Sunflower in its glory

“This morning, the sun endures past dawn. I realize that it is August: the summer’s last stand.”
― Sara Baume,

August is a favorite month for me as many things I have been looking forward to in the scene have now arrived. Whether in the garden or in the natural environment, there are plants, birds, insects and other things that seem to be more interesting to encounter later in the summer than earlier.

Late bloomers like Caryopteris (bluebeard), turtle head, goldenrods, boneset and spotted Joe-pye weed add interest to the garden and provide food for bees and butterflies before the cold weather sets in. Closed gentians put in a more subtle appearance hidden under shrubs and small trees along pond, stream and lake edges. As many bees are active right until cold weather sets in, these late bloomers are of special value.

wool carder bee at Hill Stead museum sunken garden 8-20-2019 Pamm Cooper photo

Wool carder bee at Hill Stead Museum sunken garden 8-20-2019

Canna lilies and Caladiums, great annuals for foliage color and texture, should be at their peak foliage development now. While still in bloom, check out hedges and borders of hibiscus, hydrangeas and rose-of-Sharon that can make attractive screens with their colorful flowers in August. The hardy hydrangeas will also continue to delight throughout the next month or so as their flowers change colors as they age.

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Sun backlighting ‘Calypso’ Canna lily leaves

hibiscus border

hibiscus border

‘Little lambs’ hydrangea

Numerous butterflies are out and about, although this year many species seemed few and far between. Monarchs, though were numerous. One butterfly that was an unexpected surprise-seen just about everywhere, it seems- is the common buckeye. Usually considered vagrants from the south, they were here as early as June and were breeding throughout the summer

 

Spicebush swallowtail on salvia

Two common buckeyes amid wild blue vervain and boneset August 2019

Check out Rudbeckia  flowers for the diminutive camouflage looper caterpillar which cuts flower petals and sticks them on its body to hide from potential predators. There are also many other small loopers that can be found on black-eyed Susan flowers.

Camouflaged looper with flower parts slapped on it to hide from predators

 

Sunflowers are a winsome addition to any garden and are easy to start from seed in June. There are many varieties to choose from, and some are pollen-less for cutting and floral arrangements. ‘Firecatcher’ has flowers that smell like Juicy Fruit™ gum.

Sunflowers can be started from seed and should be in full bloom by the end of August

Yellow sunflower

Orchards are having a terrific harvest this year. Rains were not as abundant as last year, but the sun was, so fruits like peaches and nectarines are especially sweet this August. Native trees and shrubs that ripen their fruit early include the sassafras and some viburnums, and birds will usually eat the fruits before they drop off to the ground.

sassafras fruit

Sassafras fruit

Along hiking trails, in open fields and in the woods, the caterpillars that are found from August until fall are usually more robust, colorful and generally larger than their spring and early summer counterparts. Sphinx, giant silkworm, dagger, tiger and prominent moth caterpillars are some of the more interesting ones. Generally not pests, several can occur in large enough numbers in the garden landscape to cause alarm, such as the Datanas, but in the wild, they are not a major concern. Slug caterpillars are small but many can inflict a painful sting if the urticating spines are touched. One of the more notorious is the spiffy looking saddleback caterpillar.

 

Early instar saddleback caterpillar August 2019

Northern pine sphinx

 

At any time of year check out the skies for colorful sunsets, sunriss and cloud formations. Indicative of weather to come, clouds and sky colors are good to learn about. A sweet little book on clouds and other phenomena of the skies is “The Cloud Collector’s Handbook” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.  Like anything else, it takes practice and careful study to correctly identify anything, clouds being no exception.

August dawn with a crescent moon

August 28 2019 dawn with a crescent moon

I will be enjoying the rest of August and the upcoming September, which I hope will be warm. Keep your eyes open for migrating night hawks and tree swallows. which are starting their southern journey now. Large flocks of tree swallows were seen this last week of August week at Hammonasset Beach State Park.

tree swallows Hammonasset August 28 2019

tree swallows Hammonasset State Park August 28 2019

 

One last note- if you are hiking along a woodland trail and come across a single strand of spider silk running between two trees, follow it to the main web. It is likely a spiny orb weaver, Micrathena gracilis , which eats her web every day and builds a new one in an hour the next day.

Micrathena gracilis spider

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

groundnut August 13 2017

Groundnut flowers

“The brilliant poppy flaunts her head

Amidst the ripening grain,

And adds her voice to sell the song

That August’s here again.”

