August is the quietest month of summer

Barbara Hootman Columnist

After all the bird song in May and June, August seems unusually quiet. The songbirds have stopped singing as they molt. Birds get new feathers during August to prepare to migrate in the fall. The avian chorus will not sing again until next April.

August is summer clothed in fading colors thinking about its autumn costume. The golds, deep purples and browns are beginning to replace the pastels of spring and summer.

August is a sun in a hurry claiming its bed earlier and rising later.

August is the drone of the cicadas from afternoon until dusk, and giving way to the katydid fiddlers at night. Some people think the sound is grating to the ears, and others love it as a sound of summer on its way to fall.

Katydids are relatives of grasshoppers and crickets. They resemble leaves with legs. Usually they are heard and not seen. They eat leaves of most deciduous trees and shrubs, especially oaks. They can fly short distances but only when threatened. They prefer to walk and climb. When they fly, it is more of a fluttering toward the ground. When they land on the ground, they walk to the nearest tree and climbs.

Birds, bats, spiders, frogs, snakes and other insect-eaters are predators of the katydid. The grasshopper-like insect serenades the night until frost.

August is fledgling birds fully feathered and on the wing. Goldfinches are nesting, and some late nesting robins still have babies in the nest.

Ripeness creeps across the mountains with grapes hanging heavy in the vineyards. Wild grapes cluster high in the trees. Opossums and raccoons exert great effort for a taste of domestic or wild grapes.

Even the ever-happy wrens are sleeping later and aren’t as exuberant songsters as they were two weeks ago.

August is early apples ripening to the delight of bears and deer. It is the great mulleins blooming with stately yellow spikes along roadsides and in pastures.

In early August with parental duties behind them, the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks begin to return to some backyard feeders. Some years they are illusive and sightings are rare. Billy Edd Wheeler, who lives in the Swannanoa area, reports seeing one enjoying black oiled sunflower seeds in his platter-type feeder recently. One has dined on the mountaintop.

The males share incubation and feeding duties at the nest, and he even sings as he takes his turn sitting on eggs. She sings as she builds the nest. Both birds are known for singing on moonlit nights, sometimes throughout the night, but not too loudly. They are much softer singers than a night-singing mockingbird.

The male Rose-breasted Grosbeak has a black head and back and a deep rose triangle on its breast. The female is mostly plain brown, with two white wing bars and a prominent white eye stripe. She is often mistaken for a large sparrow. They usually raise two clutches of babies during nesting season.

At backyard feeders, the Grosbeak will eat its share of sunflower seeds and peanuts. Over half the natural diet is made up of insects. The large, strong bill allows the bird to eat large grasshoppers, crickets, and other insects with tough exoskeletons.

It is the Black-headed Grosbeak and the Black-headed Oriole that gorge on Monarch butterflies on their winter grounds.

The Evening Grosbeak is an irregular winter bird of the mountains. If the winter is severe in the north, the mountains are more likely to play host to them. They definitely add splashes of color to winter. The males are yellow-bodied, dusky-headed finches with a fierce yellow eye stripe. The females have a golden highlight to their soft gray feathers. They like sunflower seeds and can crack open seeds requiring 125 pounds of pressure.

Baby black bears are growing rapidly now, adding more solid foods to their diet as they continue to nurse.

August is a peak migration month for barn swallows. Monarch butterflies begin their slow migration, which will last into the first week of October, to their winter grounds in Mexico. Squirrels give birth to the last litter of the year, and deer shed “velvet” off their antlers.

Spider webs increase in August and the orb weavers are especially busy. Raptor migration begins. Look for kestrels, ospreys and broad-winged hawks.

Keep out plenty of fresh water for bathing and drinking. Take the birdfeeders down by late afternoon to not temp an always hungry black bear. Take in the hummingbird feeders as well.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.