Summer 2013

5/30   Well, it must be summer. Not only is it in the middle to upper eighties and humid today, we also had the annual visit from our local snapping turtle. As she has for quite a few years now, she showed up mid-morning in our sunny septic field, trundled around inspecting possible sites and then selected her usual place.

A snapping turtle lays her eggs
A snapping turtle lays her eggs in our septic field – Photo: Dave Ehnebuske

There, she settled in for ten or fifteen minutes of digging and arranging to get things just right and then 45 minutes or so of egg laying. A quick five-minute cover up and she was gone. Not a lot of parenting, but it’s worked effectively for her kind for many millennia. I suppose we should break out the hardware cloth dog-excluder I made a few years back to keep her eggs from being dug up.

Hope we see her again next year.  — Dave Ehnebuske

6/2    Beastly hot and humid, it feels more like August than the beginning of June!

6/3    What is that trilling sound I hear mixed in with the banjo plunk of the green frog? It sounds like toads calling, but it’s too late for toad time. The progression of frog songs in our area starts in April with spring peepers and wood frogs (and the new leopard frog), followed by American toads, pickerel frogs, green frogs, and finally bull frogs complete the chorus. But a trilling call in June can only be that unusual toad, the Fowler’s toad!

6/4    What a rare day in June: a welcome 70 degree day with low humidity, blue skies, and puffy cumulus clouds. A kayak cruise in the Great Swamp, starting at the Patterson Environmental Park, was so lovely. The water is still high from recent rains, the current strong and steady, the logs and dams easy to maneuver. There was a serenade of bird song: wood thrush, veery, red-bellied woodpeckers, and orioles. The flowers that decorated the channel were blue forget-me-nots, yellow spadderdock, blue flags, and white poison ivy flowers!

6/6    Kent resident Otto Romanino walked to his mailbox to find he had a sleeping guest for a while. The beautiful fawn was curled up comfortably awaiting mom’s return. "Nature at its best," he said.

6/7    A drenching rain last night followed by tropical storm Andrea is creating a real toad strangler! Already 3 inches of rain and the worst is yet to come. It’s a tough day for all the parent birds trying to find food and keep their young warm, but a great day for salamanders and turtles who like to move when it is wet.

6/9    Five hikers and three dogs enjoyed the CAC walk up to and around Wonder Lake to see the mountain laurel blossoms. The pink confections spotted the eastern shore on a sparkly, warm, breezy kind of day. A lovely hike with many birds singing: veery, woodthrush, redstart, yellow warbler, red eyed vireo, scarlet tanager, cardinal, chipping sparrow, pileated woodpecker. The ebony jewelwing damselflies flitted in the sunny spots and the stream and trails were wet from all the rain. The New York – New Jersey Trail Conference has done a terrific job of creating steps, boardwalks, waterbars, and beautiful viewsheds. What a great treat in Kent!

6/10    How lovely is the song of the wood thrushes at dusk. They are feeding on insects and spiders now, but soon will switch to a high-fruit diet.

6/10    This friendly guy or gal was trying to cross Drewville Road. When I tried to pick him up, it actually hopped straight up. I then used a big stick and a soft voice to coax him across.  — George Baum

A snapping turtle in road with bicyclist reaching down for it
It turns out they can jump, too! – Photo: George Baum

6/12    I’m waiting for the whirring sound of the magic cicada. The magic cicada is a 17-year-cycle insect due to emerge soon. Will it be found again in Kent? Hope so. (See August for the answer.)

6/23    Full Strawberry Moon

Editor’s note: I left New York for two weeks on the west coast where I was stunned by the beauty of the giant redwoods, Fern Glen, the eastern Sierras, and Big Sur. I was equally stunned by the wall of humidity upon exiting the plane on my return to New York. That humidity and all the rain in the last half of June made for a lush and verdant forest that I had forgotten during my journey to California. Asking around the neighborhood, I could find no one who heard the 17-year cicada in Kent. But driving along Route 9, I went in and out of patches of rattling forests and batches of the cicada.

7/1    Pickerel frogs have returned to the yard and leap out of the way of my footsteps. They left the pond a month ago and will spend the summer in my little meadows.

7/3    From the kayak, the dragonfly season is in full swing, the air woven with their flights and territory disputes. Most of a dragonfly’s one- to four-year life is spent underwater as a predatory larva. But now, in the air, their short airborne phase offers a beautiful ballet of colorful dragons and damsels.

7/10    Kayaking in Constitution Marsh is a treat in July when the musk mallow blooms. It is in the hibiscus family and the large pink blossoms are elegant and showy.

Musk mallow flower
A musk mallow (Malva moschata) in bloom at the Constitution Marsh – Photo: Beth Herr

7/18    Kent did not have any magic cicadas, but our annual variety have begun their rattling on hot afternoons, a sure sign that we are in the height of summer. After spending a year underground feeding on tree roots, they crawl out of the soil, climb up the nearest tree, split their exoskeletons, and emerge to fly to the treetops and call for mates.

