Finding Beauty in a Summer Day
The Summer Solstice may be in June, but for us New Englanders it is July when summer really starts. The heat of the season draws me outdoors to the wealth of beauty right out my doorstep. Here is what I’ve been seeing so far and what I’ll be looking for as we slide toward the “dog days of August.”
New birds seem to be everywhere. Fledgling robins, bluebirds and cardinals have mastered the art of flying. While they don’t have the beautiful plumage of their parents, the sight of them is a splendor to behold. They join their parents in groups in our trees, begging for food. Some are even bold enough to join their parents at the feeder.
It only takes these smaller songbirds a few weeks to move from hatch to fledge, however, bald eagles take months. In our region bald eagle chicks hatch between mid-March and mi-April, and by the time July rolls around they have mostly taken wing and left the nest.
I monitor a bald eagle nest for the CT DEEP Wildlife Division and keep tabs on all the known nests in The Last Green Valley. This year my nest had two chicks. By the end of June, I spotted both in nearby trees but still close to the nest. They are successful fledglings with their beautiful dark brown feathers with a few white spots. It will be five years before they have the distinctive pure white head and tail. Since 1992, the first year of reported post DDT fledglings, there have been more than 770 bald eagle chicks in Connecticut.
Is there anything more transfixing than an evening walk in July into a field lit up by the blinking tiny stars of fireflies? No Fourth of July fireworks display can compare with what nature has been providing for eons. I admit to being mildly obsessed with them and have been catching them in glass jars by the dozen since I was a kid. I look for them on dry warm nights when the air is still. Their light show is all about finding a mate. Both males and females use bioluminescence in the art of attraction but only the males fly while the females climb leafy grass stalks or bushes. The show is ephemeral with adult fireflies only living 2-3 short weeks. Enjoy it while you can.
So many flowers are blooming right now it is not possible for me to name them all. Our property has beautiful blue and purple irises that delighted us back in June. This month it is lilies that attract our attention with their tall stalks and bright orange flowers leaning towards the warm July sun.
Our patch of milkweed is now in full bloom, and we’ll be on the lookout for the monarch butterflies that depend on this wild plant. The beautiful orange and black butterflies are truly the “monarchs” of our region’s butterflies. I hope they’ll visit our yard this month and lay their eggs on the milkweed leaves. It is the preferred food for monarch caterpillars, and we are happy to maintain the patch to invite them for a visit and to stay for a while.
This month there will be plenty of mosquitoes and other insects for our resident bats to feed on. We look for bats just after sunset, when there is still enough light to see their frantic flight pattern over the yard and back pasture. This month the female bats will be nursing their pups, so they’ll need plenty of calories from their nightly feeding for milk production. If you’re lucky, when the pups get older, you might even see the females flying about carrying their young. The pups have long strong legs that help them cling and hold on tight. The little “papoose” is getting a flying lesson and learning how to catch insects on its own.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and to me, bats are not only amazing flying mammals, with some reported to live 30 years, but also exquisite animals to appreciate by all who encounter them.
July is the time when most of our frogs and toads metamorphose. Tadpoles (or pollywogs if you prefer) are sprouting legs and transitioning from breathing with gills to lungs. This is one of the most visible transformations in nature and a wonder to see and actually hold in your hand. Is a frog beautiful? There is an old saying “the heart sees clearer than the eye,” and perhaps that is why the princess in the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale kissed the frog to break the spell put upon a handsome prince by a wicked fairy. I don’t need to kiss a frog to know they are beautiful animals and an important part of our region’s healthy ecosystem.
Are insects beautiful? If you have ever seen a dragonfly up close, then you’ll know the amazing combination of colors found on some species – especially the large male common green darner dragonfly with bright green thorax and bright blue abdomen. July is when you’ll start to really see them, sometimes by the hundreds, cruising over ponds and fields feeding on mosquitoes and other insects. Their helicopter flight pattern is a thing to behold.
In July, the warm days and nights bring us into regular contact with the beauty of our natural world. I hope you’ll join me as we explore The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and work together to care for it, enjoy it, and pass it on.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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