Incredible Richness of Summer Life in The Catskills

Incredible Richness of Summer Life in The Catskills

by Dave Holden

As I’ve described in other high-summers, the richness of this time is so visceral, so intensely, physically, in-your-face real, that it is almost hard to believe. Everything is alive – the sky dancing with little lightning-spark fireflies, maybe turned on by real lightning or even the heat-lightning pulsing silently through the summer clouds; the very air itself is thick with humidity and every kind of flying-insect buzzing around; even the ground is crawling with life-forms all bound on their own inscrutable journey. It seems like every bird on earth is calling, feeding, fledging their young, Barn Swallows scooping up bugs in mid-air, Bald Eagles grabbing young-of-the-year Striped Bass with one deft swoop, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds busily nectaring on flower after flower. We have an abundance of Cotton-Tail Rabbits in Waghkonk this season, which will help the Red-Tail Hawks feed their fast-growing young. This situation will surely help the Eastern Coyotes and Grey and Red Foxes, as well.

butterflyTraditionally, the cottontails’ population is tied to the Bobcats’ population curve – when one increases so does the other – but it seems that there are not a lot of Bobcat in the immediate area so the other critters will have to help keep the rabbits’ numbers down. It’s been a great summer for butterflies and moths, with one very major exception – Monarchs. I’ve not seen one yet this season and none have been confirmed locally that I know of. The Monarch lookalikes, or mimics – Great Spangled Frittalary (above), Viceroys, yes, Monarchs, no.

Plenty of Swallowtails, Black and Tiger, lots of other Frittilarys, various Skippers and numerous others but alas, no Monarchs.

With any luck at all, they just took a wrong turn and, having gotten the correct directions to their ancestral summer-home, are winging their way here right now (I’m such a dreamer). For more on Monarchs, Hummingbirds and other migrators visit www.journeynorth.org .

THE DARK WOODS

pink flowerWhen the woods were open and light we had the great show of our native spring wildflowers, also called the Spring Ephemerals. Now that they have gone, the forest is filled in and it is a great place to find coolness and refuge from the heat of summer. Just because it is darker there now does not mean, by any means, that it is lifeless – far from it. Many small creatures try to use this space as a refuge from predators, with some success. While hawks cannot see as far as in an open area they are still a formidable hunter among the underbrush and trees. The various wild dogs are also skilled at finding prey hiding among branch and leaf. Also, if we know what to look for there is still much interesting small plant-life among the over-browsed understory (radically overpopulating White-tail Deer are decimating our forests): Green- and Brown Jack-in-the-Pulpits are seeding now, clusters of bright-green or bright-red under triple-leaf little canopies; Wintergreen plants (an important local crop in earlier times) are producing their white berries as I write this and the Partridgeberry, shooting across the forest-floor on its runners, has it’s red fruit decorating it now. Stinging Nettle abounds as do the increasing amount of invasive plants like Garlic Mustard and Japanese Stiltgrass (a rapidly spreading, bright green short grass) which is successfully replacing many native fern species.

THE SHIFTING PALETTE

The bulk of the wildflower action has definitely shifted from forest to meadow now, where Beebalm, Goldenrods, Queen Anne’s Lace, Long-stem Buttercup and many others rule, juxtaposing their bright beauty with the more subtle glory of the Ragweeds and myriad meadowgrasses. There is also an interesting shift in the insect-world at this point. From early summer up until now (8/1) we’ve been able to enjoy the summer spectacle of Fireflies lighting up our night-sky. They are fading now (Drat! I wish they could stay yearround.) but replaced with Cicadas, Crickets and Katydids. I wonder why that is? Maybe differences in dew-points or humidity that one can tolerate and not the other? Interesting, though. So we went from a visual treat to an aural treat (at least I like the cricket-chorus, not sure about everyone else).

A MEADOW’S MEMORY

I’ve wondered for a long time now if, when the Monarchs are in their dormant winter-phase, all huddled together wateron pine trees in the Michoacan mountains, do they dream of their warm, golden meadows in the north? Do they transmit – or otherwise describe to their young – their memories of Milkweeds known in unmown fields of Clover, Timothy, Beebalm and Goldenrod in sunlit lands far afield? If indeed the Monarchs are on the verge of extinction (let’s hope that their recent nose-dive in population is just a glitch, a temporary phenomenon), we may never know.

Once Upon A Time, after all, many a tawny Monarch and his Queen cavorted in our fair fields, pirouetting above the sere grasses in their timeless dance, to lay their tiny white eggs under Milkweed leaf. Also, being one who believes that the Land has Memory and retains Knowledge, I can’t help but wonder what the Meadow must think as the Monarchs pass. I’m sure it is the passing of one more bit of golden-red-and-black glory, of joy and wonder,
from our world, not unlike the Fairies passing into the Otherworld. I also have to wonder if the meadow will miss us when we, too, pass on. Will we have left the lasting, wonderful impression, in our brief time, that the magical Monarchs have bequeathed to the earth in their untold generations? Let us hope that the memories that we leave to the fields and meadow, to the forests, hills and streams, are not as those who poisoned and destroyed this wonderful world.

AN INTERESTING TIME

Indeed, August is an interesting month in our corner of the Catskills. On one hand, it is typically the hottest time of summer and yet it holds the promise of a coming autumn, as the days get gradually shorter and shorter. Please safely enjoy the remainder of your summer.

water bird

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