Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Late Summer Dusk

At dusk every evening in late summer, hundreds - maybe thousands - of American Robins fly over the fields of my preserve.  Almost all are flying from north to south, though I don't think they are migrating.  I believe they are headed to a communal roost somewhere beyond the horizon.  This astonishing passage can continue for half an hour, with birds materializing out of thin air in the north and then fading into the ether to the south.

Sometimes the birds are clumped together.  Sometimes, they are flying solo.  Usually, though, they are flying in small groups.  All pass silently overhead, earnest to get to their destination before nightfall.  I can watch, mesmerized, for the entire spectacle.  Poor Kali, whose eyesight is nowhere as good as mine and who has lots of "floaters," only sees the occasional bird and doesn't understand my open-mouthed astonishment.  
Curiosity overpowering the instinct to flee
Last evening, I went out to see if any Common Nighthawks were migrating over my preserve.  Kali and I watched nine of them wheeling over the meadows on Sunday evening, August 23, but I haven't seen any since.  Because their migration is a harbinger of autumn, and nighthawks are fascinating birds in their own right, I'm always excited to see them, but was only fortunate once this summer.  Instead, last night I was treated to several does and their fawns browsing in the meadows and...
Heading back to the evening roost
...a small flock of tom turkeys sauntering through the grasses, reluctant to end their day.
Foxtail
This spring, our native grasslands were infested with Canada thistle, a Pennsylvania noxious weed that we are obligated by law to control (and which we want to manage in order to minimize competition with native grasses and desirable forbs).  We hired an herbicide professional to treat our fields, and his chemical magic did the trick - we had no thistle problem this year.  Instead, the fields are now a sea of non-native foxtail (Setaria spp.), an annual grass that is common in disturbed areas.  Once the native grasses regain the upper hand, foxtail will gradually disappear.
Foxtail seedhead
Dusk landscape with fields, forest, and distant towers
I won't miss the passing of summer, but it does have its moments.

11 comments:

packrat said...

Love the deer photo and the lone foxtail, Scott. The invasive foxtails in our part of the Southwest can be very dangerous to animals and even humans. The mature head can enter animals' skin or ears and work its way further into the body. Last year when I saw a large stand growing around our neighbor's pond in High Rolls I alerted them to the potential danger to their animals. They knew all about it because the woman had been a vet assistant down in Alamogordo and had treated a few cases. The husband told me that the way they were going to get rid of the problem foxtails was by spraying a highly-concentrated vinegar-water solution. Apparently it worked well because the next time we went up the foxtails were gone.

Anonymous said...

Packrat: I've never heard of foxtail "behaving" as you described. I wonder if your species is significantly different from the ones that are invasive and weedy here. The seed heads of our foxtails are soft and resilient; I can't imagine how they'd be able to penetrate the skin of an animal.

robin andrea said...

Interesting, the only foxtails I am familiar with are the ones that packrat describes. When we had dogs, we had to check their paws and ears all the time for those insidious little seeds. Your description of the robins reminds me of when I was growing up in New Jersey and the sky would fill with hundreds and thousands of migrators. It was such an amazing sight. Haven't seen anything like that in more than 40 years. Lovely photos.

packrat said...

Anonymous: Here's the link to an article on the dangers of foxtails to dogs:

http://www.seattledogspot.com/dog-health-wellness/foxtail-grass-can-kill-your-dog/

Scott said...

I'm going to have to Google "foxtail" because our foxtail seeds are nothing like the insidious seeds that you and Packrat described, Robin Andrea. I checked-out Packrat's website link and read about the dangers of the grass. Wow! And, you're right; the nightly migration/movement of the robins is amazing.

Mike, Studio City said...

Have a good Labor Day weekend. Mike and Glenn

Scott said...

Mike: I hope you and Glenn have a good holiday weekend, too. We're coming out of a heatwave here in the northern Piedmont, so most of the weekend looks good, with low humidity and moderate temperatures (mid-80s). Next week, though, we're headed back into the 90s! Also, It's "California dry" here, too--very unusual.

Mike, Studio City said...

Last week we were hit hard with a hear wave, dry heat wave. We were in Beverly Hills on the hottest day. It was 104 there. B.H. usually never gets hotter than high 8o's. I told Glenn I can't go into Tiffany's dripping in sweat. I like looking at their nice things. There was no 'Breakfast at Tiffany's; that day. BTW, are you familiar with the botanist John Bartram. He is my very distant relative and was married to Ann Mendenhall. From her family, later came, Thomas Mendenhall. The glacier in Alaska is named for him. Well, that is enough history for one day.

Scott said...

Mike: We're having the sixth heat wave of our summer right now. Temperatures are in the low 90s--not 104, thank goodness!--but it's still uncomfortable. The normal high this time of year is 82. I've never been to Tiffany's; I suppose you could have window shopped if you didn't want to drip sweat on the counter! Several years ago, I applied for a job in Palm Desert (I didn't get the job). After the morning interview, I decided to walk a tiny section of the Pacific Crest Trail outside town. It was 114 degrees, the hottest I have ever experienced. What misery. I can see why people entering the United States from Mexico and trying to cross the desert sometimes don't make it.

I live outside Philadelphia, and John Bartram's house is preserved in a Philadelphia city park managed by the John Bartram Association, a private, non-profit group. I've been in the house one time (it's unfurnished), but have been on the grounds many times. I didn't know that John was married to Ann Mendenhall. There's a small community in northern Delaware just south of the Pennsylvania state line called Mendenhall; I wonder if there's any connection there?

Mike, Studio City said...

Ann had seven brothers and four sisters. The Mendenhall's were all over Penn.. These relatives were on my mothers side of the family. I learned more about my family history in the last fifteen years than I had know all the years before. On my dads side, his grandmother was Amanda Newton. Her distant grandfather was Sir Isaac Newton's uncle. With this info it began to make more since for why I love gardening and looking up at the stars.

Scott said...

Mike: There's a Mendenhall Inn conference center in the Brandywine Creek valley in Pennsylvania near Longwood Gardens--again, probably related to your family. You're right--your genes are your destiny and you can't help but get dirt under your fingernails as you gaze at the sky!