tiger swallowtail and obedient plant

Tiger swallowtail on obedient plant flower

“What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.” – Jane Austen

What a strange summer we have had so far in New England! I almost thought of going to Florida to escape the heat and humidity. It has been hot and humid, no doubt, but it is August after all, and things are coming along nicely in the out- of-doors. This time of year there is enough good stuff going on in the landscape to overcome any weather difficulties we may be experiencing, so let’s plod on out and see what’s happening.

Horsebarn Hill on a foggy July morning

foggy morning on Horsebarn Hill UConn

 

 

As we head on into the mid= summer, most garden buffs are by now reveling in the abundance of hydrangeas that are now in bloom. The dwarf ‘Little Lime’ is one of several panicle Hydrangeas that have nice full-bodied lime green flowers that pack a visual punch in the landscape. ‘Little Lamb’ is another of the smaller panicle hydrangeas, this one also having a compact form with pure white, ethereal blooms that give it its name.

little lambs hydrangea

‘Little lamb’ panicle hydrangea

Hibiscus are also blooming now, with their outstanding large, colorful flowers that really provide some visual excitement in the garden. I came across a nice hedgerow type planting that made a nice privacy screen along a sidewalk. I am not really a hibiscus fan, but a pink- flowered one popped up in my garden, and looks so great there that I guess it can stay. I wonder if someone snuck it in there to get me to have kinder thoughts toward these plants…

hibiscus border

Hibiscus

On the wild side, the sweet- smelling Clethra alnifolia is in full bloom and is attracting all types of bees, beetles and butterflies. Look for this small clump-forming shrub in any areas where soils are moist. The white flower spikes are very fragrant, so you can tell where Clethra are long before you actually see them. Groundnut vine is also blooming now, with its pea-like pink flower clusters dangling from its twining stems. Often found twining itself around goldenrods and blue vervain, it is always fun to come across this plant.

red spotted purple on clethra alnifolia

Red spotted purple butterfly on Clethra

The barn swallows that are partial to building their nests on the eaves of our equipment building have had their second brood of the year, as have bluebirds. Hopefully that will exit the nest soon and mom and dad can have a much needed rest in the near future. There was a female wood duck taking her brood on a tour in a large beaver pond the other day.

barn swallows ready to leave nest

barn swallows ready to fledge

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

Juvenile wood ducks

I came across a wild grape that had one leaf covered with interesting cone- like galls formed by the grape tube gallmaker midge (Schizomyia viticola). This is a harmless gall, and only affected one leaf on the entire grape plant. Looks like a bunch of tall red, skinny gnome caps were set on the leaf.

grape tube gallmaker on grape leaf

grape tube galls

Combing through garden centers for great plants is always enjoyable when you find something like the Blackberry or leopard Lily Belamcanda chinensis. Star shaped flowers only 2 inches wide are heavily spotted with red, while foliage is sword- shaped. The flowers appear in late summer and bloom until frost, so this is a good plant to spiff up areas where other perennials are fading into the sunset.

leopard li;ly Belamcando chinensis

leopard lily Belamcando chinensis

Interesting plants suitable for containers are agave and other succulents. I saw a good size Agave colorata recently which was very striking in appearance. Its leaves are thick and powdery blue- gray with unusual cross- banding designs on them, plus leaf edges have brown teeth tipped with spines. A spectacular plant!

Agaave colorata

Agave colorata

pattern on agave leaves

patterns on Agave colorata leaves

Caterpillars this time of year are larger and, in my opinion, more interesting than the early season caterpillars. One favorite is the brown- hooded owlet, which is a sports a rich array orange, blue, yellow and red. Look for this caterpillar on goldenrods, where it feeds on flowers and flower buds.

brown-hooded-owlet-caterpillar

brown-hooded owlet

If you want a nice surprise, with a little careful handling you can check inside folded stinging nettle leaf shelters and may find either caterpillars of the comma or red admiral butterflies, or the chrysalis of the red admiral.

red admiral chrysalis inside nettle leaf shelter

red admiral butterfly chrysalis inside a leaf shelter on stinging nettle

 

The skies can provide some viewing that is better than any television show. Thunderhead clouds can provide some drama as they develop on hot and humid afternoons, and may provide further excitement in the form of thunder and lightning, and rainbows may follow. We can have remarkable sunsets any time of year, so don’t forget to have a look at the sky around sunset. August is also a great time for early morning fogs as well, especially when we have had a humid night. Getting up early does have its good points…

P1060375

Thunderhead developing on a hot and humid afternoon

 

Pamm Cooper

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