Earlier this month, friend Kathy Doty taught me how to spot the difference between male and female Monarch butterflies. Visually, it’s really not that different than humans. I kept hearing that little girl who was a YouTube sensation several years back, her sing-song show-and-tell voice explaining to her classmates, “Boys have theses, see.” I’ve sat through a lot of PowerPoint presentations about Monarchs. I know the right way to hold them as you apply a tracking tag prior to release. But no one has every told me who has what. Kathy also displayed a young Praying Mantis and a viable Swallowtail chrysalis, anchored in place by one tiny gossamer lasso of swallowtail thread. She spotted both eggs and caterpillars in the Red Fox Cabin gardens. The sightings never cease to thrill.
Several days later, a steady stream of visitors to Summer 2019 Family Day watched monarchs, bumblebees and more dragonflies than I have seen since the June 2012 floor wax discharge decimated the variety of dragonfly nymphs one could sample in Riley Creek. It was hot, hot, hot in the sun. Steady breeze and ice water kept those of us anchored to the ground cool enough to take pleasure in flighted creatures who have the wherewithal to catch thermals.
With double-digit degrees less outside, Deb Weston walked the trails with her Debbie and a camera on Thursday. They spotted an Ebony Jewelwing damselfly, a female Baltimore Oriole, a Painted Lady butterfly, a Monarch, and two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, birds I haven’t seen since I picked wild raspberries along the cut-off oxbow to sell at Andy’s IGA in Pandora.
I could wax on. How about I share Deb’s photos instead?
In between cookie batches for Saturday’s annual music Jam, the call of the nature preserve was answered. So were Lolly and Cady, both of whom stared out toward the tree line, rolling their big brown eyes soulfully and wagging their tails each time someone with opposable thumbs walked in the direction of the front door.
Sunday, the door was opened. Summer drought and temperatures in the upper 80s laid mosquitoes to rest; no repellent was pocketed along the way.
I always forget what late summer does to the natives. Minnows, small bass and other fishes circle in the pools that are Cranberry Run during much of the year. This year there are clots of decaying algae to suck the oxygen from their gills. The bed has been dry for so long that purple ironweed grows below the waterline. The old quarry is diminished to a green duckweed center.
I pulled a muskrat trap from the bed of the stream. Its wire frame lifted with a strong coating of fertilized creekbed. Neither traps nor fertilizer are welcome in this waterway. One is easily removed, though, and went the way of garbage pick-up.
Leaves hang dull green and brown-edged from the trees. Twigs–whole limbs, sometimes–drop with the hot wind that puffs down the bluff into the floodplain. A willow that, even though it died some years back still hosted ichneumon wasps and other helpful predators, leaned its last before our arrival. A chunk of trunk crumbles over the path. A new bracket grows on what still stands.
The back field is golden under heated air open to sunshine but little current. Few insects sift through the artichokes and bullthistles. There should be so many this time of year. Their absence is sobering. It’s a relief to see a bumblebee and sulphur butterfly. I tried to take the bees photo, but all but his back legs and a bit of yellow fluff are caught in the frame to the left of a cluster of yellow flowers.
Flattened grasses indicate that somethings do rest and feed here. We get a whiff of proof when both dogs roll in scat and carry it with them back through the upper woods toward home and baths.