The insect chorus tunes up in August

Barbara Hootman
This group of Red Crossbills was spotted along the Blue Ridge Parkway close to Walker Knob.

The sun is in more of a hurry to find its nightly bed than it has been since early spring. The days are growing shorter as summer flirts with fall.

To some humans, August is just another summer month. But in the wild it is much more, with the skies filled with birds. Both birds and furred creatures have increased their populations tremendously, with birds hatching three and four babies at a time, and many other creatures having four and five babies. Each female rabbit may produce as many as 20 offspring in a season taht ranges from early March to mid-October.  The adults live for only about a year.

By mid-August most songbirds have stopped singing.  They are pouring energy into the annual molt. Now is a time of rest and silence during the day. By early evening, the insect fiddlers begin to scrap their forewings together, and the jam session runs all night. Katydids are joined by crickets; the night hums with their sounds. Only the males rosin up the wings and call throughout the night.  Both katydids and crickets sing to attract females.

Fall migration is a prolonged event, with most creatures moving but in no great hurry.  Changing weather is just one element of migration.  Thrushes wait until September to begin migration and most sparrows don’t move back into the Valley until October.  Ducks wing their way south in November.  The swallows, martins and most flycatchers start south about mid-August. These birds feed on the wing, snapping insects out of the air.  Warblers are moving through the Valley now.  They are in fall plumage rather than breeding dress.

Many birds begin shifting their diets to an almost berry menu in late summer.  As insects grow scarce, berries begin to play an important nutritional role.

The Red Crossbill is a dressed-up finch with an odd-shaped beak to serve its needs for pine nuts and conifer seeds.  It even feeds its young partially digested conifer seeds. The long tips of the upper and lower bill do not meet, but cross over each other.  The bills of young birds are not crossed at hatching.  The bills cross as the bird grows.  The bird bites between the scales of a cone and pries them apart and then dislodges the seed with its tongue.

The biggest populations of Red Crossbills have been found at higher elevations in Buncombe and Yancey counties.   When the Red Spruce pine cones are ready, the Red Crossbills come.  When they deplete a supply, it is off to other areas to find more.

Photographer and birder James Poling found Red Crossbills at Walker Knob overlook at mile 359.9 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Stay observant and you may spot them in your backyard, especially if you live where you have the food they prefer, and are at a high elevation. They have been seen at the Mount Mitchell ranger station also.

The Red Crossbills enjoy conifer seeds and especially those from spruce, pine, Douglas-fir and hemlock. The birds can breed any time from spring through summer.  Since they are nomadic, they move around as food supplies change.  Buds of various trees are enjoyed in spring. They also eat weed seeds. And add berries and insects to the diet when available.  They are also attracted to salt.

A black bear yearling gets a rooftop view while making itself at home on this house..

Bears are plentiful this summer.  Most are in full shed and appear shaggy and naked in spots, with some having rubbed about half the hair off on the sides and shoulders.  They aren’t diseased.  It is a natural shedding that they go through every late summer.  Soon they will grow a heavy coat of hair for winter.  Their appetites are increasing daily.

Baby bears continue to nurse and add solid foods to their diet.

White tail deer males are shedding the “velvet” off their antlers.  It’s a strange sight to see a big buck walk out of the mist with shreds of velvet hanging from his rack.  As the antlers grow the velvet feeds the true bones of the rack.  The antlers are sensitive during this time, and the bucks are protective of their racks.

Fall-looking colors splotch some trees now because the trees were drought stressed.  It is not an indicator of an early fall.  Mother Nature is on schedule with the seasons.

Spider webs increase in August with the Orb Weavers spinning some interesting webs.

Squirrels have late summer babies in the nest.

Baby skunks follow their mother in a single line behind her.

Keep out plenty of fresh water for drinking and bathing.

Continue to take the bird feeders inside by late afternoon.  Bear appetites increase daily.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.