Monday, August 10, 2015

Transitions at mid summer

By Beth Sullivan
When the calendar page flips from July to August, it is met with a wide variety of reactions. A child will think they have the WHOLE other half of the summer ahead. An older student might realize the summer is more than half gone, and there is much still to do. We all seem to know that August flies fast!
Gardeners try to deal with the heat and the dry conditions. The planting rush is over, weeds are being combatted, we have experienced the rewards of a few harvests, and we await the bigger bounty of the next weeks. Earlier in the summer, it was impossible to keep up with vines and greenery threatening to overtake all trails. The crazy flush of growth has slowed. Plants are putting more energy into the flowering and seed development necessary at this point in the season.
Many grasses have ripening seeds that will be a major food source for birds and mamals

The August meadow has Milkweed but not a lot of color yet

In the woodlands, the shaded forest floor is no longer a place for flowering. The spring wildflowers have set seeds, and foliage has in many cases, disappeared until next year. Now it is time to look for the non-flowering plants; the ferns and mosses with spore cases, the fungi and the mushrooms with their colorful fruiting bodies. They thrive in the dense shade of a midsummer forest.
Mushrooms and ferns thrive in the shady, humid understory

Colorful season

In the fields, the colorful phase is just beginning now. As the season peaks, the flowers are most abundant, and the timing could not be better, as the insects are rapidly increasing their populations. Many are the plant eaters and the pollinators. In hives and nests, the insect population has exploded over the last month, and they are not done yet. The fields are busy-caterpillars, bugs, crickets, and grasshoppers are consuming huge amounts of foliage. Bees, flies, and butterflies are consuming nectar and transferring pollen from plant to plant. As they go about their business, they are also on the food chain where other creatures are waiting for them. The dragonflies soar over the field catching insects, and spiders either lie in wait to grab their food or spin elaborate webs to ensnare it. A walk in the field at this time is a lesson in camouflage, mimicry, and life and death!
A well hidden spider lies in wait

Most of our native birds have completed their nesting. Their broods are out and being instructed on the finer points of feeding themselves. The Swallows and Purple Martins gather on trees and utility lines, the young waiting for a parent to bring a mouthful. Frequently the huge Darner Dragonflies are the favorite target of the aerial insect catching birds, and their wings, as well as those of butterflies, often litter the ground beneath a favorite feeding spot.
Barn Swallows are not quite ready to take care of themselves

The Martins still come to roost at Knox Preserve but nesting is done.

Late nesters need seeds

The Cedar Waxwings and Goldfinches are our last birds to nest, and only now are incubating eggs. They rely more heavily on seeds which will become more abundant later this month.
Goldfinches are late to nest and rely most heavily on seeds

Out on Sandy Point, shorebirds that have completed raising their young gather to fuel up for the long southward migration.
Shorebirds are already gathering on Sandy Point before migration.

It is a time of subtle transition, one of many as we work our way through summer. Enjoy what each transition brings.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan

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