Nature Notes

Where have all the birdies gone?

By Boak Wiesner

Now that the Dog Star, Sirius, is up in the early morning, its heat joins that of our own Sun to make for the very hot weather we’re in for this week. Or so the astronomers of ancient Egypt would have us believe. As I’m really no aficionado of hot weather, off I went on my usual “beat” for hot days like this, the cool shady depths of the ravine and the Wildflower Garden. Paths newly paved with woodchips let me get deep into the woods.

If one bee was enough for Emily Dickinson to conjure up a whole prairie, one little toad should be probably be sufficient to bring the moist woods to mind. A quiet little fellow, one of this year’s brood of American Toads crossed my path. Toads get undeserved short shrift in our culture when one considers such foolish folk wisdom as that handling toads causes warts. However, they do secrete toxins from glands on the backs of their heads, the parotid glands, but one would have to eat a whole toad to be affected. So it’s usually only dogs that get poisoned. These toxins are large, complicated chemicals, which some cultures consider to be aphrodisiacal.

American Toad
American Toad, Bufo americanus

That Harebells are blooming now indicates that the height of summer is passing as they begin to flower in only late July. The various plant species spread their flowering out over several weeks as there are only so many pollinators to go ‘round at any given time. Miss D. also writes of harebells, using them in a somewhat askance view of human desire. They are a very common wildflower found all over our area.

Harebell
Harebell, Campanula rotundifolia

Somewhere off in the distance was the hectoring call of a Pileated Woodpecker. This, the rapid, ascending, triple ‘tcheep-tcheep-tcheep’ of an American Goldfinch in its swooping flight, and the very thin, high pitched ’tsee-tsee-tsee’ of a knot of Cedar Waxwings were only bird calls I heard the whole time I was in the woods, including even a measured ten minute “sound transect” I took at the edge of the woods. Now that the business of procreation is past, why waste effort in song?

One thing I really noticed today was that the majority of the flowers out right now are drawn from a quite limited palette, namely, either gold or purple. To balance out the purple Harebell, near it on the forest floor were some Celandine Poppies. It is heartening to see them as they are adversely affected by the invasion of Garlic Mustard. So the woods so far are free of those invasive exotics.

Celandine Poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum
Celandine Poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum
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