August 2018

8/4     I saw a giant swallowtail butterfly this morning – first one ever, although several people saw one in the field on Turtle Day several years ago. Diggy, my dog, had just bounced a ball into the tall thistles and we had both determined that the hedge was impassable. The butterfly seemed be making the rounds of dead thistle while Diggy was cleverly going around the hedge to retrieve the ball from that side. While watching her, the butterfly suddenly appeared, landing frequently to spread its wings and expose its distinct pattern. The only thing in bloom there was spotted knapweed!!  — Anne Smith, Gardiner

Ed. note: Usually a southern species, giant swallowtail butterflies, larger that any local to New York, are becoming more common. They have bright yellow spots forming two “lines” on their hindwing. Keep a lookout!

8/7     It was a scorcher today with a heat index of 100°, a temperature 94°, and a dew point in the 70's. But Kent's plentiful waterways offer cool water. While splashing pond-side at Putnam Veterans Park, I spied the distinctive leaves of water chestnut, not the crunchy nutlike corm in chow mien, the other, Trapa natans, a very invasive aquatic plant. It can be seen along the edges of the Hudson River in mats thick enough for herons to walk on. The seeds are called “devil's heads” and are very sharp. I reported the sighting to the county and the state. There are just a few plants and a quick response will end the invasion.

Photo of water chestnut (Trapa natans) in the lake at Vereran's Park in Kent
That's water chestnut in the lower right. We really don't want our lakes and streams covered with this. Please, if you see it, report it. Photo: Beth Herr

8/9     Hot, humid, clouds and haze. Moisture-laden and unstable air made it uncomfortable for humans but wonderful for amphibians. Pickerel frogs escaped my footfalls in damp grass, bright orange newts crossed the woodland trail, and on the deck, a spring peeper waited in the potted plant for fly-by breakfast.

Photo of a spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) perched on the leaf of a potted jade plant
“So, you thought we were only around in the spring, huh?” Photo: Michael Martinez

8/11     I have an artist friend (we'll call him Ted to protect his or her identity) who recently challenged me to a creative game of seeing what's not there. I know what he was alluding to since I've played that game before. Anyway, Ted suggested I use my camera to capture faces in natural objects like rocks and trees. I asked why, and Ted said, “I'll tell you when you get back.”

Below is one of the “faces” I captured.  — Charles Daviat

Photo of a tree trunk that looks like a face saying 'Whooooo!'
This is the real reason you sometimes hear “Who, who!” in the woods. Photo: Charles Daviat

8/11     Rain, rain, go away. Pity the beachside vacationers and poor summer camp teachers during day-long downpours, cheer for the mushrooms and slugs.

8/12     More rain, sometimes heavy, adds weight to the atmosphere. Time for slug patrol:

Photo of a slug doing what slugs do: eating.
“Me and my buddies really, really like lettuce. Plant more and maybe we'll leave some for you,” Photo: Ralph Szur

8/12     Yesterday as I was driving down Route 129, Yorktown Heights, Westchester County, and a male bobcat crossed the road in front of me at very close range. I got a sustained and satisfying look at the beast as I was driving pretty slowly, and it was not in a hurry, either. It was typical in coloration and coat pattern, but slightly warmer brown and with somewhat muted spotting.

What really stunned me was the size of this individual. I've seen plenty of bobcat in all corners of the USA, including right in my own front yard. But this guy was the most spectacular one I've ever seen. It was husky, with a thick coat and a beautiful mane. Its head was the size of a large grapefruit, with long ear tuft extensions. It was really big – the biggest I've ever seen by a long shot. Upon seeing the animal crossing the road, I instantly realized that it was big. So I made some quick mental notes and rough measurements as it crossed in front of me: this bobcat was likely in the range of 40-42 inches or so in length, and 18-20 inches in height at the shoulder, which should mean it was 35 or so pounds (seems low). When seeing this creature, I said to myself, “this guy could take down a one year old white-tailed doe, easily”.  — John Askildsen

8/15     Look what flitted by my garden today! A great spangled fritillary. These are pretty common, but doesn't detract one bit from their beauty.

