Mid-Summer Report

Saturday morning, with the temperature on its way to sweltering, I headed for the shady Henson Trail. At the big pond, bullfrogs barely bothered to produce a bark or two. Common whitetail dragonflies zipped and zoomed above the water and invading grass. The trees rang with cicada song, the sound of summer.Bluet damselfly

No snakes were visible on the creek banks near the bridge. No snapping turtle lurked in the deep pool downstream. The creek flowed in slow silence, awaiting the crash of the next thunderstorm. Damselflies darted and hovered; one landed on the railing near me. Damselflies fold their wings together at rest, unlike dragonflies. This was one of the delicate little bluets; I can’t tell you the species.

Many local nesting birds are done for the year or are feeding their second brood of babies. American goldOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfinches, though, are just getting started. They wait for thistles to bloom, because they use the thistledown to provide soft linings for their nests. So the goldfinches were quite busy, calling and singing in the open woods near the creek. If you listen to the rhythm of their call notes, they seem to say “Potato chip!” during their scalloped flight. (At our house, goldfinches are also harvesting catnip seeds and soon will be feasting on the seeds of their look-alike flower, black-eyed Susans.)

Alerted by a fellow walker to “two Bambis,” I scanned the meadow and found two spotted fawns lying in the grass near the bluebird box. They were so cute I paused to watch them.

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Like a lot of people, I carry two simultaneous and opposing views about white-tailed deer. As individual animals, they’re beautiful, graceful, and a treat to see. As a species, there are way too many for the land’s carrying capacity—and that’s our fault.

So much in the relationship between people and nature is complex, conflicted, and difficult. I’m grateful to simply enjoy a morning’s walk in our small and semi-wild park.

 

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Breeding Birds

If you have a House Wren or Gray Catbird singing in your yard, or hear a Wood Thrush caroling while you walk the Henson Trail, it’s a good bet there’s a nest nearby! First Fotos and Early Birds 042Avian migrants have passed through Montgomery County, so the birds who wake us up with their sunrise songs are species that breed here. This is the season of the Breeding Bird Survey. The BBS is a roadside bird count, an annual trek with stops every half-mile (totaling 50 stops) to listen, look, and note all birds seen and heard in exactly three minutes.

I participated in the survey as a volunteer counter for 20 years. Every spring, I spent a June morning recording birds at all my stops. My route, which crossed Montgomery County from east to west, was one of the original ones laid out in Maryland by the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in 1966. Scientists analyze the collected data to establish trends in bird status and develop conservation priorities.

Many changes were obvious over the years. The major one was development, of course. I grumbled, “I used to get Eastern Meadowlarks and Field Sparrows at this stop and now the fields hold town houses.” Traffic got worse, its noise masking birdsong. Lou, who was driving for me, now was tasked by the scientists to count all the vehicles that passed us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe good news, though, is that people are noticing. More of us participate in citizen science with bird, butterfly, and amphibian counts, or monitor water quality, and we set aside land to be protected habitat. Even small neighborhood parks are benefiting. Long may American Goldfinches harvest seeds in our back yard and Wood Thrushes sing beside the Henson Trail!