Nothing says "summer" like the beautiful prairie meadow in my valley

Nothing says “summer” like the beautiful prairie meadow in my valley

Another beautiful late summer week in the Kickapoo Valley, although a little dry and on the cool side. The temperatures were in the high 60s and low 70s last week, and a nighttime low of 37 degrees on Thursday and Friday. A little frost would be normal for mid-September and we missed it by only a couple of degrees. Guess I don’t mind the frost when it comes early. I just don’t like the results. A lot of the summer flowers and a lot of the insects, frogs and snakes would be gone. A frost usually means that it’s time for the hummingbirds to get out of Dodge, but it’s also when the leaves start changing to their autumn colors. I’m not ready for those changes quite yet but, then again, I’m never ready. Because last spring got off to such a slow start, I was kind of hoping that summer might last a little longer, so far so good.

Most of the swallows and swifts have already moved out of the valley, headed further south. Actually there are a lot fewer song birds in the area than there usually are in mid-September. It doesn’t take long to start missing all those summer bird songs, and they faded early this year.

 

The sweetheart underwing moth

The sweetheart underwing moth

The flower beds are beautiful, and the rain that came Saturday night will help them develop some seed for next year. The late summer phlox is almost finished blooming, but there are still lots of flowers for the hummingbirds and sphinx moths. I picked up a pretty moth in the grass Friday morning, a medium-sized moth called a sweetheart underwing. He is a little smaller than a whit-lined sphinx moth but they both have those beautiful pink under wings.

The sweetheart moth is a common moth that is seldom seen and the white-lined sphinx comes to the flower beds in the evenings. There many of this hummingbird-like moth this year, more than most years. Like hummingbirds on the wing, it’s hard to get a picture of them, but its fun trying.

 

Summer mornings come alive under the morning glories

Summer mornings come alive under the morning glories

Each morning I go outside and look up at the side of the house to take in the wonderful show of morning glories. I can never get enough of their early morning beauty and I’m grateful that a frost hasn’t taken them. I know that all good things must come to an end, but some things are harder to let go than others, besides, they’ll be back next year along with all the lovely garden flowers.

The cedar waxwings gather in small flocks along the river banks. They spend much of their time hawking insects, which means they fly out over the river and catch flying insects on the wing. How subtly beautiful they are with their black masks and yellow-tipped tails. They may appear very delicate but many of them are hardy (and brave!) enough to spend the cold winter here in Wisconsin.

I notice a large red splotch on the trunk of a box elder tree; it’s a likely spot for a swarm of box elder bugs to gather. They make a pretty red pattern on the tree trunk, one that was hard to miss as they gathered together on a cool morning to conserve heat. The cool temperatures also made a dragonfly sluggish enough to let me hold him in my hand for a picture. I set the pretty green darner on a sunflower and he was gone as soon as the morning sun touched him.

Painted turtles take in the sun

Painted turtles take in the sun

A group of painted turtles sunned themselves from a dead tree limb in the river. Their necks stretched and their webbed toes spread to get as much of the warming rays as possible. They know their days in the sunshine are numbered so they are making the most of it.

I had given up on seeing a young sandhill crane this summer; I have counted over forty pairs of adults without young this year. Monday I spotted three full-grown cranes standing together in a hay field just off the river a couple of miles south of Viola. Sure enough, one of them was a juvenile, the first one I’ve seen in the area this year. The youngster is in the middle; he has no red on his head like the adults.

One of my favorite sounds of summer is the wonderful chorus of insects that fill the nights with music. The only sounds that can compare with it are the intense courtship songs of the frogs in the spring. It wasn’t until the second week of August before the crickets and katydids joined together in harmonious songs. They started their mating songs a month later than normal and I hope this beautiful insect music lasts a month longer this year. It all depends on when the frost comes.

The prairie meadow is looking good with the tall grasses and sunflowers going to seed. I love the way the pretty purple New England Asters blend with the yellows of sunflowers and native goldenrod. I’m looking forward to harvesting the many prairie seeds to be used for next spring’s planting.

 

The sun plays tricks on the distant hill

The sun plays tricks on the distant hill

The leaves are showing a little autumn color already but the best is yet to come. I snapped a picture at sunrise this morning of how the sunlight can turn the otherwise green leaves to gold. It’s a good example of what sunlight can do to colors and make us believe things that are not what they seem to be.

 

Naturally Yours,

Dan