Late August is a season in transition
August begins to cool especially at night and early morning as the season slides toward autumn. You feel the cool fingers of autumn as the mist curls like smoke over area ponds. It is nature’s gauze, allowing man a glimpse of fall. It is the breath of autumn long before any frost accompanies it.
Gathering flickers are a sure sign that summer is waning. Some of them winter in the Valley, probably northern ones that think mountain winters aren’t so bad.
The flickers have some insects to go with the fall diet of berries. Suet is a nutritious substitute for what is missing in nature. Those that travel south return in the spring about the same time as the robins.
Late summer is still a good season for wild berries, a season that began in June with wild strawberries and progressed through a lush blackberry crop. And now, the late berries are ripening. The red-osier dogwoods will produce a crop of one seed to a bloom, berries that the birds enjoy. Poison ivy berries are full, plentiful, and not harmful to birds. The elderberries are bent with ripe fruit heads. Sumac promises a bumper berry crop. The migrating birds will head south well fed, as will those moving through the Valley.
Many birds begin moving south in late August, even though there is still plenty of food, water and shelter in the Valley. Those most dependent on a diet of only insects caught in mid-air migrate first. Fall migration is a prolonged event covering months, whereas spring is a rush to see who can get to the breeding grounds first.
The winds of late August are laden with pollen. Pollen contains proteins that provoke lots of sneezing and wheezing from humans, and even some dogs and cats. Ragweed is already moving on the August breezes.
The last generation of this year’s Monarch butterflies is emerging from chrysalises on milkweed plants. From now until late September, with a few stranglers in early October, the Monarchs will be in the air passing through the Valley.
Goldfinches have babies in nests lined with thistle down. Each pair usually produces only one clutch per season. They wait until thistle is mature to use the down from the pods to line their nest and the seeds to feed their young. They court and pair at the same time other birds do, but are the latest to nests. The female secures the nest to the end of a branch with spider web silk.
Females are dominant over males during the breeding season, but that changes with the fall molt. The male is the bird with the most power over territory and food. During the first breeding season, younger birds nest at least two weeks later than experienced pairs.
The goldfinch is the only songbird to undergo a major molt twice a year. After nesting season is over, it sheds the entire coat of feathers. The winter feathers are much thicker than the spring and summer ones, and take six-to-eight weeks to grow.
Males and females look alike during the winter. It will be early March before the male begins to molt again and grow the yellow and black feathers that make him so distinguished from late spring until fall. He is sometimes called the wild canary.
The fall feather coat is dull brown or gray colors with white wing bars for male and female. The male has a yellowish tinge across his head. In breeding plumage, their feet, legs and bills are buff yellow and orange. In winter they are light gray or brown color.
Breeding season begins in late July. The female builds the nest, with the male contributing materials. She weaves the nest so tightly with spider web silk that it will hold water. She prevents the eggs and babies from getting wet by spreading her wings over them. Both male and females feed the babies regurgitated food for the first few days of their lives, and then thistle seeds become the mainstay of the growing young’s diet. The fledglings depend on their parents for food for about three weeks.
Adult goldfinches are so acrobatic that they can eat upside down or upright. They enjoy sunflower and Niger seeds and have good appetites. They are primarily vegetarian, taking only an occasional insect here and there. Anywhere they find their favorite foods they call home.
Goldfinches migrate to Florida, along the gulf coast into Texas. Some move farther south into Mexico for the winter.
Late gray squirrel litters are being born.
Nighthawk migration is beginning.
Keep out plenty of fresh water for drinking and bathing.
Take in the bird feeders including the hummingbird feeders, because bears are more hungry than ever.
May you always hear the whisper of wings.