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It’s In Our Nature: Reading August’s nature signals

August’s Nature Happenings

Let’s see, how many Augusts have I lived through? Well, let’s just say, more than half a century of them. My focus is not on aging, but what I learned to expect from nature as we progress through August. Noticing, and also expecting nature’s events, can be fun and rewarding - Quite amazing actually.

My late father first piqued my nature interests and they have grown ever since. I’m a nature note taker and sure enough my August notes and memory remind me of the following to expect this August.

I noted in last week’s column that most of birds have concluded their nesting responsibilities and many will now disperse to new feeding areas. Some have already migrated. Case in point. Common grackle pairs were setting up territories, and then nesting in your spruce trees by late April. Two months later, they were nowhere to be seen.

My log reminded me to look for big flocks of blackbirds in the first week of August. Sure enough, on the evening of Aug. 2, I watched a huge flock of a thousand or more “redwings” and grackles flying about 200 feet overhead.

The next evening was almost a repeat, except the flock was even larger. Were they the same birds, who knows. But I do know that August signals these blackbirds to form big flocks in preparation for their migration southward, usually about the first day of autumn.

Earlier in the day I heard my first “locust” buzzing. The “locust” was actually an annual cicada. Male cicadas have a special organ called a tymbal. It is ribbed and males contract muscles faster and faster as the buzzing gets louder and then slowly ebbs. This rather loud buzzing begins in August. This past week, beginning Aug. 6, the evenings began to fill with the cheee, cheee, cheee, cheee of katydids. They’ve completed metamorphosis and the males are making their rasping sounds in cycles of four to attract mates.Just another event to remind me that it’s August and summer is winding down.

I have a small orchard, and exclude deer, it is enclosed in a 6-foot-high livestock fence. The last few years in early August, eastern phoebes utilized the wire fencing as launching off points to snag insects. They don’t nest there but again, after breeding, I can expect them to disperse to ideal feeding areas, like my orchard. Sure enough, when I was there today (Aug. 5) to check my apples, the phoebes were there again. Predictable for August.

By about Aug. 21, the barn swallows that nested in the Times News area will be winging their way southward. Before then, note the long rows of swallows perched on utility lines as they almost seem to be resting and discussing their “GPS” directions for the long flight ahead. Seeing this behavior, I can tell you it’s August without looking at the calendar.

Even the pond across the street from my home is quieter now that August has arrived. The bullfrogs’ “croaking” at night has ceased. That silence appears to coincide with the onset of August.

Whether it’s birds, insects, or amphibians, August’s arrival brings significant and predictable changes. It’s not too late to get out there to look and listen.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Which of these wren species won’t be found in the Times News area? A. Carolina wren; B. Rock wren; C. House wren; D. Winter wren.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: Mourning doves can nest four or five times each summer but lay only two eggs in their flimsy nests.

Email Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com

Adult annual cicadas emerge from the soil in late summer. The males find a post, fence, or tree trunk and begin their rapidly ascending buzzing sounds before tapering again. These rather loud buzzing sounds are a part of August sights and sounds. When the buzzing ends they often zip off to find yet another perch. BARRY REED PHOTOS
Katydids, a member of the cricket family, use their forewings and rapidly rub them together to make their characteristic night time sounds. They generally begin their stridulations in August and continue through warm September nights.
Barn swallows line a utility line in August. Barn swallows' young form two nests each summer, bolstering the population before all head south later this month.
Common (purple) grackles arrive here in April, raise their young, and by early August leave the breeding area to form huge flocks in preparation for their fall migration southward.
Eastern phoebes nest in various areas of our region. After nesting, beginning in August, they move on to find the best feeding areas until their October migrations.