Itís another hot, humid day here in the Kickapoo River Valley, another day of trying to stay cool and calm. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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