Cicada
One of our regular ol’ annual cicadas – Photo: Beth Herr

7/22    Full Thunder Moon

7/24    I have only seen one monarch butterfly in my yard this summer. Just read that there is a 90% decline in their numbers. Why? The southern droughts, the lack of milkweeds to fuel their northern journey (farmers, please leave weedy edges), the manicured suburbs…will the monarchs wink out of existence in my lifetime?

7/25 Joe Pye weed and ironweed just beginning to bloom, with bumblebees, wasps, and honeybees covering the blossoms. It is pollinator season!

Ironweed
A bee favorite: ironweed – Photo: Beth Herr

8/6    Sweet pepperbush blooms near White Pond and around our lakes; its spicy odor sweetens the summer breeze.

8/7    In sandy areas the cicada killers are active! These huge wasps, threatening with their vivid black and yellow stripes, are focused on digging holes in the sand. How are they able to locate their little chambers among all the small stones and sticks? The curious naturalist can watch this process in amazement: After digging a deep tunnel in the sand, they fly off in search of a cicada, which they capture, paralyze and bring back to stuff in their tunnel. The cicada is twice as big as they are! How do they manage to carry such a heavy burden in flight? They lay their eggs on the anesthetized cicadas, plug up the hole, and expire. They have secured the next generation. They have a short season of a few weeks, but frighten unknowing folks with their menacing looks. I found a dead one and put it on my hat to enjoy its beauty.

Cicada Killer
Cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus) – Photo: Beth Herr

8/9    I was out of town today, but read about the storm and noticed 6 inches in my rain gauge! I’m glad I was in Rhode Island! Here’s what was posted in the Hudson River Almanac: "New Hamburg to Chelsea, HRM 68-65: The cold front-induced storm that had threatened for the last two days arrived at dawn with a vengeance: thunder, lightning, and visibility reduced to a few hundred feet. The torrential rain (6.65") almost immediately overwhelmed catch basins and flood plains. For several hours it was like standing under a waterfall. I searched the waterfront looking for either the avocets or the shearwater of two days ago with no success. They might have been close by and I would not have seen them unless they ‘waved.’ The deluge was so severe that the ring-billed gulls were shore-bound – a rare occasion for them."  — Tom Lake

This was the second highest precipitation total recorded for Dutchess County in 20 years of the Hudson River Almanac, exceeded only by Hurricane Irene (August 28, 2011) in which 8.03 inches were recorded. Irene left higher amounts at Shandaken (Ulster) 11.5, Tuxedo Park (Orange) 11.45, and Yonkers (Westchester) 8.15, according to the National Weather Service.

8/11    A pair of Cooper’s hawk youngsters are vocalizing and practicing their calls all day long! As usual the adults return to nest on the hilltop behind our house, and, as usual, two young fledged and fly from tree to tree around the yard.

8/12    The katydid song at night all but obliterates the other night sounds. During the day, at least four different species of crickets call all day long, a symphony that will last til December, even beyond killing frosts.

8/13    Blackbirds, starlings and swallows are gathering together in flocks, a sure sign that autumn is approaching. Cedar waxwing families always travel in groups while they feed. Even during the winter you can hear their faint “chips” as they feed together.

As for the magic 17-year cicada, it is easy to see where those “patches” of populations were by looking for “flagging.” When the adults emerge they do need to feed (contrary to popular belief), and they do need to mate and lay their eggs. Both of those activities require that they pierce and slice the bark with their mouthparts and ovipositors. Consequently the branches brown and die. It is easy to see evidence of the cicadas’ presence long after they have died. In towns all along the Hudson River, flagged trees are abundant:

Browned Tree
A "flagged" tree damaged by the 17-year magic cicadas – Photo: Beth Herr

Brown Branch Tip
Browned branch tips: The magic cicadas were here! – Photo: Beth Herr

Sliced Bark
The branch tips turn brown where the magic cicadas slice the bark like this – Photo: Beth Herr

8/13    Hummingbird families provide amusement during dinner on the deck. They drop their temperature and metabolism at night to conserve energy, entering a state of torpor. But since they weigh a mere tenth of an ounce, they can warm and revive themselves very quickly.

8/14    The yowling and yipping calls of coyote families at night is scary. They sound so close to the house!

8/15    A second cutting of hay high on Corbin Hill in the Great Swamp is a field day for swallows who follow the tractor, dipping and careening to catch all the insects the tractor rustles up.

8/23    Full Green Corn Moon

8/24    The roadsides of Kent have changed their dressings to yellows and purples: loosestrife and ironweed, with asters to follow; black-eyed Suzie’s, sneezeweeds, and goldenrods abound.

8/25    The stream sides are red with cardinal flowers, the fields are yellow and pink, and the ponds’ edges are purple with loosestrife and decorated with white water lilies.

Dean Pond
Dean Pond in late summer colors – Photo: Beth Herr

8/28    The tree swallows are gone from Kent. I saw them gathering on the Rhode Island shore: thousands of them twirling and whirling in the wind, eager it seems to start their journey south. They will mass by the hundreds of thousands, appearing on the ocean’s horizon as a brown cloud. Migrating in huge flocks, they leave. The barn swallows, soon to leave, gather on the wires and contemplate the same routing. See you in the spring!

8/30    Today I leave for a new adventure: a road trip to Banff and to Jasper and Glacier National Parks where I will get a taste of the season to come!

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