As I write this on Oct. 7 I have just picked another small basket of tomatoes, zucchini and pole beans, a good month later than usual—no frost yet! I’ve enjoyed the perfect weather immensely though it may not bode well for the climate.
The lack of frost has also meant wild cranberries, the real ones that grow in the lush sphagnum (peat) moss of bogs, have not been frozen to a pink mush yet and it is a banner year for them. (“High bush cranberries” are really a Viburnum, not related to our plastic bag and native cranberries.) Riverside cranberries are non-existent this year because at the end of June when their flowers should have been getting pollinated, they were underwater--but bog mats float! One pond which always has at least a few cranberries was speckled red with bushels of them throughout its huge bog mat this year. In a poor year, it is still worth paddling out to the colorful mat to stand in the middle of the dizzying, dancing “cotton grass” on a breezy day.
But maybe the most fun for this “nature nut” this lovely autumn has been sitting in my Adirondack (plastic) chair and watching the frantic activity of many kinds of insects collecting pollen and nectar from the garden flowers, using my new Pentax binoculars. With a magnitude of only 6.5 but with a near focus of 1.5 feet I can see every bristle, spot, wing vein, leg, antenna, all of which help to identify the animal. Until these binos were developed, five feet was the limit, and in the swamp that meant sometimes stepping into pools of water to get far enough away to be able to focus on a dragonfly. You can see photos on the internet or in magazines like this, but this is in living, bustling color!
This fall what would otherwise have been a small, dull brown whatever was revealed to be an intricately patterned, white-spotted moth, with weird tufts of fuzz standing up straight behind its head and on its back. Its wings are a blur as it flutters and hovers from aster to aster, like the “hummingbird moth” which is also wonderful to watch close up. It is probably just a Common Looper Moth, but google it to see what it looks like close up.
I was able to focus on two spectacular monarch butterflies in the last few weeks, but very few made it this far north this year. It takes four generations to get here — eggs laid, caterpillars maturing into butterflies, which lay eggs farther north, etc. — but starting with ever fewer monarchs overwintering in Mexico, then the heavy rains all summer, and the lack of enough milkweed in the Midwest to feed the caterpillars, they just couldn’t complete their eon-old migration to the Adirondacks. Corn and other field crops which are genetically bred to resist herbicide damage means that the spray used for weeds on the crops also kills the milkweeds on the edges of the fields. Too much mowing of roads and lawn and gardens too free of weeds do not help everyone’s favorite butterfly either.
During a trip to Colorado for a wedding recently, I took a three mile hike to the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and used my close-up binos to see western birds, butterflies, lizards, and a “bee fly” — big, fuzzy and hovering like a bumble bee. We needed to have a telescope to better see the golden eagle eating on a snag on a distant ridge. And a weird, fuzzy red insect flew around wildly, then would land and run around too quickly for me to be able to focus on it. It folded back its two very black wings while on the ground so I think it was a fly, but I guess it will have to remain a mystery until next time.