July was extraordinarily cool, especially as compared to the blast furnace of 2012. As pleasant as the working conditions were, it was also quite dry (less than 1/3 average rainfall) and we’re quickly re-entering the drought conditions that so worried us earlier in the year. You can clearly see this in the annual precip graph for Columbia, maintained by NWS, which shows how we’ve flirted with drought all year (other than one dousing in early April) and are now something like 4″ under average since the rain shut off in early July. We can see the vegetation transitioning to that yellow-tinged hue of dry summers, and the ground is rock-hard with cracks showing through. Still, a lot of neat things were happening in our ecosystem, as this month’s photos document.
Left: Finally, a Monarch caterpillar on milkweed in the orchard! This is the only one we’ve seen this year, and I (Joanna) just barely missed whacking its milkweed down with the scythe, in part because it looks a little like the mountain mint that is prolific up there. When I realized it was a different plant, I took a closer look, recognized it as milkweed, and saw the caterpillar. I think the milkweed is Asclepias verticillata, Whorled Milkweed.
Featured dragonfly of the month: Male (left) and female (right) Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa). This seems to be one of our most common dragonfly species, or at least the most readily identifiable.
More featured dragonflies of the month: Left: Male Comet Darner (Anax longipes). Right: Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps). Joanna found these on the ground seemingly fighting each other, with the Comet Darner in the winning position, possibly a predator-prey relationship? Both are “fliers”, types of dragonflies that hunt from the air rather than the ground, so they’re less likely to be readily photographed perching during the day than the skimmers shown above.
Featured legumes of the month: Left: Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), a native legume that is thriving this year. Middle: Wild Senna (Senna marilandica), another native. Right: Five-leaf clover found on July 1 in a new goat paddock. Given the intense stress brought on by multiple issues during this month, I’d say we’ve definitively debunked any superstition that finding a five-leaf clover will bring good luck.
Good fungus/bad fungus: Left: Chanterelles, a delicious treat during the early wet part of the month. So easy to see on the forest floor relative to morels! Right: Fescue & Timothy seed heads infested with Ergot fungus (the black/brown stuff that looks a bit like mouse droppings). This fungus is toxic to livestock (& poultry & people), so its appearance meant that we had to adapt our pasture management for goats to keep them off of areas with grass seed heads, including some of our lushest remaining areas saved for late summer. Also meant that a patch of rye we intended to harvest for human food won’t be used as such.
Semi-parasitic/parasitic plants of the month: Left two photos: Mullein Foxglove (Dasistoma macrophyllum), a plant that we’ve seen for years but could finally ID this year now that Volume 3 of Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri has finally been published. Right: Dodder (Cuscuta spp.), a fully parasitic plant that abandons its roots and fully lives off of the host plant, an aster family plant in this case. First time we’ve seen it here.
Featured spiders of the month: Left: Wolf spider carrying an egg sac. Right: Crab spider on daylily flower. The local library is buying a copy of Common Spiders of North America, which will hopefully let us start to ID some spiders to species level. Unfortunately, it will be available only in their reference collection, not available for check out, so it won’t be much use in the presence of live specimens.
Featured reptile of the month: Baby & adult Ornate Box Turtles. This photo was staged; these were not immediately next to each other, but I found them within about 50 ft of each other while cleaning up the electric fence line around one of our fields.
Pupa & adult beetle. Our naturalist credentials go down a notch for not making note of where the pupa was found. Was it in a a compost pile or the soil; I can’t remember. But after a short stay in a jar on our table, it emerged as the adult beetle on the right. Might be a ground beetle (Family Carabidae), but haven’t had time to narrow it down more than that. Anyone know?
Other notes: Rabbits have been outrageously prolific this summer. Eric stepped on one that he didn’t see, Joanna found one with a hoe, and we’ve resorted to using chicken wire to keep them out of the sweet potatoes and beans. An area of sweet potatoes not protected by chicken wire has been heavily eaten, as have some of our peanut plants. We could clearly use some more hawk & owl activity, preferably the ones that eat rabbits & not chickens. The abundance of rabbits may also explain why a fox has been apparently hanging around, & it has developed a taste for chicken. Moving the chickens to an area with a more secure fence and locking them in well before the dusk hours has helped to avoid further loss…so far.
July seems to be a pretty stable bird month around here, very similar to June, not surprisingly. In four years our records haven’t changed much. We suspect the appearance of Green Heron and Canada Goose in 2012 relates to the intense drought of that year, making waterbirds more active and thus more likely to be observed overhead. We did notice that general bird activity really seemed to pick up in the second half of the month, perhaps due to a number of species finishing fledging and going back to normal activities?
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