Nature walk — Summer through a streamside window

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Photos by Anita Barbour


Last year a friend of ours replaced three old storm windows in our dining room with a scavenged bay window. The new window has provided a panorama of near and distant natural scenes and events over the summer.

While recovering from Lyme disease, for me the view has been therapeutic. I feel nursed by the richness of nature at all scales, from a fawn and doe across our little stream to a red spider dangling from a silk thread and framed in a single window pane. Jewelweed, rose of Sharon, grape and sugar maple are among the plants that have served as backdrops for insects, including butterflies and dragonflies, and also mammals (deer and cottontail rabbit) and birds (many species).

The most impressive caterpillar was that of a laurel sphinx moth (Sphinx kalmiae). It was just descending from a small ash tree, a local food plant, either to begin overwintering or to find itself another tree and finish feeding for the year.


One morning last week a rectangular flash of light caught our eyes. It was sun reflecting off the forewing of a dragonfly, an old favorite, the slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta). The slaty is partial to large ponds, but here was one that took comfort in the quieter haunts of our modest stream and tiny pond. A few days later in the evening a fawn darner (Boyeria vinosa) landed on an upstairs window screen. It had been decades since we had seen one of these dusk-flying dragonflies. They are fawn-like in color, a soft brown blending in with tree trunks and bare twigs.

It’s been a good summer for butterflies. The early season’s heat has sped up successive generations, allowing them to meet each other. Along the grassy path above the pond, two generations of red admiral (Vanessa atlanta) checked in at once — a tattered spring specimen and a fresh summer one. Tiger swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) have lingered into the late season in good numbers. Absent all year were spicebush swallowtails (P. troilus), even though their host plant, spicebush, is common along our stream.

Birds along the stream have included catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis), cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedorum), a shy ovenbird (Seiurus aurocaplillus) that crept along under a rock shelf at the stream’s edge, and an indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea) that sang daily early in the season. Several kinds of woodpeckers, from tiny downies (Picoides pubescens) to big pileateds (Dryocopus pileatus) drummed their beats high in the big dead ash growing out of the forsythia thicket along the low portion of the stream at the road edge.

Back at the dining room window, stuck to the largest pane of glass, as it had been for at least a week, was a mystery object. What was this blob of tiny, glistening spheres? Were they, as they appeared to be, eggs? And who left them on the window? We thought if only they’d hatch, we’d see what they were — insects, snails or slugs maybe. But at submission time for this article the object and its contents remained unchanged. The blob is no doubt biological, but that’s about all we can say of it just now.