apples 2015 Lapsley's Orchard

By all these lovely tokens September days are here, with summer’s best of weather and autumn’s  best of cheer”

Helen Hunt Jackson

September is here with its splashes of goldenrods, Joe-pye and other late summer flower. Butterflies that migrate are having their last hurrah and late season caterpillars are ready to pupate. Fruit trees are loaded down with apples, and the air in the early morning may be scented by ripe wild grapes. This is a great time of year, still green, but showing signs of the autumn that will soon arrive.  Getting outside now has its own sets of rewards.

spider web on a foggy September morning 2017 Pamm Cooper photo II

Spider web on a foggy September morning

 

While moving rocks in a landscape, one had a small mud like structure stuck to the underside. This was the work of the female Eumenes fraternus potter wasps construct mud brood  that look like miniature jugs. After an egg is laid inside with a good supply of caterpillars or beetle larvae to feed the larva when it hatches, the female seals the hole. Since the female potter wasps do not defend their nest, you can check inside to see the food stores/larva or pupa.

potter wasp structure under rock

Potter wasp nest cell attached to a rock

Wildflowers in bloom now include cardinal flower, turtlehead and closed gentians, all of which can be found in damp soils, especially along banks of ponds and streams. They can be found under shrubs or among other plants growing in wet areas. Cardinal flowers are a good plant to stake out for the hummingbirds that love their nectar. Bumblebees can be seen squeezing their way into to the gentian and turtlehead flowers that most other bees do not have the muscle to get inside.

turtlehead

turtlehead along a pond bank

There are spectacular late season caterpillars, like sphinx and tussocks. Also the aptly named asteroid, which feeds on both aster and goldenrod flowers and flower buds.

Lapara bombycoides northern pine sphinx

Northern pine sphinx caterpillar

asteroid

The asteroid

I had to rescue an eft of the red spotted newt the other day. They sometimes come out of the woods after rainy days in warm weather, and this little fellow had come a few hundred yards away from the nearest wood line and was in the middle of a fairway being mowed. Disaster was averted, and the eft was brought to a wooded area near a vernal pool.

red-spotted newt eft going up

eft of the red- spotted newt

I returned to an area of woods off a hiking trail that has a number of nodding trillium, Trillium cernuum.  They now have the brilliant red berry that contains seeds, but you have to lift up the large leaves in order to them. This is one of my favorite trilliums, mostly because it is hard to find, and then the flowers are a reward for those who peek under the leaves to find them.

nodding trillium

nodding trillium berry

 

This summer has been warm and droughty after a fairly wet May and June, and even part of July. There has been flooding after the numerous rains where soils are heavy and do not drain well. Then days in the 90’s coupled with poor surface drainage caused turf grasses to die. Even grasses in a light soil may have had shallow roots going into the hot, dry spell, and some of that turf may have bought the farm as well. Yesterday we had only an inch and a half of rain, and yet flooding still occurred where soils were hard from drought conditions. Like Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say- “It‘s always something!”.

flooding

flooding after a rain

I will not especially miss this summer, with its extended heat and awful humidity. I intend to enjoy the cooler weather and especially the cooler nights. And may I never complain about the winter again. Like that will actually happen…

 

Pamm Cooper

tree frog on turtlehead flower

you never know what you may find…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Spangled Fritillaries on Boneset

Great Spangled Fritillaries on Boneset

‘ Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.’

Henry David Thoreau

Late summer is an exciting time to be out and about in the world of nature, at least for me. I look forward to the plethora of insects other creatures that are the late- season bloomers here in Connecticut. It can be almost a personal restorative to find flora and fauna in their natural habitats going about in their daily groove. It is a relaxing escape, at least for me, and is often full of surprises.

The shoreline can provide an excellent opportunity to see wading birds like plovers and egrets well after breeding season is over. Also, late summer is the time to find migrating butterflies making their final push north at the close of their breeding season. A recent trip to the Guilford Salt Meadows Sanctuary proved timely as there were many monarch butterflies floating about and one was laying eggs on milkweed plants. A friend reports he was in Waterford last weekend at Harkness Memorial State Park and he also saw numerous Monarch butterflies there.

