Late July hosts Dog Days of summer
Summer closes the gate on July as the third heat wave of the season envelopes the mountains. The Dog Days of summer have arrived, bringing the hottest temperatures of the season.
The Dog Days of summer have been known since Roman times. Then it was a season to fear, with ponds stagnated, snakes going blind and dogs becoming mad.
The name Dog Days comes from the Dog Star, Canicula. Those studying the stars used to look to Canicula to tell what the seasonal troubles were. Usually they found Canicula in conjunction with the sun. Since they couldn’t control the movement of the stars, they blamed Canicula and warned people to stay away from snakes and dogs.
Now we know that it is pollution that stagnates pond water, rabies that causes dogs to go mad and that when snakes shed their skin, they are temporarily sightless. There is a lot to be said for the progression of knowledge.
Summer is about half over, and its colors change slowly and subtly. Strong colors begin to appear as a sign of the seasonal harvest approaching. Wild chicory is a rich blue, and the great lobelias are another shade of blue. Thistles have a reddish-purple top, and Joe-Pye adds its red-magenta flowers. Ironweed is a beautiful deep purple.
The house wren continues to serenade summer with its effervescent voice. The tiny bird is a common backyard bird throughout the Western Hemisphere. Its song is a jumble of sounds woven together to suit the songster, but always pleasing to the human ear. Every member of the wren family has energy to spare, and a song to share.
Most often you see the house wren flitting through low shrubbery, snatching insects as it moves. Between bug snacks, it stops to bubble over with a song. It is a small, compact wren with a curved beak and a longer tail than the Carolina Wren which it holds either cocked above its body or slightly drooped. It is dressed in dull brown feathers with dark bars on the wings.
Most wrens have a pronounced eyebrow, but the house wren has only a faint eyebrow mark. It will head south migrating at night when the last babies are out of the nest and on their own.
Marks distinguishing different wrens rest with the eyebrow and the tail and make them not so difficult to tell apart. All wrens feed heavily on insects, including beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, moths, flies and many others. They also eat spiders, millipedes and snails.
The male house wren defends the nesting territory by singing. Both males and females have the nasty habit of puncturing the eggs of other nesting birds, including their own species. They are eliminating competition for food in a territory.
The male usually has more than one mate, and the female often leaves the male to finish raising the youngsters from the first brood while she mates and nests with another male. The house wren will nest in a birdhouse, natural hollows in trees and stumps, old woodpecker holes and even crevices in buildings. Look for its nest in flower pots, old shoes, even drainpipes.
The male builds several dummy nests, and the female chooses the one she likes. Then she finishes the lining of the nest. She likes feathers from other birds and even animal hair to soften the nest.
It is black bear cub time. Breeding adults have finished the mating season, and now they focus on food. Cubs are beginning to eat solid foods along with continuing to nurse. They enjoy fruits along with their mothers, and a torn-down feeder full of black oiled sunflower seed is a real treat. Bear moms have them in training and show them where to find food, including birdfeeders.
Indigo buntings are one of the earliest birds to migrate south and are usually gone by the end of July or the first week of August. Lizard eggs are beginning to hatch, and gray squirrels have summer litters in the nest. Juvenile bats are beginning to fly and young hummingbirds are working flowers that are rich in nectar.
Listen to the katydids at night. They are in full voice now. An old wives tale says it is only six weeks until the first frost from the time you first hear the katydids. Surely global warming has put that folktale to rest.
Goldfinches begin to nest, making them the latest songbird to do so. They nest when thistle is ready to soften the lining of the nest.
Keep the birdbaths filled with clean water for drinking and bathing.
Take in the birdfeeders by late afternoon, including hummingbird feeders, to prevent black bears from tearing them down.
May you always hear the whisper of wings.