The Hustle, Bustle, and Serenity of Summer

Hot and humid—just what the doctor ordered for a growing summer garden. Rain has come to the central Kickapoo Valley a few times this past month but it’s still pretty darned dry.

New friends are appearing on a daily basis as the flower beds start showing all their pretty flower faces. Bright yellow primrose, lemon lillys, brown-eyed Susan, and orange day lillies. The beds of tall, red bee balm are quite spectacular—all I could ever wish for. As I watched the hummingbirds hovering over the irresistible flower heads, my memory drifted back to January and these same flower beds completely covered with snow. 

 

My south gardens earlier in the month.

There is no doubt about it, this is the busiest time of the year my the shelf bird feeders. The fledglings of cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks, hairy, downy, and red-bellied woodpeckers are coming right to my windows every day. The screens in the windows allow me to listen to all the different begging cries from the hungry young birds. I’ve never been one to feed grape jelly to the birds or use hummingbird feeders for that matter, but I decided to put out two small containers of strawberry jam. This became an immediate hit with seven pairs of Baltimore orioles in the area. The jam is only a foot from the window and the adult orioles are bringing their kids to try some of the tasty jam. Again, I think back to this time last year when there were almost no young birds coming to the feeders. This year, 20-30 orioles take turns for a taste of the sweet jam. Go figure.

I’ve been wondering which of the birds would show up at the feeders with a young cowbird in tow. So far I’ve seen only two young cowbirds, one fed by a male cardinal, and the other by a female grosbeak. 

Careful young cowbird near my feeders.

The two young sandhill cranes a mile down the road are about half grown and are getting good at hunting for their own meals. They will eat practically anything that moves, provided it goes down their long throats. All day, the four cranes stalk through the marsh grass and hayfields. The adults take this time to molt their flight feathers. They won’t leave their flightless young, so they’re grounded anyway. 

Half-grown sandhill crane with parents.

These July evenings hard to put into words. The shadows creep over the valley with a sweet coolness that is eagerly accepted. Stark stillness fills the valley as the drooping sun slowly turns down the burners of a hot summer day. There is no better time of day. I unwind and slip into a peaceful state of mind. 

The meadow at sundown.

The raspy, high-pitched calls of a young red-tailed hawk turn my attention to the wooded glen at the far end of the meadow. His father soars high over the trees and the young hawk quickly recognizes his meal ticket and begins to beg for breakfast. Soon he will learn to hunt grasshoppers, crickets, and other such bug-prey. After that, he will graduate to snakes and frogs; with more practice, he will advance to voles, mice, gophers, and chipmunks. I’m hoping he never goes hungry and that he migrates safely south for the winter. I’ve been blessed to have these hawks as neighbors for more than 20 years and look forward to their companionship for the next 20. 

Fritillary butterflies visit my valley for some lunch.

Heading into the second week of July, the prairie meadow and flower gardens are growing like gangbusters, thanks to the recent rains. My early morning walks through the dewy meadow are filled with the sweet songs of birds and beautiful faces of the many colorful wildflowers appear along my path. All the hard work over the past 20 years clearing invasive trees and plants has created this wonderful prairie landscape. It was worth every ounce of effort, and now the dividends are paying me off with daily riches. Surely, this is how things were meant to be. 

Naturally yours, 

Dan