Drought Ends

moon phase Week of 08/12/2012 Most Favorable Days For Planting Beets, Onions, Turnips, And Other Root Crops.

Itís another hot, humid day here in the Kickapoo River Valley, another day of trying to stay cool and calm. Bald Eagle Bald Eagle Each morning the Valley is covered in a thick fog that quickly disappears as the sun rises over the ridge.  A beautiful bald eagle perches high in a tree along the river bank and preens his feathers in the warm morning sun. He has just been down to the cool, shallow water for a bath before flying up to his favorite perch. He will get his dose of sunshine in the early morning, and then spend most of his day in a shady place.

The woodchuck is also thinking itís a good time of day to get some rays, and he sprawls out on the top of the brush pile. He is putting on weight in preparation for the coming winter. Giant Sunflower Giant Sunflower Iíve been watching him eat, and itís pretty amazing how much green stuff he can put away in a short time.

Itís been much quieter since many of the summer birds have dispersed over the countryside. Their nesting season over, rose-breasted grosbeaks and their young have left. So have the barn swallows, bluebirds, orioles and red-winged blackbirds. A week ago there were 12 pairs of grosbeaks and their fledglings coming to the bird feeders. Now there are none. It was time for them to move on and Iíll miss them.

So far this summer the best butterfly show came early in mid-May when there was a good hatch of many kinds of butterflies at once. Monarchs moved into the Valley to join an abundance of swallow-tails, red admirals, sulphurs, spring azures, fritillaries, mourning cloaks and American ladies. Ant Hill Ant Hill All in all, itís been a pretty good summer for butterflies, but theyíve been up and down since May.

Some of my favorite summer flowers are the easiest ones to grow. Tall sunflowers are in bloom now. I never get tired of getting face to face with them. Not only are they beautiful, but they will provide lots of nutritious seeds for lots of wild birds.

The full moon that rose early Wednesday night was spectacular in a lavender haze against a dark blue sky. Ground Mole Ground Mole I woke twice in the night thinking that the moonlight coming through the bedroom window was the early morning sun. If I hadnít been so tired from working outside all day, I would have gotten up and gone for a moon walk. Well, maybe next month.

The ant hill I spotted the other day while on a walk through Maryís Prairie was one of the largest Iíve seen in years. It stood out even in the tall grass. It was about ten feet around and nearly three feet tall. I canít even imagine how many ants it takes to build such a structure, but there must be millions of them. Ants are a very good sign that that environment is healthy. I canít seem to remember what kind of ants build these huge mounds. The hill is very similar to those of the dreaded fire ants that are commonly found in the south and southwestern U.S.

Because of the lack of rain, many of the sloughs and backwaters in the river valley are void of water. A great blue heron peers out from the tall grass as he wades slowly through the murky water. Swallowtail Butterfly Swallowtail Butterfly There isnít much water here, but heís able to catch a few small minnows and tadpoles for his breakfast. Iíve seen a few smaller green herons this summer but I havenít been able to get a decent picture of one yet. They are about the size of a crow and arenít nearly as conspicuous as their much larger cousins, the great blue herons.

You have to look closely to be able to tell the difference between adult sandhill cranes and their offspring. The young cranes are nearly full grown and can now take wing and fly with their parents. Friday, I spotted a single adult crane with three young. I canít remember when I saw a brood of three. The norm is one or two.

Full Moon Full Moon Recent rains not only greened things up but also brought the return of ground moles. When top soil gets dry, earthworms go deep, searching for moisture. Moles, which feed on worms, follow them deeper into the soil. When it rains, worms return to the moist topsoil and moles follow the worms back towards the surface of the lawn. Topsoil is rich in nutrients because of decaying grass clippings that worms thrive on. We invite moles to our yards by our repeated mowing of the grass. Iíve learned to live with the presence of moles and understand that Iím the one who is responsible for them being in the lawn. The tunnels they dig near the surface are easily leveled by simply walking over them before I mow. Live and let live has always been my motto, and I never do any harm to the moles.

The days are getting noticeably shorter and some of the nights are getting cooler. The temperature Sunday night was in the middle 50s and there was a definite chill in the house Monday morning. Itís the first sign that autumn is edging a little closer with each passing day.

Naturally yours

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Eric from from Ripon, Wisconsin on August 16, 2012 at 11:01:22 PM
The day after I read this column and noted the part about moles, I had a fascinating experience. As I finished weed trimming, I noticed an unfamiliar furry creature along the side of our house. It was larger than a mouse, smaller than a rat, and had a fairly long, thick tail. And a beautiful velvety fur coat. It had no interest in me, allowing me to bend down and look closely. What I saw clearly identified it . . . at the front tip of its mouth was an assortment of appendages sticking out, which marks it as the star-nosed mole, a unique creature (it is the sole member of its biological genus). Using a small stick, I gently guided it away from our house, to a safer location in the grass. A few minutes later I was putting things away on a different side of the house when along came the same mole again (or a sibling?). It was headed for our garage, so again I bent down to guide it away. It ran across my boot and then as it jumped a little to avoid the stick it brushed my bare hand - so I can say first-hand that mole fur is extremely soft, like velvet. This little creature has some amazing abilities - for instance, it can smell under water, and has been marked as possibly the fastest-thinking animal -- it has been measured as taking 8 milliseconds to decide if prey is edible, which the source said is at about the maximum speed of neurons in the brain. In any case I guided it far away from the house.
Vickie from on August 16, 2012 at 10:54:43 AM
Thanks sooo much for making your product cost efficient for families who want to do organic products and eat healthy!!!
Kathleen Stansberry from from Columbus, Wi on August 16, 2012 at 05:26:47 AM
Love your stories, I have also noticed it getting dark earlier and earlier plus football has strated, soon we will be asking for the warm weather again. Thank you for your newsletters
Jan from from TN on August 15, 2012 at 09:01:19 PM
I have often thought, if we kill ALL the mosquitos (as pesky as they are)what would happen to the Purple Martins? And, one hardly EVER sees a bat anymore. We DO need bugs, after all. I think we still have our quota here in TN. What a great picture of part of you "school" house with morning glories climbing around the windows! I am so glad you share your world with us! I see a little green heron at the pond regularly, and if it sees me, I get a scolding!
Happy naturing, TNJan
terry werntz from from NJ on August 15, 2012 at 04:58:37 PM
Great read. Thanks
Stephanie Sweas from from Chicago, IL on August 15, 2012 at 02:00:55 PM
Hello Dan,

I've subscribed for many years to your Nature Newsletter, and have to weigh in again. Is there nothing you can't do?!

Artist, storyteller, reporter, naturalist, craftsman, photographer (the lovely colorful photos you take-- esp. recently your 'little old schoolhouse' of a home and property are charming (like the paintings of the late Thomas Kinkade).

Today, you mention a Bald Eagle. Yesterday, a friend sent me this link to a video about a femaile bald eagle who literally got a new lease on life via technology and compassionate humans. Thought you'd cheer too:


You also mention the butterflies and ants-- glad to hear they're proliferating. I am concerned though as I notice here in the city (Chicago), this is a summer of very few flying insects. While I am not complaining from a human standpoint, I wonder if the drought affected their emergence and if it might affect the bird population.
Any thoughts...?

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