By Greg C. Greer
Even though the fall is typically a time when leaves are falling from deciduous trees and surrounding areas appear a little warn or stressed from the high heat of summer, there are however, late flowering plants that provide color and a food source for nectar feeding insects and hummingbirds. Of special beauty are the cardinal flowers. Gorgeous spikes of erect red flowers that are a delight for hummingbirds. In addition, in the wetlands and wetland borders, where cardinal flower are also often found, there are lovely orange flowers of Jewel Weed. These are also known as “touch-me-not, in reference to their seeds. The seeds are a small greenish bean looking pod that forms following pollination of the flowers. Once the seeds are ripe……the slightest touch, results in a spring action catapult of seeds. This allows dispersal for future progeny of the parent plant. Another flower that in general appearance seems to grow as a large clump of white flowers from a tree is virgin’s bower. The lovely white flowers are actually native clematis, which is a vine that makes its way into shrubs and trees to explode in a riot of white flowers. The white flowers attract numerous bee flies, bees and other insects searching for nectar.
Also, as summer winds down, the Ga. Tech colored (yellow & black) garden spider becomes an obvious resident in many gardens, parks and natural areas. The large females are now at their maximum size and as we tend to get lots of dew through the evening hours, by mornings light, the large orb webs of garden spiders glisten as the sun hits strands of web coated in moisture. In the middle of the web is a zig zag pattern of many strands of web which adds strength to the web. This also results in other names for the spider: zig zag spider or zipper spider. These beautiful large spiders are wonderful subjects for observations and children especially, grow very fond of checking on the spider that resides in their yard and is a topic of great excitement with their friends and family.
I would feel remorse if I neglected to mention the little flying jewels…….the ruby-throated hummingbirds. In the Atlanta area, just after the 4th of July, the area receives large numbers of “post-breeding” hummingbirds. Hummingbird feeders that basically fed wasps and ants during early summer are now alive with the whirring wings of hummingbirds. Often, multiple hummers battle for place at a feeder and some birds take great exception to any other of their species intruding on their bounty. Hummers will even chase bees, wasps and other large flying insects from the vicinity of “THEIR” feeder. All too soon, however, these birds will head south to spend the winter. Many fly around the Gulf of Mexico, down the East coast of Mexico to Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Others, however, make a perilous journey from the Florida Panhandle straight across the expanse of the Gulf, to points on the Yucatan Peninsula. Quite an incredible feat for a bird weighing about 3 grams and whose heart rate maintains about 1200 beats per minute when flying. Even more astounding is the ability of hummers with the urge to cross the Gulf, to double their weight just prior to a 500 mile non-stop flight. This, so they have the caloric reserves to make such an arduous journey. (Yet again, another testimony to the incredible adaptations that have evolved over millennia that permit the amazing diversity of species that call Earth, home)
In my own yard this past week, I have observed numerous ground skinks. It may be just a coincidence but the little reptiles appeared to be considerably more abundant at this time than they were through the summer. In addition, my 7 year old grandson, Caleb, came into our house with a huge smile on his face with cupped hands…..saying grampa…..look what I caught. It was a recently hatched Carolina anole, which many people call a chameleon. This one was extremely tiny but was a true treasure not only to my grandson but in my eyes as well. Caleb, after showing me his prize, quickly returned the little lizard to the place where he found it. I no longer have to even mention this to him as he knows that creatures need to be returned to the place that they recognize and know where to seek refuge, find food and in general have the greatest chance of survival. It makes me feel extremely proud that someone so young has developed the excitement of living things that I also loved from the time I could walk………….the children are indeed the future stewards of the environment.
Approaching events in Nature:
In the very near future, keep watch for whirling migrating flocks of chimney swifts as they move southward. Along the North / South interstates, watch the billboard signs that are illuminated at night, as migrating night hawks will take advantage of the insects attracted to the bright lights. These birds are not “hawks” but are actually in a group of birds known as “goatsuckers”. They do not, however, suck milk from goats and the nighthawks are related to whip-poor-wills and like whip-poor-wills, feed almost exclusively on flying insects. For those persons with bird feeders, keep the feeders stocked as soon a wonderful variety of neo-tropical migrant birds will pass through our area. It is a wonderful day indeed to look out ones window to observe the beauty of rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings and blue grosbeaks, sometimes all at once on a platform feeder.
Enjoy migration and keep your feeders full!