Hawk Moth

moon phase Week of 09/26/2004 Favorable days to plant flowers.

About a month ago, I made a half-hearted prediction that there would be nice weather through September and into October. It wasn't that I could tell by reading the sings of nature; it was simply a gut feeling, I guess. As I've said before, making seasonal predictions is nearly impossible these days. All I know is that the month of September has been beautiful, and more like summer than June, July or August. Whether it will continue is of course hard to predict.

Hawk Moth

The first day of Autumn felt more like the 22nd of July than September, with lots of sunshine and 82 degrees. My favorite time of day is just after sunset, when the night air cools and the shadows are gone. In the soft twilight, the hawk moths come out to feed from the flowers in the gardens. Hawk moths, also known as Sphinx moths or Hummingbird moths, are very swift fliers. Their rapid wing beats resemble those of a Hummingbird, and they are often mistaken for them because of the similar size.

There are several species in the family of silkworm moths. Some are only half the size of the Hummingbird moth. Other, even larger, silkworm moths include the Cecropia moth, the Polyphemus moth, the Regal moth and the Luna moth. With wingspans up to five inches or more, these largest of North American moths fly more slowly, like butterflies. The white-lined Sphinx moth is very special because of the large pink stripes on its secondary wings.

I've been waiting all summer for the large green silk worms to evolve into beautiful Hawk moths. The cool, wet summer has set their schedule back a month or more, but these warm September days were to their liking, and at last they have arrived.

I counted six of them in the garden last night, zooming from flower to flower. Usually they prefer the nectar of the sweet summer phlox, but the phlox has long since gone to seed. They don't seem to be picky, as they visit all the flowers. Several have been spending a lot of time at the zinnias and salvia, but the mums, morning glories, runner beans, moon flowers and asters also get a good going-over.

It's peaceful to stand outside in the evening, listening to the crickets and watching the hawk moths. I hope the weather holds for a while. The hawk moths will disappear after the first hard frost, and that could happen any time now.

The first day of fall is a day to remember, not just because the weather is so nice, but because I picked my first ripe tomato from the garden. The wait was well worth it, as there's nothing like a vine-ripened tomato.

The coats of the white-tailed deer have changed color from cinnamon to light brown as their warm guard hairs grow down. It seems like when the nights first turn cooler, the deer are on the move, making driving more risky. All they want to do is cross a small section of road, and yet nearly 45,000 were killed last year in Wisconsin alone. It's hard to believe that there are those who blame the deer for these accidents. I can't encourage people enough to slow down and be alert when driving at night, especially on a motorcycle.

Sunday the wind switched from the south to the northwest, giving many birds a tailwind on which to migrate. Many of the swallows and chimney swifts headed south along with Hummingbirds, robins, warblers, catbirds and thrashers. Tonight the temperature will drop into the 40s and a clear sky and full moon will mean a good night to migrate. It is said that 80% of all songbirds migrate at night.

It's time to look ahead to next spring and the flowers that come when the ground first thaws. There are iris rhizomes to dig, separate, and replant in new places. Tulips and Dahlias can be planted up until the ground freezes, but should be covered with some mulch just after the ground begins to harden. A little work in the garden now will mean a colorful spring.

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