Snowy egrets are fun to watch as they wade in shallow coastal waters searching for fish and other aquatic animals. They are identified by their elegant white form, black legs and bill and funky yellow feet. While they often stand frozen on logs or the water’s edge waiting for prey to come near, they also will run through the water, wings outstretched, as they chase fish or other vertebrates. Breeding plumage of wispy plumes adorn the head and back of snowy egrets, and were used by the fashion industry for hats and other items, nearly causing this bird to become extinct.

Snowy Egret on the water's edge at the mouth of the Connecticut River in Old Lyme- August 2015

Snowy Egret on the water’s edge at the mouth of the Connecticut River in Old Lyme- August 2015

Dragonflies are abundant now, and green and blue darners are especially conspicuous on account of their size. Dragonflies can be found in the early morning hours resting on dewy grass and other plants waiting for the sun to rise to provide the warmth needed to fly. Predatory as nymphs and adults, dragonflies are made for the fast flight and aerial maneuvers necessary to catch insects on the fly.

Female Calico Pennant dragonfly on blueberry

Female Calico Pennant dragonfly on blueberry

Lots of butterflies are around right now, especially where goldenrods, Joe-pye weed, boneset, ironweed and other late- blooming plants are found. Fritillaries and Tiger Swallowtails seem to be more abundant this year than are Spicebush Swallowtails and the Black Swallowtails. Perhaps this is due to the winter, as spring reports of the latter swallowtails indicated few, if any were seen.

Wineberries, Rubus phoenicolasius,  an introduced raspberry species whose Latin name means “ raspberry with purple hairs”, are ripe now. An eastern Asian native introduced to eastern North America in the 1800’s, it is considered an invasive weed in many states. The fruit develops within a hairy calyx which folds back as the drupelets becomes mature. Wineberries are very tasty and juicy and the seeds are not as hard as those in other raspberries.

Wineberries at the edge of a thicket

Wineberries at the edge of a thicket

Winged Monkey Flower, Mimulus alatus, is a native plant commonly found blooming in wet areas in early August. It has a very distinctive tubular blue to violet flower and square stems. If you hang around these plants long enough, you may see tiny bees or flower flies work their way into the flowers until they disappear deep inside the tube, crawling out shortly after obtaining nectar. The common name apparently arises from the flower’s resemblance to a monkey face.

Tiny Syrphid Fly on Winged Monkey Flower

Tiny Syrphid Fly on Winged Monkey Flower

I saw a spined Micrathena spider for the first time, near the wineberries mentioned above. This peculiar- looking member of the orb weavers can be mistaken for a leaf- footed or similar bug just by its manner of moving. This spider builds her web between shrubs or small trees and it is  often this web that you may encounter when walking through the woods.

Spined Micrathena Spider

Spined Micrathena Spider

Assassin bugs and other predatory insects are common almost anywhere at this time of year. Check out goldenrod flowers for ambush bugs waiting for butterflies, bees or other insects to visit flowers. It has been a banner year for predatory stink bugs and praying mantids. Mantids can often surprise you as you deadhead flowers or cut down old lily leaves in the garden.

Newly molted ambush bug on goldenrod

Newly molted ambush bug on goldenrod

August is a good time to search for the caterpillars of sphinx moths. Grape is a host of a variety of sphinx caterpillar species. The giant silkworm caterpillars of the Io moth, Luna and Polyphemus, among others, are also found at this time of year. I raised several Io moth cats from the first instar and now have four pupating and two on the verge. Careful handling of these caterpillars is required as the many barbs are attached to glands that release a toxin when touched. The experience is very painful, so the good word is “ look, but do not touch”. Daggers and prominents are other interesting caterpillars found late in the summer through early fall.

