Exploring August in The Last Green Valley
“Two butterflies spin round and round above the buddleia bush. I watch them disappear over the wild cherry trees, still whirling on an invisible axis like some heavenly body moving through space.” — “Circle of the Seasons: A Journal of a Naturalists Year, August 1, Signs of Change,” by Edwin Way Teale.
August starts Monday and the signs of change are everywhere; we only need to open our eyes and ears to them. Here’s what I’ll be looking for this month as we explore August in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor.
My morning slumbers are no longer interrupted by the dawn chorus of singing birds. Most of our regional songsters have completed the cycle of rearing young and their morning territorial calls are no longer necessary. In the trees and bushes of our yard I have seen fledglings of robins and bluebirds, and a young red-tailed hawk has been calling from the edge of the back pasture where it meets the adjacent woods. I think it’s hungry.
I still hear the beautiful, fluted song of the shy hermit thrush in the deep wood and likely will hear it sing all month. During forest rambles I always stop to take in the sound of this most amazing bird. They have an extended breeding season and are the last of the thrush species to leave in the fall for winter quarters in the southern states, as well as the first to head north in the spring. It’s cousin, the wood thrush, migrates all the way to Central America and crosses the Gulf of Mexico in a single night flight.
Already some early migrating birds, such as the barn swallows, are gathering. I counted 15 lined up on the electric line between the house and barn, the beautiful blue-black color of their back and wings glistening in the sunshine. The nesting season is over, but the frenzied feeding on flying insects has begun to fuel up for the long flight ahead. Like the thrush, they too winter in Central America and even further into South America.
The morning bird songs of spring have been replaced by the summer night calls of insects. On the night of July 23, I heard the katydids, which seemed early to me. Perhaps our 90-degree weather and drought conditions have gotten them starting earlier? For me, despite the heat, the call of the katydid is a sign that summer is on the wane and the slow approach of autumn has begun. They’ll continue to call until the first frost.
Green darner dragon flies are everywhere, zooming and flying like miniature helicopters over fields and wetlands. They live for 2-3 years underwater as voracious predator larvae before pupating and leaving their liquid home. The adults live only a few short weeks, dining on various other flying insects and searching for a mate. The female lays her eggs on the stems of aquatic plants, just below the surface of the water, and the cycle continues.
Goldenrod is starting to bloom and will hold its flowers well into September. This beautiful wild plant is frequently blamed for hay fever, but it is ragweed that causes the most sneezes and watery eyes. Goldenrod gets blamed because it is so visible in fields and along roadsides. It is an important plant for migrating monarch butterflies and is one of the last plants they feed on before beginning their amazing journey southward.
My mother used to sing a song from the musical “South Pacific” with the first line of “I am as corny as Kansas in August I am as normal as blueberry pie.” The song is called “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” but that first line is the one I remember her singing. I keep that family tradition alive and hum the tune when buying sweet corn from our local farmer’s market and farm stands. There is nothing like the taste of freshly picked sweet corn, and August is the month it arrives by the bushel. Tomatoes are slowly ripening. This is the month our kitchen table will be covered in the bounty of our garden and the canning process will commence. We planted three long rows of tomatoes this year, so we’ll have our work cut out for us.
The quote at the top of this column is the first sentence in an opening paragraph to Teale’s essay “Signs of Change.” It concludes with “In the circle of the seasons, there is no pause. Already summer slides towards autumn. On this hot afternoon, at the very summit of the season, signs of change are in the air.”
It has been a glorious summer, though at this writing we certainly could use more rain to relieve drought conditions. I so enjoy living in a region where each season is dramatically different, where the cycle of life is vivid and visible, and each month provides yet another natural wonder to experience. We live in a special place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. I hope you’ll join me and together let us enjoy it, care for it and pass it on.
Information for this column was sourced from A Look at the Season’s Main Events Day Calendar produced by Northern Woodlands, The Cornell Lab for Ornithology website All About Birds, and Circle of the Seasons: A Journal of a Naturalists Year, by Edwin Way Teale.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at 860-774-3300 by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Exploring The Last Green Valley, Sunday, July 31st, 2022
The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the following article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.
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