August is blooming. In the roadside prairie, the Yellow coneflowers, Culver's root, and Bergamot are showing their beautiful summer colors. The tall woodland sunflowers are in bloom, and the cup-plants are displaying yellow flowers.
Bee balm in the garden is fading fast, but the giant Zinnias are opening up with bright splashes of red, orange, yellow, purple, pink and white. They make very showy bouquets. The rich orange Day lilies and lovely light purple Dahlias peek over the tomato plants.
The multicolored Four-o'clocks are starting to bloom, while patches of Summer phlox are looking as vibrant as I've ever seen them. Their large lavender tops make a blanket of fragrant blossoms that lure Hummingbirds and butterflies to dine. After sunset, the beds of phlox are visited by Hummingbird moths. Phlox nectar is their favorite food.
For the first time in three years I found the caterpillars of Monarch butterflies eating the leaves of Milkweed plants. They were once a common sight in August—Monarchs have always been the most recognized land butterfly and usually the first butterfly that most children recall seeing. Today they are almost a rare discovery. I hope the trend of their reappearance continues, and the Monarch will again be a common sight on the summer landscape.
It looks like a good year for plants in the Milkweed family; the lavender tops of Joe-pie weed are blooming in large colonies in the wetlands. Monarch caterpillars feed on the leaves and suck the juices of the poisonous milkweeds. Thus they protect themselves, making themselves poisonous from what they eat and bitter to any bird who might try to eat them.
Several people have told me they've heard or seen a Mockingbird this summer. Some of their descriptions turn out to be a Brown thrasher or a Cat-bird, but a few of the sightings are authentic. I've spent many enjoyable hours watching and listening to these fascinating birds, but only in places further south of Wisconsin—in Southern Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and even Florida. I've only seen one Mockingbird in Wisconsin, and that was several years ago. I vividly remember the day one flew into a friend's yard; it caused quite a bit of excitement.
I visited a good friend along the Kickapoo River who showed me a turtle he had just put into a cardboard box. He wasn't sure what kind it was, and wanted me to identify it for him before he released it in the river behind his house. I realized I was looking at a half-grown Blandings turtle for the first time this summer. The turtle had a tall, rounded, dark brownish-green shell, which was yellow on the bottom and continuing up the throat. Just 15 years ago these turtle were a common sight all summer along the trout streams and fresh water rivers of the region. Encroachment by humans on the turtle's habitat is putting enormous pressure on them. Particularly troublesome is the Rip-rap (large truckloads of limerock stones) that is being dumped along stream banks, with the intention of creating a better habitat for trout and increasing fishing fun. However, these small turtles hatch on land and have to find their way to the water, and they will fall between the stones and die. Thus the Blandings turtle is an increasingly rare sight. I hope fish and wildlife managers come to recognize the need to protect these turtles and keep streams as they are in many places, before the Blandings are entirely lost.
When you spend time outside this month, see what you can find. What flowers are in bloom? How many different colors do you see? Where are there creatures? Have fun and let me know what you find!
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