Io moth caterpillars two instars

Io moth caterpillars two instars

Look closely at the surrounding landscape. Join me as a member of Leaf- turners Anonymous. And don’t forget to check out the ground- oil beetles and caterpillars looking to pupate travel there. Observe the sky as well for clouds and birds that can be dynamic when seen against the bluer, clearer skies of late summer and fall. Especially notice the little things. What may seem unimportant and uninteresting may prove to be worthwhile and fascinating to the careful observer. Case in point- whlie enjoying a look at a tiny gray tree frog and taking its picture, a tiny monarch caterpillar passed by in the background.

gray tree frog and monarch caterpillar

Pamm Cooper                                                          All photos copyright – Pamm Cooper

Male and female gray tree frogs.  JAllen photo.

Male and female gray tree frogs. JAllen photo.

To my delight, I came upon this pair of gray tree frogs (Hyla versicolor) on the sidewalk at a convenience store one morning this May.   I nearly missed seeing them and was VERY glad I did or I would have stepped on them!  Gray tree frogs have the ability to camouflage themselves, changing color to blend into their background as much as possible.  On the gray sidewalk, the female, larger frog on the bottom had changed to a palette of gray and black tones as you can see in the photo.   The smaller male on top has retained more green coloration.   The species name of this beautiful frog, ‘versicolor’, comes from its ability to change coloration.

Finding this charming pair made me interested in learning more about their biology and habits.  Nocturnal for the most part, these two probably got caught out in the open by mistake, after leaving their usual tree-top environment for mating.  After finding them on the sidewalk, I moved them off to a moist, shady area in the grass, closer to the trees nearby.  I didn’t want them to get stepped on or fried by the sun when it reached their resting spot.

The gray tree frog is native to much of the eastern United States and parts of southern Canada.  It is not found in southern Florida or in most of Maine.  Look for them in forested areas that are near water or that contain either seasonal or permanent bodies of water.  They leave the trees for mating, which is most active in spring but extends into August, so this is the best time to see them.  Gray tree frogs mature and begin to mate at the age of 3 years.  Females lay as many as 1800 to 2000 eggs on the surface of shallow water.  Bundles of 10-40 eggs are attached to vegetation.  Tadpoles hatch in 4-5 days and metamorphose into little green frogs after about 2-2 ½ months.  As the little frogs grow, their color changes from bright green to various shades of green and gray, usually mottled.  Adult frogs have rough, bumpy skin.

Gray tree frog tadpole (Univ. of RI photo)

Gray tree frog tadpole (Univ. of RI photo)

Females are larger than males and have a lighter colored ‘chin’. The male chin is darker because they have sacs in their throats for calling during mating season. Females do not have a call. Listen to the call of the gray tree frog! The inner thigh is bright yellow-orange and is visible during jumping. This can confuse predators and hopefully deter them! There is also sometimes a dark-edged light spot just below their eyes. Adult frogs are 1 ¼” to 2 3/8” long at maturity.

Newly metamorphosed gray tree frog. Univ. of RI photo.

Newly metamorphosed gray tree frog. Univ. of RI photo.

Gray tree frogs can survive cold temperatures as low as -8° C (17.6° F) and overwinter under logs or debris on the forest floor.  In addition to moving to a protected, insulated place, they keep some of their blood from freezing by producing ‘antifreeze’ in the form of glycerol.  About 40% of their bodies and fluids can freeze without harmful effects.

While gray tree frogs are not considered an endangered species, frog and toad numbers are steadily declining in many areas due to pollution and habitat loss.  It is important to monitor their populations and work to preserve their habitats. In Connecticut, the decline of the gray tree frog was noted as early as 1937.  A main reason for this is the loss of shrubby swamps which is their preferred breeding habitat. When land is developed for residential or commercial use, there is a legal requirement not to lose wetland acreage, but often the desirable shrub swamp habitat is either drained or converted to ponds and small lakes in this process.  These new wetlands often contain fewer species of amphibians and reptiles that are hardy enough to adapt to the new environment.

J Allen