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

August is ripening grain in the fields blowing hot and sunny, the scent of tree-ripened peaches, of hot buttered sweet corn on the cob. Vivid dahlias fling huge tousled blossoms through gardens and joe-pye-weed dusts the meadow purple.

-Jean Hersey

tiger swallowtail on phlox at Sues

Eastern tiger swallowtail on tall garden phlox

August arrived this year with the same intensity of heat and drought that so far has ruled the summer. Added to that, the damage inflicted to trees and other plants by the storm Isaias was another blow to gardeners, nature enthusiasts and homeowners alike. But despite these natural assaults, there has still been a cheerful reminder that nature does still carry on, bringing enjoyable encounters wherever we may go.

butternuts

Butternut trees in Wickham Park in Manchester- East Hartford

red headed bush cricket

The tiny red-headed bush cricket with its ‘boxing glove’ palps

Butterflies of all species have been few and far between, but in the past couple of weeks, more are now out and about. Eastern tiger swallowtails were more abundant than other swallowtails, while hairstreaks and brushfoots have been scarce so far. Red-spotted purples and monarchs are putting in appearances, as well as the diminutive pearl crescents. Tall garden phlox, spotted joe-pye weed, obedient plant, mountain mint coneflowers and butterfly bush are just a few favorites of many butterflies and bees.

pearl cresent and digger wasp on mint

Pearl crescent butterfly and great golden digger wasp shon mountain mint

ironweed and tiger swallowtail - Copy

Eastern tiger swallowtail on New York ironweed

bee on hyssop skullcap August 2020

Bumblebee visiting hyssop skullcap flower

bee on wild senna

Bumblebee and wild senna flowers

Great egrets sometimes stray from the shore and are one of our more elegant shorebirds. This bird is almost the size of a great blue heron and has a distinctive pair of black legs and a yellow bill. They can be seen in shallow water hunting for fish, frogs and small aquatic animals.

great egret on river bank

Great egret hunting on the banks of the Connecticut River near the Glastonbury ferry-August 2020

After summer rains, box turtles may often be seen during the day in open areas as they travel across  roads and driveways or places near woods with low vegetation. Patterns on their shells can be ornate and are usually a dark yellow.

box turtle crossed road day after rain 5-30-16 Pamm Cooper photo

Large box turtle just after crossing road

box turtle

another box turtle after crossing a driveway bordered by woods

Broadleaf tobacco is being harvested now in Glastonbury, where soils along the Connecticut River provide ideal growing conditions for this crop. Unlike shade tobacco, broadleaf leaves are thicker, sweeter and earthy. Because it is grown in the sun, broadleaf tobacco has more oils that produce more flavor than tobacco grown in the shade.

tobacco field and barn Glastonbury

Broadleaf tobacco growing in Glastonbury

In August there are several wildflowers that are lending some color to the landscape in moist areas and along pond and stream edges. An unusual one is the Allegheny monkey flower, mimulus ringens, whose genus  names comes from the Latin word meaning a mimic as the flower is said to resemble a monkey’s face. Sabatia sp. flowers are a stunning pink on long stems that stand out against a backdrop of green cattails. They can be seen on the edge of a pond at the Norcross wildlife Sanctuary in Wales, Massachusetts.

Sabatia large marsh pink possibly s amethystinum

Sabatia in flower along a pond bank at Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary in Wales, Massachusetts

flower fly on monkey flower

Tiny syrphid fly visits a monkey flower

Summer will go on for a while yet, with fruits and vegetables to harvest and enjoy, and with timely rains, I hope. There are still a few flowers that have yet to bloom and clouds and skies that should provide compelling views. Nature will  never cease to provide things of interest for the most casual of viewers and to those who search carefully for its wonders. I do take time to smell the roses as I run by…

spicebush cat August 2019

Spicebush swallowtail butterfly caterpillars are found by those who know to look inside a spicebush or sassafras leaf folded lengthwise

