Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On the Move

After the better part of a month visiting my feeder, the ruby-throated hummingbird (or birds; at one point there were two) has not been by. I put out fresh sugar water and if there is no activity in the next day or two I will be forced to conclude she is on the move southward.

The nights have been cooler this month, for the most part, and many of the flowering perennials have that tired look, as if they know summer is coming to a close and they want to rest. For now the butterflies - swallowtails, viceroys, cabbage whites and the mighty monarch among others - are all over the butterfly bush and the bees love the rose of sharon, joe-pye weed and the late-blooming sage.

They know summer is ending, too, and they have to get moving.

There has been a lot of goldfinch activity. Goldfinches breed later than other birds, needing the late-summer seeds for their young to survive. Suddenly, there are flocks of young birds of all types noisily investigating the plants and the water dish in my backyard. Because the thistle plants are now seeding in those (increasingly fewer) areas where wildflowers and weeds are allowed to grow, I have put out two thistle feeders. Some goldfinches have come, joined by chickadees and titmice.

Tiger swallowtail, a late summer visitor to the butterfly bush.

At Duke Farms the other day, the compost pile at the community gardens was covered with over 100 cowbirds, another sign summer is ending. Cowbirds, starlings, grackles, blackbirds form large winter flocks once mating and young-rearing are over. It always amazes me that cowbirds can create such large groups considering female cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of others. Somehow these young, growing up with surrogate parents of a different species, know to leave the nest and meet up with other cowbirds.

My peppers are finally growing but are slow to go red. My tomatoes, once again, are a disaster - no more! Most of the tomatoes I’ve used have been from farm markets and that will continue. I can only hope the peppers ripen before it gets cold. A friend has shown me how to keep basil going and I look forward, I hope, to having more herbs in winter.

There will be a lot of outdoor plants that will be on the move indoors soon.

Birds are on the move. There have already been reports of warblers seen in Central Park, and the hawk watch at Hawk Mountain has been open since mid-August. As of Aug. 25, the month’s total is 333!

Some people I know are already taking their college kids back to school, and soon their younger children will be heading back to classes, too. Vacation time is over.

The June bugs are gone and the cicadas, crickets and katydids are becoming more fervent in their mating calls. They can sense the days are getting shorter and their time is short.

Trees also sense the days are shorter. The leaves have been falling from my apple tree and the locusts for weeks, The dogwood’s leaves have red mixed in with the green. Soon enough the yellow will come to the elms, the red to the maples and the brown to the oaks.

Unlike those who want to live forever in their shorts and flip-flops, I don’t mourn the passage of summer. I like my weather cooler. It keeps me alert. It is easier to walk farther when I'm not weighed down by heat and humidity. I like looking for birds but it sure is easier watching them at the feeders than stomping through hot, muddy swamps and bug-filled woods.

But I must admit it is a shock to suddenly see it getting dark at 8pm, to wake to a darker 6 a.m., to hear my husband announce he just has to get in one last barbeque before Labor Day, and to realize I haven’t seen a hummingbird at the feeder in days.

August has been comfortable after July’s intense heat. September will be cooler still, and the hawks will soon be riding the winds out of the north along the ridgelines. I look forward to seeing some of them during this year’s southbound migration.

But sitting still on my porch in the dusk, I am also enjoying today.

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