Photo of a great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele) perched on flowers
They don't call these guys “spangled” for nothing. The spots on the hind-wing are silver like little sequins! Photo: Beth Herr

8/16     Rain, steamy sun, repeat. After three days of seemingly endless heat and humidity, three inches of rain verified the misery. What a strange August. Usually this is a dry, hot month with worries of drought. But not this one. We have had more than six inches of rain in one month!

Photo of a lake in Kent surrounded by forest on a sunny summer's day
Finally! A clear, bright day greets Kent's very full lakes. Photo: Beth Herr

8/21     In early May, I spotted a bald-faced hornet queen starting her nest. After several weeks of solo work the first workers emerged and began helping her. They worked along side each other for a few more days until there were enough workers that the queen could work exclusively on making more workers. I never saw her again. Over the months, the nest grew considerably until it was about the size of a football. Then in the first part of August, I noticed it wasn't growing any more. Over the course of a couple of weeks, the number of hornets coming and going dropped steadily until today I noticed there weren't any at all. Around here, nests continue to grow both in size and number of workers until the early fall when they switch from making only workers to making drones and new queens as well. But this crew never got that far. I wonder what disaster befell them.”.  — Dave Ehnebuske

Three-photo sequence of a bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) nest under construction
It's not just mice and men whose best-laid schemes gang aft agley. Photos: Dave Ehnebuske

8/23     This morning at the train station there was a commotion in the parking lot. A sparrow was fluttering around the ground trying to grab this swamp cicada that was beating its wings violently and crackling in protest. I took the cicada and put it in my bag and brought it to the office.  — Harry Zirlin

Photo of a swamp Cicada (Neotibicen tibicen) clinging to a dried plant stem
“Wow! That was a close call. A big brown monster that tried to eat me!” Photo: Harry Zirlin

8/25     Looked for and found a harvester butterfly, Feniseca tarquinius, laying eggs on woolly aphids today at Bronx River, Scarsdale train station. She was too high up for me to get a good shot with my phone but you get the idea.  — Harry Zirlin

Photo of a harvester butterfly (Feniseca tarquinius) laying eggs
“Scarsdale: a great place for my babies to grow up.” Photo: Harry Zirlin

Ed. note: The harvester butterfly caterpillar is our only carnivorous, ravenous, devourer of woolly aphids which feed on speckled alder near stream sides. Butterfly enthusiasts, like Harry, scout alder thickets looking for black mold on the ground (from aphid droppings) and white fuzzy branches. To actually find the aphids is a thrill, to find a caterpillar takes the breath away, to capture an image of a female laying eggs? Terrific!

Photo of a bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) nest and one hornet
“Okay, buster, that's close enough. Any closer and I call my sisters.” Photo: Bruce Campbell

8/26     The last three days of sun with dry breezes and low humidity have been a delight. Cicadas rattled from sunup to sundown. Gray tree frogs trilled, garden flowers and fruits filled baskets and goldfinches bent the coneflowers as they fed on the seeds. Blue skies were dotted with cumulus clouds. Pollinators were happy. People were happy. Summer wanes.

8/27     What a strange summer it has been!  — Patricia Bothwell

8/30     Look what Bruce found on his car this morning – a white-marked tussock moth caterpillar.  — Doris Balant

Photo of a white-marked tussock moth (Orgyia leucostigma) caterpillar
It’s just a phase he’s going through. Photo Bruce Campbell

Ed note: Great closeup photo. Look for the cocoons. The caterpillars make them with plucked hairs from their bodies!

In September

  • Look to the skies: During the day, migrating nighthawks, birds of prey, and dragonflies. Also, songbirds resting and feeding in thickets after a north wind. During the night, a conjunction of the moon and Saturn on the 17th, the autumn equinox on the 22nd, and the Full Harvest Moon on the 25th.
  • Sniff the air for ripening grapes but be on the lookout for yellowjackets around sweet fruits.
  • Visit a meadow some dewy morning to watch the sun transform the place: You'll bebedazzled by jeweled spider webs, grasses glowing auburn and asters and goldenrods beaming color. Visit a woodland to find colorful mushrooms, plentiful nuts and other fruits.
  • Listen as flocks of robins chortle, crickets call and katydid calls slow on cool nights.
  • Watch colors change, sunlight diminish, shadows lengthen, and wildlife adjust and prepare for the cold months ahead.