Pamm Cooper

tiger swallowtail on phlox at Sues

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on butterfly bush

“My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature.” Claude Monet

Any wise gardener knows that it is a good thing to walk around your own property as often as possible often to keep alert to pests, pruning needs, vegetables that can be harvested, plants in trouble or simply to enjoy the rewards of one’s labor. I am a firm believer that gardening is not for sissies nor is it uninteresting. The excitement never ends. A trip around my property this week gave a little insight as to how much activity is going on in such a small area.

welcome rock by step

Welcome rock by the front step

Swamp milkweed flowers are great for insects, among them the Mydas fly, Mydas clavats, a large wasp mimic which was on mine. This fly is recognizable by its metallic blue color and broad orange band on the abdomen. They have clubbed antennal tips, much like butterflies, and a stout sponging mouthpart which it uses to obtain nectar from flowers.

Midas fly Mydas clavatus

Mydus fly visiting swamp milkweed flowers

I was surprised to find a male Melissodes subillata, a rather unknown genus of the long-horned bees, tribe Eucerini, in my front garden. Males have very long antennae, and the subillata ‘s are reddish brown. Males are distinguished by these antennae, a yellow dot on each side of the mandibles and thorax hairs that are both light and dark. Females pollinate Asteraceae family flowers including wild chicory, plus milkweed and thistles. There was also a golden fronted bumblebee in the same garden.

Melissodes subillatus

Male Melissodes long horned bee

 Acropteroxys gracilis, the slender lizard beetle, is a member of the Erotylidae family of beetles that includes the pleasing fungus beetles. It is reported to feed on ragweed and other agricultural weeds

Acropterroxys gracillis lizard beetle Bush Hill Road early July 2020

Acropterroxys gracilis slender lizard beetle

There seem to be few butterflies around so far, but recently there was a great spangled fritillary on an invasive spotted knapweed flower nearby. A few skipper species have been around as well as a monarch and tiger swallowtails.

great spangled fritillary on spotted knapweed

Great spangled fritillary

spicebush on tickseed my garden

Spicebush swallowtail on Coreopsis

Hippodamia variegate, small ladybeetles that are found especially where asters and Queen Anne’s lace occur in the wild have been studied for use as agricultural pest predators of certain aphids. The reproductive performance of these diminutive beetles is increased with the availability of Brassica and Sonchus (Asteraceae) flowers for pollen and nectar sources. Males and females have different markings on the thorax.

Lady beetles Hippodamia variegata

Hippodamia variegata lady beetles

Because of continued hot days and drought conditions, it is important to keep birdbaths full of fresh water. Dark colored birdbaths should be kept out of afternoon sun, as should metal ones as water will get hot. A red-shouldered hawk was enjoying a very long bath in my neighbor’s cement birdbath last evening.

red shouldered hawk in neighbor's bird bath

Red shouldered hawk taking a bath

Trimming certain hedges now may get exciting if there are paper wasp nests hidden among the branches. Tap bushes with a long handled rake before trimming to see if there is any wasp activity. At least you will know what areas to skip for the time being. Sometimes a bird’s nest may be found there, and if eggs or young are in it, leave the nest there until young bird have fledged.

chipping sparrow nest in boxwood hedge 7-9-2020

Chipping sparrow nest found when trimming a hedge

Deer, rabbits and woodchucks or other animals may be eating plants, but squirrels at my place, or at least one nutty one, are the only animal problem so far. The hummingbird feeder is drained daily – had to get a metal one because they chewed through the plastic one. Of course, this meant war, and the solution was to use string as a maze around the branches surrounding the feeder to deny access. So far, so good.

P1210602

There are dozens of small frogs, toads and tree frogs all over the lawn and gardens. They seemed to appear within days of each other. There must be plenty of insects for them to eat and I am hoping they are partial to earwigs!

tiny American toad

Tiny American toad

tree frog on garden vine

Gray tree frog on a petunia

Here’s hoping that soon there will come an end to the heat and drought, a rainbow in the afternoon and cool evenings for a pleasant sleep. Also, that woodchucks will not like the taste of any of the garden plants and squirrels will lose their sweet tooth. I am indeed a dreamer…

rainbow

Rainbow over the back yard

Pamm Cooper