This month has been such an exciting one. I started a physical nature journal, in which I record experiences, stories, and illustrations of what I find in the natural world. I want to do something similar here: to share my discoveries each month in picture form. Every entry will be unique, and many of you will have had encounters similar to mine. These moments happened in my backyard, the park, the river. They are an expression of the wonders we share the world with, and a reminder of what conservation and environmental efforts hope to preserve. We are surrounded by the wild. Let’s explore it, marvel at it, learn about it, and protect it.
Immature Cooper’s Hawk
Pulling into the driveway one day, I noticed a huge bird swoop down and land on my clothesline. I was sure I wouldn’t be fast enough to grab my camera and get a photo, but this immature Cooper’s Hawk was supremely unconcerned with my presence and seemed solely interested in the songbirds chattering away nearby. Songbirds are the main source of food for Cooper’s Hawks, and, as I have many in my trees, I’m sure the hawk was drawn to our garden in search of its next meal. This hawk will only look like this during its first year of life; next summer, its eyes will be scarlet and its feathers a bluish grey. Incredible. This encounter felt even more special because I had just finished one of my favorite nature books to date, a memoir called H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Learning about hawks and Macdonald’s connection with nature, life, and death through the eyes of predatory birds was the highlight of the summer, and this meeting seemed blessed. My songbirds were vastly unhappy, but I was in utter bliss.
Hummingbirds are the smallest of the migrating birds, are native to the americas, and are the only birds capable of flying backwards. I thought I wouldn’t see any this year, but when my grandmother bought me a feeder, I humored her and set it out in this maple. Nothing happened for a while, but earlier this month I looked up just as a tiny, jewel-colored bird burst through the top leaves, hovered for a moment, and then zoomed away. I couldn’t believe it had worked! I felt like a piece of my grandmother was joining us in our home. This hummingbird - a female, by the looks of it, but I’m still not sure which species - was watching it’s fellow flit amongst the branches above. Occasionally, they would make contact. I had my head up inside a tree to capture this photo, and let me tell you, it is truly an experience to hear these tiny wings whirring around your ears!
Backyard Walking Stick (Phasmatodea)
Finding this friend was a truly special experience. I don’t know if these incredible insects are genuinely rare, or if they are simply so well-disguised that I never see them, but I am always amazed by them on the odd occasion I find one. This one was on the underside of our car, so I moved him to a better home in our back garden bed. They are so spectacularly stick-like that I couldn’t hardly tell one end from the other! I’ve included a video of its movement, because it was so fascinating to watch it go.
Since seeing (by accident) this close, deeply ochre full moonrise, I have nursed a growing interest in the moon and her cycles. This August we saw the Sturgeon Moon, named after an ancient, still-present fish. The The Old Farmer’s Almanac also lists the “Wheat Cut Moon,” the ”Blueberry Moon,” and the “Green Corn Moon” as alternative names. According to NASA, the Sturgeon Moon is so named because a Maine almanac released “Indian” names for the full moons in the 1930’s. “According to this almanac, as the full Moon in August and the second full Moon of Summer, the Algonquin tribes in what is now the Eastern USA called this the Sturgeon Moon after the large fish that were more easily caught this time of year in the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water” (source). If you’re interested in how the August full moon has also earned the names “the Raksha Bandhan full Moon,” “the Nikini Poya,” and “the Ghost Festival Moon,” I encourage you to read NASA’s article in full.
Wildflowers + Butterflies
There’s no way I could detail every flower and butterfly I’ve encountered and identified this month. I got slightly obsessed with identifying wildflowers this summer, but I learned loads! This Great Blue Lobelia was one of my favorite discoveries, and it came complete with a perfectly profiled male Zabulon Skipper happily sipping away. Does anyone else recognize the Lobelia from literature? Hint: it’s a name in a trilogy!
All my love to you, August.