I consider this time — between mid-July and mid-August — to be High Summer in the southeast Catskills. It usually is the hottest part of summer, with the most natural activity, as everything busily grows then grows some more. This is not to be confused with Midsummer, which mainly refers to the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year (and usually considered the first day of summer).
As High Summer progresses, every day brings us new, additional, life-forms. With the increase in the dew point (and therefore, the humidity) our firefly friends have returned, livening our evenings with their glorious, sparkling life. Each different species of the genus Lampyridae occupies a specific niche in our lower night sky, some flying along low to the ground, some zig- zagging a little higher up and others flying still higher, all of them communicating with their remarkable bioluminescence. It never ceases to amaze me that these little geniuses are able to so efficiently make light, like the alchemists that they truly are (sparking light in several different colors, but, alas, not gold), in order to attract a mate. One species (Photinus carolinus) even synchronizes their flashes!
While our meadows are home to so many butterflies and moths — Black and Tiger Swallowtails, Brushfoots, Captains, Dusky-wings, Frittilaries, Hairstreaks (great name!), Hop Merchants, Metalmarks, Nymphs, Questionmarks (but why?), Satyrs, Skippers, Snouts, Spring Azures, Sulphurs, Viceroys (a smaller Monarch lookalike) and Whites — the reigning king and queen of them all, the Monarch, have only fitfully arrived. In contrast to the plethora of fireflies, it looks to be another bad year, locally, for this record long-distance butterfly migrator. I’ve only seen a few, which is disheartening, to say the least (Monarchs were just placed on the Endangered Species list). For more on Monarchs, visit www.spiritofbutterflies.com, as well as www.journeynorth.org. Local milkweed has increased but now they seem almost forlorn as they wait and wait (in vain, it seems) for their butterfly symbiotes. The largest (and best) Monarch look-a-like is definitely the Great Northern Fritillary. From a distance it is very similar, until you see it fly. Monarchs fly in gentle swoops, majestically dosey-doe-ing around the landscape, whereas the Fritillary’s flight is jittery by comparison, jumping erratically from spot to spot. My new word “fritillarious” describes it perfectly, I think.
Our local Cricket Chorus of Seasonal Cicadas, Crickets and Katydids is performing day and night now and in the next few weeks we have the extraordinary nighttime confluence of them with Fireflies. This overlap only occurs for a short time, so enjoy it while you can. It is the very definition of High Summer to me.
Because the insect population continues to burgeon so does the bird population — Barn Swallows scooping up bugs in mid-air, Bald Eagles and Ospreys deftly grabbing Large- and Smallmouth Bass, Ruby Throated Hummingbirds busily nectaring on flower after flower (and my feeder) — all to the magical, flute-like tune of the Wood Thrush echoing through the woods. Each will have fledglings now, busily trying to learn to survive in their lush — but harsh — world.
All of us, plant or animal, are “making hay while the sun shines” in this glorious time of longer light (though a little less each day now, since the solstice). For ideas on what to do and where to go in the Hudson Valley visit the excellent insideandoutupstateny.com. Whatever you do please do it safely and have a great rest of your Summer.