July delivers on April’s hopes, May’s promises

Barbara Hootman

You know it is July by the looks of everything green. The weather, flowers and vegetation are ripe for the tropics.

Trees in July stand tall and listless while their canopies of chlorophyll work magic like a chemist’s lab, mixing sun, air, and moisture. July’s berries are fat with ripeness. Cherries redden to the delight of the birds and bears. The creeks run, and area ponds are thick with algae. Soon they will be dog-days green.

July sees April’s hopes and May’s promises come to fruition. July from start to finish is midsummer. It is a season unto itself. By mid month, the power of the green earth cannot be denied.

The gray catbird mews like a cat, but there is no cat. This bird is related to the mockingbird and thrasher, and shares its relatives’ vocal abilities. It copies the sounds of other species and strings them together, making its own song. It can also make mechanical type sounds, and two sounds almost simultaneously. It can mimic tree frogs.

The Gray Catbird’s song is usually a long one, lasting up to 10 minutes or more. The male uses the lengthy song to proclaim his territory. The female sings, but more softly as she nests. Catbirds choose dense shrubs to call home, rarely showing themselves.

They like ants, beetles, grasshoppers, midges, caterpillars and moths to eat. When fruits ripen, they are among the first to feast. They even eat poison ivy berries along with raspberries, cherries, grapes and strawberries.

The female constructs the nest, but the male does his part by bringing her the materials. The final product is a bulky open-cup nest of twigs, mud, bark, straw and sometimes pieces of trash, roots and pine needles. They are usually located around four feet off the ground, but occasionally you will find one 60 feet up in a tree.

During winter, most catbirds migrate along the coast, from South Carolina to the Gulf. Some travel as far as Mexico, but the bulk of the population stays in the southern part of the country, avoiding winter’s bite.

You can attract catbirds to your feeding area with suet. Make sure it is the commercial kind that can take the heat without becoming rancid or melting.

Black bear cubs are growing at a rapid rate right now. When they emerged from the den in late March, they weighed from four to seven pounds. Now they are from 15 to 20 pounds. They are totally dependent on their mother and her wisdom.

Bears enjoy a snack of tent caterpillars, which contain oxalic acid and irritating hairs. The bears don’t seem to mind. They can overheat in open sun light for long periods of time due at least partially to their black hair. They head to the closest creek or water source to cool off. They also drink little when berries are ripe, getting adequate fluid from the huge quantity of berries they can eat. This year’s cubs will nurse until fall, when mom will wean them before the first winter denning.

Joe-Pye weed, Canada lily, bee-balm, coneflower and daylilies bloom throughout July, providing nectar for the butterflies and bees.

Blueberry, raspberry and blackberry picking starts by mid month. Katydids begin calling around the third week of July and join the cicadas in the nightly insect chorus. Fireflies are at their peak twinkling over the night lawns this month. Praying Mantis begin to appear.

Mallards and wood ducks enter “eclipse” plumage and are unable to fly for several weeks. Males and females look alike.

Whitetail deer fawns begin traveling with their mothers. Listen for the feeding screeches of young Barred and Great Horned Owls.

Notice that songbirds are at birdbaths more frequently now. Clean feathers provide more insulation than dirty ones. You know how good a cool bath feels on a hot day.

Hummingbirds are working the flowers and feeders more now. They are putting on fat, preparing for fall migration. Can you tell the young ones from their parents at feeders?

Also, bees start showing up at feeders as nectar begins to dry up in the summer flowers.

Peanuts are a great summer food for birds. They give quick bursts of energy.

Backyards continue to be an innocent world for fledglings learning where to eat, how to crack seeds, and discovering meal worms and suet, all special treats.

Yellow warblers begin to migrate south by the end of the month and are gone by August. Their annual stay is a short one. They arrive by the first week of May and are on the move south again by late July.

Keep bird baths clean and full of water for drinking and bathing. Mosquito larvae doesn’t have a chance to grow when the water is changed frequently.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.