally Speaking: A Summer of Unusual Natural Events

Steve Lekwa

June certainly broke some records regarding rainfall and even some heat records. They certainly weren’t the only unusual natural occurrences, but it’s likely that some of the unusual observations I have made are related to the unusual weather.

I wrote a month ago of an unusual outbreak (at least for central Iowa) of that little scourge of northern lakes and rivers, black flies. They’re the swarming little gnat-like flies that you don’t feel when they bite. The bites itch days afterward, though. They’re usually a spring menace and taper off by summer. At least they seemed to have tapered off here in Nevada. Sue and I spent part of a lovely cool, clear July 8 morning out in the boat on Don Williams Lake north of Ogden. We caught quite a few crappies, but none were large enough to keep. I was quite surprised when we brought home quite a batch of black fly bites, though. The little devils swarmed us in spite of Deep Woods Off and a nice breeze. They stayed with us even when we headed out to the middle of the lake and opened up the trolling motor to full speed.

Black flies breed in moving water, while mosquitoes need stagnant water. Mosquitoes aren’t long-distance fliers, prefer shady areas and calm winds. Those black flies, on the other hand, demonstrated quite clearly that they don’t mind lots of sun and can handle a pretty stiff breeze for long distances. My guess is that June’s excessive rains created lots of moving water that black flies found ideal for reproduction – even in summer.

Excessive rain probably didn’t have much influence on another unusual occurrence, but lots of early heat may have. I’ve been hearing cicadas for at least two weeks. Their droning mating calls are usually part of hot, hazy late July and August “dog days” afternoons. I don’t recall ever hearing them in late June!

I planted wild columbine flowers in the wood chip mulch around the bases of many of the trees in my yard many years ago. They’re perennials that do well from seed and are one of the favorite nectar sources for hummingbirds when they return in early May. In fact, I don’t bother putting out my hummingbird feeders until I see the first red columbine flowers opening. They’re usually done blooming and are setting seed by early June. I have never seen blooming wild columbine in July, but there are still lots of red flowers on my columbine plants on July 8. I had already harvested much of the early bloom seed, but for some reason, the plants cycled into a whole second round of blooming once the heavy rains started.

We’ve had quite a few cowbirds around this summer. That’s usually a very bad sign for local nesting songbirds. I was surprised the other day when a family of speckled young chipping sparrows appeared on our deck with their parents. “Chippies” are often victimized by cowbird nest parasitism and raise only the single baby cowbird that’s more than twice their size. The local cardinal pair also brought a young one in to introduce to the feeders. They frequently fall victim to cowbirds, too. No baby cowbirds have appeared with any of our daily feeder visitors yet. Did the heavy rains foul up the cowbird’s usual thorough coverage of area nests? Whatever the reason, it was nice to see those young songbirds.

One last thing – my zucchini plants have become monsters with all the moisture. I may be looking for good homes for lots of zucchini if production reflects plant size.

Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.