Posted by: atowhee | August 18, 2019


Why are we trapped in this misleading “four seasons” malarkey?  We are in the latter half of August, a season unto itself.  This is not the summer of July 4th, and certainly nothing like the late summer of mid-September.  Let’s call this season the “August Presence”.

At this latitude at this time change is easily seen and felt and smelled.  It’s been weeks since any serious rain over much of our area.  The cracks in the earth are as much as two inches wide as the top soil loses all moisture…unless it is irrigated.  It will be weeks more before we can expect any serious rain.  Forest understories and ground cover are parched.  Most ponds not spring-fed are dry or have dwindled to plant choked pools.  This week I got a picture of a young bullfrog looking at me from one such pond.  Bits of pond weed clung to his face and the uninterrupted weedy layer surrounded him.  He floated in a pool of green.

Many broadleaf trees are already dropping leaves.  Yellow now marks the outline of ash, cottonwood and alder.  Yellow leaves now line footpaths and drift along the few flowing streams of this season.  The red-osier dogwood sports red leaves now to set off its creamy white fruit.  A native hawthorn today displayed clumps of shiny black haws.  I noted earlier this week that sunshine sets off the fine scent of fermenting blackberries.

Then there are our native white oaks.  In spring late to leaf, in fall late to leave off.  The photosynthesis will continue among the oaks until the last possible day(s).  More starch and sugar and protein will be gathered from roots, downloaded from leaves until the tree finally admits autumn and goes into its cold weather mode.  Even then it will still move supplies around inside with no visible activity on the twigs and branches until late spring.  Buds will then be the first sign. Think of each tree as a living grocery warehouse; even when lights are off and windows closed, work continues as does life.  Many trees grow roots even in the coldest weather.

This year’s trees and grasses and bushes and perennials are all in reproduction season.  August Presence means seeds and fruits and cones.  Now you can stand beneath an ash and see a small, single-winged papery seed twist in tight circles as it floats to the ground or into a stream to go further on.  Then another twirls down, and another. Even the greedy goldfinches can’t eat them all.  Animals are playing their part, or course.  Jays will hide and inadvertently plant acorns.  Squirrels are hunting and gathering our garden’s apples. Thrushes and other berry eaters will devour mistletoe berries, then poop out the seed on another tree’s limb where the seed’s gluey coating will let it stick.  The thistles and composites with their floating seeds now are favored by finch and sparrow family members.  If you stand near any open area not farmed or sprayed with poison you will see these airborne seeds with their fine filaments drift on any breeze or even unfelt air current, often rising high into the air. They move about like cold-air balloons. A miniscule fraction of the floaters will give rise to new plants next year. You are thus witness to an ancient revolution wrought by flowering plants less than 300 million years ago.  It is a revolution that has enabled mammal and bird to spread and prosper.

Nearly all birds are done breeding though I saw two nests of near-fledging Barn Swallows just last week.  This year’s Canada Goslings now fly with their parents.  The swallows and their young are gathering and feeding in flocks prior to their southward flight.  Even young robins still sporting spotted chests are cavorting through the woods feeding themselves.  Adult shorebirds are passing us on migration. The young may still be in Alaska but they will shortly follow.  Nuthatches, squirrels and many rodents, jays—they are caching food against the cold to come. A junco has appeared in our garden, soon there will be dozens as they leave their mountain forests for this valley floor where the snow rarely impedes their ground foraging. Some insects and arachnids are laying the eggs that will be next year’s population.  Flowers with August Presence are supplying bees with the nectar needed to fill the quota needed to last the winter.

There’ll be little bird song until spring.  Now calls are for communication.  Today a Black-capped Chickadee scolded us for eating at our outdoor table near HIS feeders.  The swallows feeding over pond or field may twitter warnings at one another.  I think of those sounds as necessary traffic signals—how do they manage to never collide?  Robins may whinny in disapproval if the dog and I pass nearby.  I do hear the soft calls of goldfinches sometimes as they fly overhead. Today I heard a single water-drop note from an unseen Swainson’s Thrush.  One note.  I may not hear that species again until next April.

There is some buzzing from bees and other large insects in flight.  At night the crickets are in tune. We do not suffer the horrific whining from the katydid’s legs that I cannot erase from my memories of a Midwest childhood in a house without air conditioning so windows were always open. We also do not get anything like the strident violin monotony of the Mediterranean cicadas which dominate hot days in the region this time of year.

The days are still much longer than the nights so hot sun drives most creatures into shade or slumber.  Mornings and evenings see greater activity and motion.  With so much sunlight, what’s the hurry?  It seems even the flocks of incessantly busy Bushtits are moving more deliberately, lingering a second or two longer at a feeder, even perching for whole moments on a branch before moving on.  Yes, it must be present, that August Presence.


Here…two free ranging chickens at Yamhill Sewer Ponds.  I have found chicken feather piles here in the past.  I hope their person brings them in at night…fox, coyote, Great Horned Owl…danger lurks.  Three molting American Goldfinches in our garden.  Young junco in our garden.  Wood-pewee at sewer ponds.  Violet-green Swallows over the pasture there.

I will be leading bird trips for Malheur Field Station…next month, and next year.  Click here for further info.

Here are two classes I am teaching this fall, here in McMinnville; sign up through McM Parks:MCM CLASSES (2)

Yamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US

Aug 18, 2019
18 species

Wood Duck  1
Mallard  9
Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
Mourning Dove  1
Killdeer  1
Least Sandpiper  4
American Kestrel  1
Western Wood-Pewee  1
California Scrub-Jay  1
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  1
Violet-green Swallow  200
Barn Swallow  40
Cliff Swallow  1
Swainson’s Thrush  1
American Robin  3
House Sparrow  X
American Goldfinch  4

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