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Northland Nature...First migrants appearing in early August

According to the calendar, the first week of August is halfway between the Summer Solstice in June and the Autumnal Equinox of September. Halfway through the summer season, we still have plenty of time to go.

So far, in the first half, we have seen quite a variation in weather, from near-record high temperatures of July 16-18 to far below the norms July 26-28. Hard rains in parts of the Northland were also accompanied by dry conditions in other places.

Despite the late arrival of the warming days this year, I was glad to see the summer wildflowers with their blooming that began in mid-July and still continues. Milkweed, dogbane, evening primrose, cow parsnip and fireweed are thriving and the plants that we usually associate with late summer have begun flowering as well.

Each day, on my wanderings, I find more of the sunflowers, goldenrods and asters in bloom. These will remain and proliferate throughout this new month of August.

August is also the time when we see many more berries in the Northland. Early in the month, we have the strawberries of July and woods walkers will also find blueberries, raspberries, dewberries and pin cherries. With all the blossoms that I saw in July, I also look forward to a good crop of blackberries by the end of the month.

But August is much more. It is the time when our gardens give us what we've been waiting for. Beans, greens, carrots and tomatoes add much to the meals at this time. This is also the time when, with proper moisture, we'll find a new growth of mushrooms each day.

Insects thrive during this month and I expect many grasshoppers, moths and butterflies to be in our yards and roadsides. The predator opportunists, the dragonflies and spiders, find plenty of food here too.

But as we go through the 31 steps of the month of August, we notice other things also happening. Beginning with about 15 hours of daylight, we exit the month with 13½ hours. The shortening of the daylight becomes more apparent in late summer.

And the natural scene responds.

I note two related phenomena during this month. With the later sunrises and earlier sunsets, some plants begin to show leaf-color changes. Usually by late in the month, red leaves appear on some sumacs, dogwoods and Virginia creepers while yellows are being held by milkweeds, dogbanes and bracken ferns.

Birds also are aware of the changing times. Few birds continue to sing as we move through the "dog days" of August.

And among the tree branches, we can find families feeding together. The young have been raised, but they stay with the parents for security and feeding lessons. Others join them and soon small flocks are present.

They get restless as the days get shorter and slowly they begin the trek to the south, their migration. Early in the month, I find two completely different kinds of birds that begin this next phase in their lives, the swallows and shorebirds.

Swallows, especially tree swallows, can be easy to see at this time. Tree swallows arrive here in most years during the first half of April. Returning early from their wintering home, they start to nest a short time later. Living up to their name, these small birds with dark backs and light undersides live in hollow trees and frequently bird houses.

Young are raised and fledge by July and these aerial feeding families will mix with others to form rather large flocks. Recently, I observed such a group feeding over a swamp as they were beginning their trip.

Also at this time, they may be seen resting on roadside utility wires as we pass by. I always consider such groupings as signs of the changing seasons.

The shorebird, as the name says, is common along the shores of lakes and ponds.

This group is large and diverse, but now the flocks are mostly made up of sandpipers and plovers.

Many of these early traveling shorebirds nested in the far north of Canada, but wintering as far south as they do, they depart early. Among some species, the adults will begin this southward trip before the young are fully grown. Young need to finish growing and move on when ready.

By late in August, warblers, nighthawks, swifts and even some hawks will be starting migration of their own. But now it's the swallows and the shorebirds that set the pace.

We still have much more summer to go, and we'll see plenty in August, but we'll also get a taste of autumn before the month is over.