Two common buckeyes among blue vervain and boneset flowers

“Along the river’s summer walk,
The withered tufts of asters nod;
And trembles on its arid stalk
the hoar plum of the golden-rod.”
–  John Greenleaf Whittier

July marks the midway point of the year, when the natural world really gets going and the excitement never ends. It is the time of gathering dewberries and the flights of swallowtail butterflies. Insects get more interesting, plants are flowering with a vengeance and rainbows and sun halos bring added interest to the skies. There is still enough warm weather yet to come, and everything just seems more enjoyable when happened upon in the garden or in the wild.

Orange glow from wildfire haze in the western United States just after sunrise on a foggy morning in late July 2021

This year so far has been for the birds. There are Carolina wrens nesting in my propane tank cover, a wood duck and her young at a pond where I work that is in a very busy area, and the gardener at work discovered a hummingbird nest, which can be hard to spot as the outside is covered with lichens and often blends in with the branch it is on.

Wood duck mother and her little flock head for cover provided by cattails.
Young hummingbird is almost ready to leave the nest

Native Nymphaea odorata water lilies are fragrant and white. Walking around a friend’s property where there is a large pond, the surface of the water was covered with the first pink water lilies I ever saw in a natural setting. They may have been put in years before when ornamental N. odorata varieties that were hardy became available.

Swallowtail butterflies are suddenly in profusion and their caterpillars are always a good find. Knowing the host plants is the key. Check out small cherries and tulip trees for tiger swallowtail cats that sit right on top of a leaf.

Caterpillar of the eastern tiger swallowtail

Crawling across the lawn one evening was a pretty large beetle with mandibles to be feared by lesser creatures. It was a male yellow-thighed stag beetle Lucanus capreolus. Males use their oversized mandibles to fight with rivals in order to mate with a nearby female.  These beetles make a loud buzzing sound in flight and are attracted to lights.

Lucanus capreolus. stag beetle

Hiking in Ayers Gap woods there was a string of silk across the trail. Hanging on it was a Micrathena gracilis spined orb weaver spider. Also known as the castleback orb weaver because of the unusually large abdomen with spines sticking out like turrets, females rebuild only the center of their web daily, not the whole web like most other orb weavers.

Female spined orb weaver
Top view of Micrathean gracilis
Indian pipe in woods at Ayers Gap

Some wildflowers that bloom now in wetland areas are monkey flower, boneset and Joe-pye weed. These attract many species of butterflies and pollinators and are often found together along stream and pond edges and swamp borders. The fragrant flowers of Clethra alnifolia, a wetland shrub, make this a plant that can be smelled long before you see it.

Monkey flower Mimulus ringens
Clethra alnifolia

Here’s to enjoying the rest of summer, keeping cool, and finding nice little surprises as move too quickly toward the colder fall and winter landscape of New England. and like this piglet from Organic Roots farm, find a way to stay cool on those hot days.

Pamm Cooper

 

hardy silk tree UConn Wilbur

Hardy silk tree

July in Connecticut is an exciting time for me because of all the good wildflowers and insects that abound at this time of year. Insects get more interesting in summer and late summer, especially caterpillars that feed on older leaves. Plus, many birds have fledged their first brood by now, so the young birds are scattering around keeping their parents busy. Flowering trees are few, but in July sumacs, tree-of-heaven and the hardy silk tree bloom from mid to late July.

black walnuts July 2017
Black walnut dropped fruit in July

 

While July is hot and sometimes dry, we have had an abundance of rain so far this year. This is a really good thing because the gypsy moth caterpillars severely defoliated many trees that now need rainfall to help put out new leaves before autumn. We hope next year will have less of these pests, especially since many of the caterpillars were killed by either a fungus or a virus.

bittersweet doing well

Bittersweet decorating a truck

Wildflowers like early goldenrod, swamp milkweed, bouncing bet, monkeyflower and nodding ladies tresses are in bloom now. And the peculiar Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora, has popped up, especially under white pines. It occurs in rich, damp forests where there is abundant leaf litter. While this plant may appear to be a fungus due to its white color due to a lack of chlorophyll, it is not. It survives in a mutually beneficial relationship with a fungus in the soil where it grows. Blue curls are an interesting wild flower that can form colonies in sandy, infertile soils. Bloom time is normally late July through mid- August. Check out damps areas for stands of swamp milkweed- one of the prettier of the milkweeds, to me. All kinds of butterflies and bees may be seen getting nectar from its flowers.

 

indian pipe

Indian pipe

blue curls Main st power lines August 5, 2012

Blue curls

 

This year Eastern red cedars have put out a bumper crop of fruit, unlike the dismal amount of blue berries produced last year. This is good news for migrating birds like the yellow-rumped warblers that rely of this food as they fly south. And, of course, the cedar waxwings that derived their name from their fondness for cedar fruit, will enjoy any fruit that remains after the migrators have departed.

cedar waxwing fledgling

cedar waxwing just out of the nest

Monarch caterpillars have been spotted, some in later instars, so that is good news for this favorite butterfly. Swallowtail caterpillars are also in later instars, and will have a second generation of butterflies later this summer. Check out small aspens for the caterpillar of the viceroy butterfly. This bird- dropping mimic will win no beauty contests, perhaps, but it is a good find nevertheless. Sphinx and many other moths are flying now, and bats are enjoying them during their night forays. Some of the geometers, or inchworms, have very pretty moths to make up for the drab larval stage.

chickweed geometer moth Bug Week insect hunt Pamm Cooper photo

Chickweed geometer moth

If anyone had their Joe-pye weed leaves chewed badly, it may have been the work of large populations of dusky groundling caterpillars. They are done feeding now, but keep an eye out next year if you had this problem. And aphid populations swell at this time of year as females give birth to live young by the truckloads. Sunflowers and milkweeds are just two of the plants that can have aphid populations that are very high.

dusky groundling joepye

Dgroundling on Joe-pye

Enjoy yourselves out there in the garden, park, or wilds. Look up and down and all around, for things of interest that abound this time of year. And listen for the katydids as they start singing during the hot, summer nights.

Conehead katydid neoconocephalus ssp.

Conehead katydid

 

Pamm Cooper