As I walk slowly through lush, tall, green meadow plants, my feet part the grasses and flowers before me. With each step, grasshoppers and katydids leap out of my way like popcorn in a hot pan. Iím in the middle of an insect jungle that is home to millions of insects. Being careful of where my feet come down, I step over a large anthill. Itís no fun to have a couple of dozen angry ants up your pant legs. Besides, Iím sure the ants donít appreciate me stepping on their well constructed home. Sometimes I stop and part the grass to see whatís on the ground. There is always something to see: beetles, crickets, spiders, centipedes, frogs, toads or snakes. You never know what might be right at your feet.
As the shadows get longer, the dragonflies take to the air and patrol the grassy meadow, searching for mosquitoes. The songs of crickets become more numerous as the sun disappears over the ridge. Iím amazed at how many crickets I hear but seldom see. This beautiful, grassy meadow is now so full of life and yet so quiet and cold in February, when all is frozen and covered with snow. Life in the meadow goes from one extreme to the next as the seasons turn.
I pause to watch the water striders in the meadow stream as they skate across the surface of a still pool. I love the way they cast a shadow on the bottom of the stream, creating some of natureís beautiful art work. A softball-sized stone protrudes from the water, and a couple of dozen tiny, eastern-tailed blue butterflies have gathered. The wet stone is a good place to get some moisture on a hot day. They always gather in large groups and flutter about in a frenzy of wings if disturbed. They are very similar to the little blue azures that also gather in large groups. They even look very much alike, except the tailed blues have two tiny, reddish spots at the edges of their wings.
I looked up when I heard the begging calls of a young red-tailed hawk, and there she was, soaring right over my head. The sun shone through her light brown tail and wing feathers as I snapped a couple of quick photos. A closer look at her revealed that she had a full crop, which bulged under her throat. She must have been fed recently and still held her meal in her crop. Sheís a beautiful young hawk and seems to like her home around the meadow. Itís hard to say how long she will stay before going south for the winter like all the immature red-tailed hawks do. It could be in a week or two, or she may stay until early November. I hope itís the latter.
While watching the hawk make circles in the sky above me, I noticed a few other hawk-like birds soaring high above her. They moved through the blue sky on long, pointed wings a thousand feet above me. The camera was able to tell me what they were when I zoomed them up. Just as I suspected: nighthawks. There were about a dozen of them. It was the third day in a row that I have seen them moving through. I finally got a picture of one tonight even though he was a long way up. Nighthawks closely resemble their whip-poor-will cousins, but their hunting tactics are different. The whip-poor-wills prefer to hunt for insects while flying close to the ground, and the nighthawks prefer to soar high in the sky. Like big swallows, they dart about, searching for flying insects. I never see night hawks where I live in the summer, I only see them when they migrate through in the spring or late summer. They seem to have started their migration early this year. I was lucky to see them tonight. Their call, a nasal ďpeent,Ē usually lets me know when they are passing over, or I probably wouldnít notice them so high in the sky. A tip for those folks who raise fowl: any time one of your birds tilts its head to the side as if looking up, you may want to look skyward yourself. Chances are there is a passing hawk overhead. Pay attention to what your birds are looking at, and you may see a lot more, too.
I stop for a moment to roll over a small log near the stream and watch the usual crickets, sow bugs and spiders scurry for cover. I spotted a coiled millipede. When I picked it up and held it in the palm of my hand, it uncoiled and crawled up my arm. Itís a spirobolid millipede that is five inches long and moves along rather slowly for having so many pairs of legs. I let it go under the log and went on my way. Itís good to know there are so many insects living in the grassy meadow.
A patch of pretty purple cone flowers grows at the edge of the meadow next to the pumpkin patch. There are still lots of big, yellow pumpkin blossoms peeking up through the large green leaves. There wonít be time for them to turn into pumpkins but there are quite a few that have already grown into good sized orange pumpkins. Summer is turning back into an autumn pumpkin.
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