–  Helen Winslow

 

August means summer is heading for a subtle change. Evenings begin to get cooler, skies are less hazy, most birds are getting a break from chasing fledglings all over creation, and the sounds of crickets and katydids during the night have replaced the trilling of the tree frogs. Bats are seen more frequently now as many moths and other late summer night- flying insects are abundant. Trees and shrubs have ripening fruit, deer are eating acorns already and, to top it all off, we just had a solar eclipse. Now is a great time to get outside and see what is happening in the garden and in the wild.

female and male juvenile wood ducks Early August Airline Trail marsh Pamm Cooper photo

Juvenile wood ducks are on their own now

The tiger bee fly, Xenox tigrinis is a very large fly that can be seen flying about now. About the size of a quarter, this fly may fly low over lawns and can be mistaken for a wasp. It has large white markings at the end of its abdomen and they really stand out against the black color of the rest of the abdomen, resembling a bald faced hornet somewhat as it flies around, , apart from its size. Female tiger flies lay eggs near carpenter bee tunnels, and its larvae will eat the bee larvae that are developing within.

tiger bee fly 8-21-2017

Tiger bee fly

One of our larger spiders is the black and yellow orb weaver, Argiope aurantia. Commonly known as garden spiders, orb weavers are frequently found in gardens, meadows and fields. Their web has a zig-zag pattern at the end of a  thickened strip of silk that and may signal birds so that they see it and avoid flying through the web, thus saving the spider from major repair work. Who knows? Other creatures seem to miss that cue and end up as little morsels in the food “web”.

orb weaver spider

yellow and black orb weaver

Another orb weaver, the arrow spider (Micrantha sagittata), is much smaller the black and yellow one, and is one of only three Micrantha species found in North America. It has an interesting web composed on a rather permanent frame structure and then the orb section is built inside the frame at dawn every day. In the evening, the spider will consume the orb part of its web and have to start anew the next morning. The whys and wherefores of this behavior is one to be marveled at, if not at all understood by mere mortals.

Arrow spider Micrathena sagittata PAmm Cooper photo

Arrow spider

Butterflies are having a banner year- even giant swallowtails are being seen in northern Connecticut as of late. I just peeked inside the old stinging nettles leaf shelter of a red admiral butterfly caterpillar and found its chrysalis inside. One way to avoid predators is certainly to make oneself scarce. Monarchs, spicebush and tiger swallowtails and American ladies are abundant in numbers this year. Good plants for late season butterflies, especially migrators, are boneset, Joe-pyes, goldenrods, mountain mint, lantana, petunias, impatiens and bluebeard (Caryopteris). Mints and bluebeard are excellent for late summer pollinators as well. My gardens are humming with bee and butterfly activity right now as I have most of these plants in flower.

red admiral chrysalis inside nettle leaf shelter

Red admiral butterfly chrysalis inside a nettle leaf shelter

Venturing out where forbs and small shrubs abound, you may run across the groundnut, Apios americana a native perennial vine that right now is in flower. The sweet- scented flowers are wisteria- like in form, appearing in small clusters along the vine. Found climbing among small shrubs and perennials like dogwoods, goldenrods and ferns, this plant is sometimes only noticed because its flowers are so striking in both color and clustered among a green background form the plant derives its name from the edible tubers that were consumed by native Americans and early settlers.

Cardinal flowers are also in bloom along watercourses now, and their brilliant dark red blooms and rich nectar attract hummingbirds. Along with jewelweed, cardinal flower is a great source of food for these energetic little birds. If you wait long enough when these plants are flowering, a hummingbird or two should make an appearance.

cardinal flower in stream

cardinal flower

Giant silkworm moths are putting in a second appearance this year, meaning a second or partial second generation of caterpillars will soon hatch. Over the last three weeks, Polyphemus and Luna moths have been seen, and there are fourth instar Promethea caterpillars out. Since the giant silkworm caterpillars take so long to reach the pupal stage, they may run out of foliage as many of the trees they feed on may shed their leaves before they can form cocoons.

exhausted Polyphemus moth on leaf litter Pamm Cooper photo

Polyphemus moth

And be careful out there! This past weekend I found two saddleback slug moth caterpillars in two different areas of the state, both on foliage not far off the ground. Though small, these caterpillars have many urticating spines that can cause a sensation like being stabbed with hundreds of tiny red-hot hypodermic needles.

saddleback found on small black cherry 8-19-2017

Saddleback caterpillar

As we move into the end of summer, sunrises and sunsets should be more colorful as the skies get cooler and particles high in the atmosphere scatter the blue light to our west and east as the sun sets or rises. To the early bird, then, may you see a spectacular sunrise.  And to the observer at eventide, may you be rewarded with an equally breathtaking sunset.

August dawn GHills from 8 8-18-13

August dawn

 

Pamm Cooper          August 2017