When going for walks in late July, much of the route is spent looking at summer wildflowers; many still in bloom while others have gone to seed. New ones are seen each day.
In the woods, more moisture-dependent fungi appear. Insects abound at this time and the diverse butterflies along with the hunting antics of dragonflies keep me watching. This is also the time of hornet nests, moths and spiderwebs.
Local bird life has not been forgotten. The avian chorus of the early mornings as we began the month is now mostly silent, but a few continue. Each day, I hear vocals from yellowthroats, redstarts, catbirds, hermit thrushes and the persistent red-eyed vireos (they even sing in the heat of the day). But there is much more going on with birds now, in late July.
In the yard, I hear plenty of calls (not songs) as new families of nuthatches come by to feed. Hopping on the lawn are fledgling robins. Flying over the woods, crows and ravens deal with their young. In the evening, I’ve been hearing the gasping call of immature barred owls, trying to get adult attention.
And there is more in the avian world. During a recent woods’ walk, I found a veery nest on the ground, with two eggs still present. At the barn, the nesting phoebes are preparing for a second brood, which isn't very common at our latitude. By this time, most birds have settled into a territory and raised a family. The goldfinches are just beginning.
These small yellow and black birds depend on the flowering and seed forming of thistle to determine their nesting. Not only do they feed on thistle seeds, they also use the fluffy seed material to make up their snug nests. When other birds are finished with their breeding season, goldfinches are starting.
And so now, in late July, we see the nesting, fledglings and sub adults, but we also see the start of the autumn migration.
I was able to see this during a walk a few days ago when I passed a pond. Tree swallows that were not here all spring or summer were now present. The pair that was here one day became a larger gathering of about 10 the next day.
Over the water, they maneuvered in their quick flights. Many times, they dipped to the water’s surface in their feeding antics. This delightful show was gone the following day and I realized that I had been observing the beginning of their late-summer to autumn migration.
Tree swallows can be recognized, even in flight, by their white undersides. Adult males are a blue-green iridescence above; young and females are brown. With their small bills and long wings, these 5-inch aerial insectivores are common at ponds and lakes and over fields.
The name of tree swallow applies to their selection of tree hollows for nesting. Early migrants for going south now, they were also quick to arrive from the south in spring. Migrants typically show up here in April.
Tree swallows are the first of the six species of Northland swallows. They can feed on seeds as well as insects and this helps them to survive some adverse spring conditions. Arriving in their breeding sites early means early nesting, early families growing up and now, early departing. The ones that I saw will be joined by many more to make huge flocks that feed and travel together as they go south.
Late July is far from autumn, but migration is starting.