Listen to the sounds at night now as summer winds down and we move into fall next month. While I was camping this weekend with my grandsons near a lake in Oakland, I noticed sounds in the woods after dark made by what I think was a cricket. When I reached home on Sunday night, there was the same sound in my own woods. Actually, all summer long in grassy places you are apt to hear the cheerful chirping of field crickets. They call right up to the first frost and sometimes afterwards. An enterprising cricket after the frost may come into the house and sing inside for you. I love the sound of a ‘cricket on the hearth’.
You may even hear an occasional peeper in the fall still hoping to find a mate. The cold weather to come, however, puts a stop to this until the next spring. A damselfly landed on my hand one afternoon as I sat near my pond. I hardly noticed it was there at all until I looked down at my hand, for it was very light. It was interesting to look closely at its slim body and delicate wings just resting there. Damselflies keep their wings folded close to their thin bodies when at rest, and they have big heads with bulging eyes. You can encounter damselflies throughout North America near ponds, shallow streams and marshes. Damselflies usually live closer to the surface of the water than the larger dragonflies. Both dragonflies and damselflies eat small flying insects captured on the wing. They do not bite, so don’t dismay if one rests on your arm or leg for a few moments. Take the opportunity to really get a good look at this interesting creature. My daughter took a great picture of a bright blue damselfly sitting on my large brimmed sunhat one day. It looked as if I had some sort of ornament pinned there. Both damselflies and dragonflies can be quite colorful and bizarre looking so they are well worth examining. Have your camera ready, for they pose nicely.
Yellow jackets came to visit our picnic this weekend. They were especially interested in the mixed fruit salad cups we tried to eat without eating them. I did not want to get one into my mouth along with a ripe red strawberry, which seemed to be their favorite fruit. They had no desire in biting us, but enthusiastically wanted the sweet fruit. It was bit disconcerting! Birds seem to instinctively avoid insects with a yellow and black color pattern so they do not go after yellow jackets. These yellow jackets are not trying to bite you, but are merely attracted to the sweet fruit you want to eat. They can sting, however, if they are annoyed and are best to be avoided, especially if you are allergic to bee stings. They tend to be more active in the fall as fruit ripens and falls to the ground.
Yellow jackets often nest underground, and you can disturb them without really knowing they are there, which is not pleasant. The best time to examine their nests whether above or below ground is after the first few weeks of frost. The nest is quite fascinating to examine when it is empty!
Steeplebush is in flower now and a nice plant to examine and get to know. This is a member of the rose family and blooms through late August. Steeplebush is well named for its rosy pink blossoms are crowded on a steeple-like flower spike. The colorful flowers bloom in succession slowly downward, so often the top of the spike is all withered while the lower part is exquisite with colorful blooms. These flowers keep their beauty for a long time, and when dry and devoid of leaves, are attractive in flower arrangements.
Countless flies, beetles and bees visit the lovely steeplebush which yields little or no nectar but does yield an abundance of pollen. If insects fail in their service to the plant, steeplebush can cross-fertilize like most of the rose family.
The undersides of the steeplebush leaves are very woolly, so the plant is protected from transpiring too freely. The woolly hairs act as an absorbent layer to protect their pores from clogging with the vapors that arise from the damp ground in which the plant grows. Nature thinks of everything! If these pores were filled with moisture, they would be unable to throw off the waste from this plant. All plants are largely dependent upon free transpiration for normal growth but those whose root are stuck in wet ground are constantly sending up moisture through their stems and leaves. Look for this interesting plant along the roadsides and in meadows and pastures. This shrub, also called hardhack, gets to be from 2-4 feet tall.
If you wander the local shores now. look for the lovely sea lavender blossoms close to the water and sometimes growing below the tide line. This plant is very tolerant of salt water. I have been out kayaking and seen blossoming plants several feet under the surface. Not too many plants can survive under such conditions. This plant belongs to the leadwort family, and the family is so widespread you will even find family members in the deserts and in the tropics. Sea lavender grows many places on Mount Desert Island and the nearby outer islands. Resist the urge to take some home for this attractive seaside plant has been over-picked many places and should now just be enjoyed where you find it.