The dragonflies of late summer. We patrol the same meadow trails and fields and have frequent encounters. I plod along in search of a good image, while they perform what appear to be impossible aerial maneuvers as they forage on mosquitoes and other tiny insects.
Woodlands come alive in late summer as fungi and related plants respond to warm, moist growing conditions with visible forms of their life cycles. Fruiting bodies of myriad shapes, sizes and colors appear, sometimes overnight (they thrive in darkness!). The show can be every bit as rewarding as the spring flush of wildflowers…and just as fleeting too.
Mushrooms emerging through a layer of spruce needles
The Ghost Plant (Indian Pipe) made its way into this series on fungi because it lacks chlorophyll and can grow in the dark. In reality, it is a non-photosynthetic flowering plant that parasitizes the beneficial mycorrhizal fungi associated with tree roots.
Jewelweeds (Touch-me-nots; Impatiens) have so many redeeming qualities. They’re a favorite in the late summer diet of deer; hummingbirds will camp out over a patch of jewelweed and alternately perch and feed for hours in the mid day sun; bees also feed on jewelweed nectar; and, on a chilly morning, when everything is dripping wet with dew, the jewels of jewelweed are beautiful.
The mind-boggling variety of life in and around wetlands virtually guarantees a rewarding nature walk, with unexpected thrills along the way. This morning I decided to take a short walk between the dam of a small reservoir and the swampy drainage below. I was hoping to see some wetland wildflowers, but packed extra gear – just in case.
My first discovery was Arrowhead, in the shallow water along the shore of the reservoir. As luck would have it, this was also my last wildflower photo. I was soon distracted by much bigger game!
Movement in the tall, dense vegetation bordering a small stream stopped me in my tracks. It was something fairly large, brown and several feet above ground level – had to be the head of a deer.
Sure enough …an adult doe appeared. She had no doubt spent the night feeding in nearby fields of corn and beans and was heading for high ground in the swamp to rest.
She moved like a wisp of smoke and was gone as quickly and silently as she had appeared. But, where there’s smoke there’s fire! I’m so glad she was successfully bred last November.
“You just don’t luck into things as much as you’d like to think you do. You build step by step, whether it’s friendships or opportunities.” – Barbara Bush
Geese are everywhere, never far behind the harvesters and balers; waste grain and fresh new growth in the fields are goose magnets. Although burgeoning populations have biologists scrambling to assess environmental impacts and find effective control measures, geese are a visual resource with some redeeming qualities.
While picking berries the other day, I was pleasantly surprised by the erratic flight of a Mourning Cloak butterfly. I don’t see this species often, and when I do I’m usually unprepared. They rarely feed on flower nectar, preferring tree sap and other sources of nourishment.
The butterfly darted up and around my shed, in the direction of the firewood pile. It was the first warm, sunny morning following several days of overcast skies and drizzle, so I wasn’t surprised to find it perched on a piece of wood, absorbing the warmth of the morning sun with its dark cloak. Damaged, but still a head-turner!
Our hummingbirds will be gone in a month so I’m savoring every moment with these little marvels. Numbers have peaked, boosted by the young of the year, and all are feeding voraciously in preparation for the long journey to the Gulf Coast and Central America.
They’re devouring sugar water in feeders, in some cases swarming like bees and constantly fighting for position.
Gardening for hummingbirds is a more natural and satisfying method of attracting and feeding hummers. Red and orange tubular flowers like this Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ can be dietary staples.
Perches near feeders are my favorite setting for observing and photographing hummers. Portraits that capture the nuances of perching behavior shed an entirely different light on a species best know for its aerial magic!
When out and about in the summer months, I often think about hummingbirds foraging in natural areas, apart from the direct influence of man and artificial feeding practices. Are there tubular flowers blooming in the wild now? If not, what are the hummers feeding on? Three native species come to mind: Bee-balm (Monarda), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia) and Jewelweed (Touch-me-not; Impatiens).
Jewelweed or Touch-me-not (Impatiens) in early August
Most of my travels take me through rural areas where dairy farms still dominate the landscape. These are priceless visual and ecological resources that attract and support diverse wildlife populations as well as livestock.
Pigeons and crows are permanent residents, usually seen foraging on waste grain in harvested fields or in spread manure.
Once or twice a week I sit in the evening near a field of corn, oats or hay to observe wildlife. Most evenings there is a predictable sequence of visitors, starting with groundhogs, does and fawns.
Small flocks of geese glide into cut hay fields throughout the evening.
Bucks, especially the seasoned veterans, arrive as the sun leaves the fields and camera gear is nothing more than extra weight.
The last light of the evening, in the clouds. Somewhere below the cloud, in an open field on the highest hilltop, was the dark silhouette of a huge buck. It was his time.
Every so often we see wildflower planting projects along highway corridors, state and federal programs aimed at the beautification of “scenic byways”. Mother Nature does this too, but in a cheaper, more sustainable manner. Ironically, I took most of these photos on a rainy Sunday in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the road maintenance crew.
Locally, Queen Anne’s Lace and Chicory dominate roadside ecotones. Knapweed is a prolific associate. All are extremely hardy aliens that colonize the most inhospitable places!
Queen Anne’s Lace and Chicory
Roadside corridor dominated by Queen Anne’s Lace
Unfortunately, these flowery scenes can’t be fully appreciated from a vehicle. Close examination reveals an impressive variety of flowering plants and associated wildlife activity.