Monday, May 25, 2009

Must-do Nature Events for Summer 2009

Summer. The word conjures up images of the outdoors: sunshine, trees, beaches, birds, flowers. It is THE time to go beyond your door and explore the natural world. There are so many options that, as Calvin noted in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, “The days are just packed.” Here are three summer activities on my “to-do” list this year.

1. Orchid Hunting. Orchids are wonderfully strange wildflowers that hide out in many Adirondack wetlands. Some are in bogs (Ferd’s Bog, near Inlet, is famous for its white-fringed orchids), some are in roadside ditches (like the smaller purple fringed orchids I found last year near home and the green wood orchid I tracked down along the road to Tahawus). But I’ve also found ladies tresses on a dry roadside bank! The best time to go orchid hunting (and this is visual “hunting” – orchids are all protected by law, so do not collect or pick them) is mid-July through early August. Visit a wetland or roadside ditch near you, or go for a drive to a public wetland, like the Boreal Life Trail at the Paul Smiths VIC (white fringed orchids, rose pogonia, and grass pinks await you there, although the latter two are at their best late June into early July). I recommend taking along Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide to help you identify your discoveries.

2. Dragonfly Watching. Dragonflies are the latest thing for folks with binoculars to pursue. First it was birds, then butterflies, but dragonflies are coming up strong these last couple of years. Thanks to this interest, there are now a number of good beginner’s ID books for these delightful insects. And the really great thing is that you can find dragonflies almost anywhere! Squadrons patrol my yard every summer, and many can be found scoping out insect prey in parking lots, but the very best places to find the most variety are near water. It could be a pond or a lake, a stream or a marsh. You’ll want to bring your binocs, your field guide(s), and something comfortable to sit on. Be prepared to be stationary as you watch the aerial acrobatics of these colorful predators. Soon you’ll start to see patterns in their behavior. Watch for territory patrols. Check out which species are perchers. And be on the lookout for tandem fliers – here you’ll bear witness to the creation of the next generation.

3. Insect Patrolling. I know . . . insects are icky. But, as a first-class insect avoider for most of my life, I am confident in my claim that even those most turned off by insects can change their tune after spending some time skulking around a garden. There, in the tangle of flowers, a whole host of insect life is just waiting for your perusal, and most of it has no intention of harming you! Take a milkweed plant in bloom, for example, or yarrow. You will find it hosts a vast assortment of insects, all of which are more intent on getting a meal than worrying about you. What changed my tune about insects was the stunning colors and patterns they sport, like the lovely Virginia Ctenuchid moth at the top of this blog. I challenge you all, therefore, to spend a day in your nearest flower garden – you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

So, what are you waiting for? This summer leave the cell phone and laptop at home. Grab the binocs, a hand lens, a mirror (great for looking underneath things, like mushrooms), some field guides, and just go. Nature is calling – are you willing to answer?

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Ellen Rathbone

Ellen Rathbone is by her own admission a "certified nature nut." She began contributing to the Adirondack Almanack while living in Newcomb, when she was an environmental educator for the Adirondack Park Agency's Visitor Interpretive Centers for nearly ten years.

Ellen graduated from SUNY ESF in 1988 with a BS in forestry and biology and has worked as a naturalist in New York, New Jersey, and Vermont.

In 2010 her work took her to Michigan, where she currently resides and serves as Education Director of the Dahlem Conservancy just outside Jackson, Michigan.

She also writes her own blog about her Michigan adventures.

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