by Christine Hanrahan
How time flies. Here it is, early September, with all the signs of approaching autumn now firmly in place. The old field is full of asters and goldenrods, the latter already losing their bloom. Fruit is heavy on the vine and tree, some of the sumacs are turning vivid red, and of course, birds are migrating through the area, as they have been and will be, for some time.
I made it my mission to look for the very neat little green tortoise beetle. This pretty creature feeds on thistles and so I checked dozens of thistles for the characteristic signs of feeding tortoise beetles. I saw only a few such signs, but they could have been made by other insects too, and sadly, no beetles. I did, however, find a striped garden caterpillar, a member of the huge Noctuidae family.
On the black maple north of the ash woods, a cicada exuviae was about seven feet up on a twig. These shed nymphal skins look almost alive at first. Watching a cicada emerge from them is quite amazing. They come out backwards and hang suspended in a horizontal position for some little while before finally climbing out and clinging either to the skin or the tree. Their wings are little nubs at first, and their bodies look terribly soft and vulnerable. But quicker than seems possible, their wings elongate and soon they are full size, but pale green. Before much longer, the wings dry, turn translucent, the body hardens, and voila, the cicada is ready to fly. Its sole purpose now is to mate. Diane photographed a beautiful adult perched on an obedient plant and this can be seen in the September Blog.
Two hummingbirds were nectaring on the monarda fistulosa in the butterfly meadow and when not doing that, were zipping around all over the place. They have to be THE most enchanting little birds to watch, and feisty for their size! Small flocks of robins, big flocks of american goldfinches (now that nesting is over, they are congregating, adults and young) feeding on thistle and other seeds, and smaller numbers of cardinals, chickadees, song and chipping sparrows were also seen.
One of the impressively large giant swallowtail butterflies floated out of the open area north of the ash woods and into the ravine. Other butterflies included an eastern tailed blue, a couple of ringlets, and about 4 each of cabbage whites and clouded sulphurs.
Bumble bees are out in force now, gathering great quantities of pollen from goldenrods. The plants are alive with their wonderful buzzing, redolent of summer days, even as fall approaches. With the first frost, all these worker bumble bees will be killed, only the mated queens surviving to hibernate over the winter, ready to begin a fresh colony in spring.
It is intriguing how the landscape of the garden changes from year to year. Not usually in dramatic ways, unless trees have been removed either by nature or by us, but in small ways, probably not perceptible to those who don’t focus on the place the way we volunteers do. I mentioned changes in other notes, and yesterday I was struck by the huge patch of jewelweed or impatiens, growing up through the flowering raspberry on the edge of the old field. First time that has happened there.
Speaking of plants, those later summer-early autumn reliables, the goldenrods and asters, and the white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima), as well as obedient plant (Physostegia) and sneezeweed (Helenium) are absolutely gorgeous right now. In the ash woods, white snakeroot and zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) are lighting up the dark places, and it always surprises me that these plants, both of which do well in garden settings, are not more widely planted for late summer colour in shady spots.
More photos on the September Blog, including a beautiful set by Diane, as well as the impressive ‘bee condo’ created by Sandy south side of the ash woods.