The quiet time begins in nature

Barbara Hootman

Nature is much the same in late July and early August, he quietest times of the summer season. The bird world is becoming more silent each day with fewer  songs and  territorial calls.

The Sphinx moth is abundant in late July gardens, hovering busily over the flowers.  Some call it a hummingbird moth because in flight at a distance it appears to be a small hummingbird. Others label it a hawk moth.

Like hummingbirds, the moth sips nectar from deep within the throats of the flowers.  It is seldom attracted to lights at night.  It feeds and lays eggs, fulfilling its purpose.  The eggs hatch and develop into horn worms that are hated by tomato growers.  The hornworms have no resemblance to the moth they turn into.

Baby bears are following their mom looking for food.  They are beginning to sample solid food.

Chicory is beginning to bloom now, and it is too prolific for its own good. Its only offenses are that it is common and persistent.  Chicory’s blue color is one of the prettiest blues in nature.

Birds are beginning their annual molt, or feather loss. They are more reclusive, not drawing attention to themselves during the molt.  Feather molting and growing new feathers takes a lot of energy that was devoted to defending the territory and nesting.

Feathers wear out yearly and must be replaced before fall migration.  Birds sing to attract mates and defend territories.  With most of the fledglings out of the nest, there is no reason to sing, so energy is put into growing new feathers. There is really no reason for a bird to sing past mid-July.  A complete feather molt takes several weeks, because birds don’t drop their feathers at one time.  During the annual molt they appear scruffy and ungroomed. Their ability to escape predators is compromised at this time also.

The abundance of fruits and berries supply birds with amble nutrition now. There is also plenty of insects. In a few weeks they will be back at the feeders, filling up and putting on weight for migration.  Weed seeds are still plentiful and enjoyed by many birds. Many birds leave the nesting area since it no longer needs defending, and move to where the fruit and berries are.

Immature acorns are falling in some places.  It doesn't mean an early fall or severe winter.  It means that the tree or trees have been stressed by the drought condition.  There will still be acorns in the fall, but not as many as there were last year.

Western North Carolina’s early season butterfly population has been depleted this year.  Early March had prolonged freezing temperatures that hurt the first brood. The drought is influencing the lack of butterflies now.  Butterflies are pollinators and an important source of food for many songbirds.  The lack of them has a definite impact on the environment. The second brood of butterflies is beginning to hatch now and will continue until mid-August.   There should be more butterflies in the air soon.

The Belted Kingfisher is a full-time resident of the Valley.

The Belted Kingfisher is a year-round resident in the Valley, living around lakes and ponds. Nesting season is finishing for the bird. It is an unusual looking bird with its chunky body and big head crowned with a crest that looks like hair on a bad day.  Its bill is heavy and built to be an effective tool.  Its call is a distinct rattle with nothing that sounds like a song.  It feeds almost entirely on aquatic prey -  fish and crayfish are its favorite food.

You may find a Belted Kingfisher visiting a backyard pool, especially if it is stocked with goldfish or Koi fish. The male has a single blue breast band, and the female has two breast bands - one is blue and the other is chestnut brown.  The nesting cavity is an excavated tunnel positioned slightly up hill, sited along the banks of rivers, ponds and pools. The uphill position keeps the nesting tunnel from flooding and drowning the babies.

The Belted Kingfisher has to live close to water that doesn’t freeze during the winter so it can fish.

Baby bears are following their mothers and beginning to sample solid food.

Birds will return to bird feeders in groups after the annual molt is over.

Baby barn swallows are out of the nest and learning to fly and catch insects.

Warblers are beginning to put on weight, preparing for migration.

Many of the Indigo buntings are leaving to start migration now, making them some of the earliest birds to leave for southern habitats.

Keep out plenty of fresh water for drinking and bathing, and continue to take in the bird feeders to prevent bears raiding them.

Keep the bird feeders clean and the water sources to prevent diseases from spreading among birds.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.