Thursday, August 9, 2007

Things Happening in Summer

Nature Watch
August 9, 2007

By Susan Benson,
CNHM Director of Education

Can you believe this hot weather, again? Do we really have to go another day without rain? It is observing life’s cycles that makes life so interesting, and a great topic of conversation as well. As we look around in nature, we see other signs foretelling of other upcoming climatic events. The nests of the bald-faced hornet, the world’s best paper makers, are growing layer-by-layer seen as gray masses up in trees. Acorns will be falling from the trees to provide meals for black bears, wood ducks, deer, and turkeys. Believe it or not, some birds are already beginning to migrate south.

Some male ruby-throated hummingbirds begin migrating south as early as July, while the juvenile may not leave until November. Some warblers, shorebirds, and nighthawks have begun migrating south. Common grackles, red-winged blackbirds and geese are now gathering together in large flocks.

Keep an eye out for northern flickers along roadsides as they are foraging for ants. This bird species eats more ants than any other bird species in North America. Flickers are known for their behavior called “anting” in which flickers allow ants to crawl up on their wings. There are different theories as to why this happens: one is that the ants’ formic acid is used as a fungicide or insecticide against feather or skin parasites or fungus. Another speculation is that anting is a comfort activity that stimulates the skin during a summer molt.

If you have any fruit trees in your back yard, look for bird visitors to those trees. If you have a black cherry (Prunus serotina) there are at least 47 species who eat the fruit, including the northern flicker, rose-breasted grosbeak, and white-throated sparrow. Pin cherries attract eastern bluebirds along with many other bird species. Red elderberry fruit is fed on by scarlet tanagers, gray catbirds, American robins, and rose-breasted grosbeaks.
Jewelweed, which is blooming right now, has orange-yellow flowers which resemble miniature cornucopias, and hang from flexible stems. Researchers believe that the flexible stems could be a mechanism for hummingbird flower pollination. When the hummer feeds, the spring-like stem pulls the flower forward, putting pollen on the bird’s upper bill. Be sure to check back soon after jewelweed has finished blooming, because when the “touch-me-not” seeds have ripened, simply touching the bulging seed pod will bring about an exciting explosion almost quicker than the eye.
When finished finding the jewelweed in your nearest wet marshy area, be sure to put on the calendar the upcoming fantastic display of natural fireworks, the Perseid meteor shower. With a dark sky from the new moon on Sunday, August 12, there will be little moonlight, making this year’s meteor show a great one, possible one or two per minute during the shower’s peak. The show begins at 10:00 p.m. By 2:00 a.m. Monday morning it is possible that there might be dozens crossing the sky an hour. The source of this shower is Comet Swift-Tuttle, whose tail intersects Earth’s orbit every year in August. Tiny bits of comet dust hit our atmosphere making a vivid streak through the night sky.

Become a phenologist! Changes in sunlight are driving our seasonal changes, and plants and animals around the globe respond in a fascinating myriad of ways. Watch how our seasons affect the web of life. Get out an enjoy them – grab a chair and blanket and find the nearest field or clearing for the perseids, or hike through a nearby trail!

Nature Watch is brought to you by the Cable Natural History Museum. For 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility in Cable at 43570 Kavanaugh Street or on the web at to learn more about exhibits and programs.

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