Volume XVII, Issue 30 # July 23 - July 29, 2009

Earth Journal by Gary Pendleton


July’s Golden Summer

Acadian fly-catchers and wood nymphs flit among us

It’s not the heat. It’s not even the humidity. We are having a beautiful summer, though by the time this appears it could be 95 and muggy. The problem I am having with summer is focus. The weather is deliciously spring-like, and there is so much going on this time of year that I offer a partly annotated list.

Bird Count I

On July 10 in a mature tract of coastal-plain, mixed-hardwood forest, I counted red-eyed vireo, parula warbler, Acadian fly-catcher, hooded warbler and yellow-billed cuckoo.

I can’t think of any reason not to learn the song of the yellow-billed cuckoo. If you find yourself in or near a plot of woods on a warm summer day, you will hear a slow-tempo, heavily percussive sound that evokes, to me, the atmosphere of a tropical rain forest. The bird seems to be choking on an avocado pit as it goes ku-ku-ku-kuk-kowl-kdowwl-owlll-owl.

Other seasonal birds that you might encounter in your summer travels include ruby-throated hummingbird, eastern king bird, whippoorwill, indigo bunting and common tern.

Butterfly Count

My friend Lisa went on a butterfly count, and she tells me that her favorite sighting was a wood nymph at Suitland bog. Wood nymphs frequent brushy fields. They are fairly large, dark brown with a large yellow-orange patch on the fore-wing.

The counters also found a number of species that regularly appear in backyards where native flowers are grown: spicebush swallowtail, tiger swallowtail and zebra swallowtail.

Bio-Blitz

A butterfly count is one thing, but a full scale Bio-blitz is an entirely different category. On a Bio-blitz, scientists and volunteers come together over 24 hours to catalog every plant, insect, mammal, bird and creature within an area. Over June 27-28, more than 50 amateur and professional naturalists focused on the 547 acres of the South River Greenway near Crownsville.

Among the discoveries were six mammal species and over 300 species of insects.

Learn more about the Bio-blitz at http://www.aacounty.org/RecParks/parks/southriver/index.cfm.

Bird Count II

On the afternoon of July 14, I saw a brown pelican on the Chesapeake near Franklin Manor in Southern Anne Arundel County.

Bird Count III

Early on the morning of July 15, Jenelle Dowling, an ornithologist from the Smithsonian, came to my house to count and study the birds. She set up mist nets and used recordings to draw birds into the yard. A disappointing number, just four — house wren, Carolina wren, song sparrow and gold finch — were caught, measured and banded. One bird gave up a sample of blood that will be used to study avian malaria. Jenelle also gathered data for a study to analyze variation in bird songs in noisy, residential areas. To enroll your backyard in the Neighborhood Nestwatch program, call 202-633-9444 or check out nestwatch@si.edu.

Hope you have a full count this summer.