Archive for July, 2007

Summer Twilight

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Among the best things about summer in the South are the long, lingering twilights, when the sun sets late, fireflies flash in the grass and under the trees, and bats flutter and swoop in a dusky orange sky.

Clate and I have fallen into the habit of walking up our driveway each evening after sunset to a point where we can see the western horizon and the open sky, and watching as the last light and color of the day fade slowly away. Tonight when we first walked up, the sky was still pale blue, gentle, traced with graceful, high, thin salmon-colored clouds. The deafening songs of cicadas drowned out all other sounds. Fireflies winked over the grass of our yard, around the bushes and edges of the woods, in the weeds of the vacant lot across the street. Two bats hunted in the open space around our cul de sac, small, rapidly moving silhouettes darting sharply in one direction and another as they chased insects, dipping down suddenly over the grass and sometimes hurtling past our heads so close I could feel one pass.

The humid air felt heavy, still, and very warm, except for thin, damp, cool currents that rose from the darker edges of the woods and curled around my legs. A misty, blurry gibbous moon hung high in the south over the treetops behind our house.

We watched clouds, bats, and fireflies until the first stars came out – one bright evening star very low in the west, and one other, smaller pinprick of light almost directly overhead – then started back down the driveway as the last colors turned to gray, and the first raspy songs of katydids began to take the place of the cicadas. Just then, in deepest twilight, we heard a wind rise in the north, and turned to watch as it came toward us, moving across the treetops of the woods across the street, and traveling down through the trees and bushes of our yard, and finally reaching us – a cool, fresh air that rushed over and around us and tossed all the trees and bushes, a dark, clean, exhilarating wind that swept away the muggy air of the day – at least for a few passing moments. Then we went inside for the night.

Red Admiral

Friday, July 20th, 2007

Mid July has brought very warm, humid weather, as usual at this time of year. Today temperatures were in the 90s, under a pale blue sky with high, thin white clouds. Cicadas sang loudly all day, while birds have become much more quiet, still singing, but not as often, and not so many all at once, so that each song or call stands out more distinctly. Early this evening, an Acadian Flycatcher sang sharply and repeatedly near the edge of the woods, two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds zoomed and twittered and chased each other around the feeder, a bluebird sang in our neighbor’s yard, and three Carolina Wrens briefly sang back and forth. A Mourning Dove cooed in the distance.

The mood was sultry, hazy and somnolent, when a sudden splash of color – a strikingly patterned red and black butterfly – fluttered down and lit on a small table only a few feet away from where I was sitting. Its outspread velvet-black wings were distinctively marked with red-orange bars like “shoulder bars” across each forewing, and a broad red-orange bar along the edge of the back wings. Toward the front tip of each slightly pointed wing was a pattern of bright white spots, dots and crescents. At the ends of the slender antennae were small, dark bulbs. There were touches of indigo along the rims of the wings, thin white scalloping all around the edges, and subtle hints of bronze around the head – but the overall effect was the bold, vivid contrast of deep, soft black and warm ruby-orange, with flecks of shiny white.

It was a Red Admiral Butterfly, common here, according to my field guides, but I have rarely seen one so for me it was a memorable sighting. It stayed on the table, wings spread, for at least two or three minutes. Then it flew. A few minutes later it returned briefly to almost the same spot – but my slightest movement sent it off again.

Chipping Sparrows’ Nest

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

Early this evening, we discovered a Chipping Sparrows’ nest on the branch of a pine in our back yard, only a few feet away from the back deck.

We were sitting on the deck, having a glass of wine and enjoying the evening. It was hot, but breezy enough to make it tolerable. The day before, I had noticed a small bird making frequent trips to the pine and suspected a nest, but the bird came and went so swiftly and quietly that I couldn’t even tell what it was. So this evening, I watched more carefully – and sure enough, it was clear before long that there was some kind of nest, though all we could see even through the scope was a brownish bunch of something.

Then a parent flew in, but was immediately so well hidden among the pine needles that I could not see it. All I could see was some movement around the nest – and an orangish glimpse of tiny gaping mouths. At this point, I still did not know the identity of the nesting birds, but finally one of the parents flew from the pine branch to a dead stub on another pine nearby – a Chipping Sparrow. We watched them off and on for the rest of the evening. They usually flew from the nest over the house toward the front yard, but occasionally dropped down to the grass in the back yard, near the nest tree, to hunt.

A Chipping Sparrow has been singing around the front yard for several days now, maybe even for weeks, out in the more open, grassy areas and around the shrubs. But I don’t usually hear them around the back yard – they seem to be quiet around the nest.