As we move toward autumn, changes in the natural world become a little more obvious. I like to keep a journal and look back at past years to see if the timing of the changes is similar from year to year. I can use my observations as a kind of calendar.
For example, every year the great blue herons disperse throughout the area during the last week of August and first two weeks of September. Last night, as I was standing outside enjoying the concert of cricket noises, I heard a series of squawks from three herons in the dark sky above. I heard them called out about once every ten seconds until they were out of range. This year's great blue heron chicks are grown now, and along with the adults, they are moving right on schedule.
Also appearing at the usual time are dragonflies. They congregate in large groups, zooming around one another in a courting frenzy. These glassy-winged insects should be a welcome sight for those who have been tormented by large quantities of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are a dragonfly's favorite food.
These late summer evenings, I also notice flocks of grackles and blackbirds flying to their nighttime roosts. The flocks will grow larger over the next weeks, as the birds gradually stage for their migration south in late fall.
Other birds are moving through the area, already migrating to their southern winter homes. The first week of September, I always start seeing southbound groups of nighthawks pass through, hunting for flying insects along the way. They call to each other as they dart up and down and from side to side like big swallows, flashing a small patc h of white on the undersides of their long, pointed wings.
Robins and bluebirds, too, are starting to move through this area. It's common to see flocks of 50 or more of these beautiful songbirds. Hearing all their soft calls is a special treat.
By the first week of September, the white spots on the white-tailed fawns have faded almost completely. No longer confined to a small area, the young follow their mother wherever she goes. They are about half the size of the doe, but can run and jump as well as any deer.
Cattails along the edge of the pond exhibit lush green rushes and dark brown heads. A pair of painted turtles bask in the late summer sun on a partially submerged log. They take full advantage of these remaining sunny days. When I see turtles lazing in the sun, I too am reminded that the days of summer are numbered. It's a good time to savor while it lasts.
One of the last wildflowers to bloom here in southwest Wisconsin is the beautiful purple-blue New England astor. Most years, they put out flowers around the second or third weeks of September, but this year they have started blooming already. I think this is because they were stressed by the lack of moisture when they needed it most.
In the prairie garden, the tall native grasses are putting out tiny yellow-green flowers on the ends of long stems. The Indian grass and big blue stem are now in full bloom, hoping to make seed before the first frost.
It's fun to use nature as your calendar. Simply take notice of how nature's changes come about, and how they are linked to each other. Nature's calendar can guide you through the seasons, as it guides all living things.
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