The Best Time of the Year?

 Could this be the best time of the year? Cool nights, warm, sunny days, stately wildflowers, and the start of fall color make for a fantastic combination of nature. I can’t say I’ve ever met anyone who did not like this time of year. Lots of wonderful things are taking place around Wahkeena at this time of the year. I’ve captured just a few. With just one more week of summer to go, (I know, tomorrow is the start of Fall,but I started this post a week ago!) we can say farewell to green leaves, singing cicadas and pesky mosquitoes. As we welcome Fall next weekend tomorrow we will say hello to crunchy leaves, frosty nights and lots of beaver activity! 

Above is one of the most beautiful summer wildflowers, Great Blue Lobellia. This flower originally planted in our wet meadow has spread quite nicely throughout the preserve. We can now find it in the old garden, along the driveway and along the dam on the far side of the pond. The three lower lips of this flower provide a perfect landing pad for big bumble bees seeking its nectar.
Blue Mist Flower used to be in the genus Eupatorium along with White Snakeroot and Joe-Pye Weed. That genus has been busted up and only the Bonesets and Thoroughworts are in that genus. Mistflower’s new genus is Conoclimium. All of these flowers as we will see in the next series of pictures, are actual lots of individual flowers all put together making a veritable buffet of pollen and nectar for insects.
White Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima can become a little weedy. However, like the other late summer/early fall wildflowers it provides a much needed food source for insects and others along the food chain. In this picture you can see quite clearly that the individual flowers are small and set very close together.
Enjoying the buffet is this halictid bee (sweat bee). The pollen and nectar are what it’s after.

Here is a close up of the bee. If you click on the picture you will be able to see the three simple eyes on the top of the head. Most insects have both simple eyes – often used for light sensing – and compound eyes used for seeing. 

Lying in wait for bees and other insects is a small crab spider. Do you see it in this picture?

How about now?

Yep! There it is! There are lots of different kinds of crab spiders and even within species they are variable in color. Common colors are yellow and white. Check out this Bugguide page on crab spiders here. These are ambush predators and with that superb camouflage, incoming insects won’t see them. The name crab spider comes from their long front legs that are held wide apart and makes them look like a crab. Those long legs are what grabs the prey and holds it until the spider injects its venom.

Goldenrod is a perfect place to look for crab spiders. It really is amazing how closely the color of the spider and flower can match. By the way, this is not the plant that is making you sneeze right now. Ragweed is the culprit for allergy sufferers. For a picture of ragweed click here.

This bee better be careful! Who knows what kind of danger is lurking in the flowers.
I just really liked this picture.
Speaking of spiders, here is another cool spider to look for this time of year. Easy to recognize, this is a Garden Spider. The bold black and yellow markings are distinct. Even the web is recognizable. The thick zig zags of silk through the center of the web are a good way to spot this large spider. So, as I was taking her picture, she dropped down out of my view. I took my eye away from the camera and discovered that a tasty snack had been snared in her web. 
She wasted no time in wrapping up her meal.

Faster than the camera can see, she produces silk from silk glands inside her body and extrudes them with her spinnerets. Spiders can produce different kinds of silk. There are differently shaped “nozzles” that make up the spinnerets. The silk being produced here for wrapping prey is obviously different from the kind of silk needed to construct her web. 
She then seemed to bite the prey. I don’t know if she was injecting venom for the first time or she did that before she wrapped it. I didn’t see the first encounter with the prey because of the camera. Anyway she stayed like this for a bit.

This is what the center of her web looked like. I took advantage of her being below with her prize. You can see past meals in the web. Is she finished with them? I would think that if she was, she would have cut them out, but maybe she is just messy?

I went on to focus on other things with the camera along the driveway and when I came back, here she was. She had returned to the center with her meal and did seem to be feeding. 
Blooming in time for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s journey south is Jewelweed. Also known as touch-me-not or impatients there are two species, one with a yellow flower and the one pictured here with an orange flower. The name Jewelweed is derived from the plant’s ability to resist water. Look closely at the leaf just above the bloom and you can see all the beads of water glistening in the sunlight.
Cool nights lead to cool mornings and I happened upon this large fellow before he had a chance to warm up. This Green Darner Dragonfly will be joining thousands of others just like him as they migrate south. For more info on this very cool phenomenon click here.
There are still lots of cool bugs out and about. Here is a colorful bug. He has the classic warning colors of black and red. He probably doesn’t taste very good. 

This time of year is also a great time for caterpillars. Here is a dagger moth caterpillar. I see a lot of these on Redbud trees. Lots of other caterpillars are out and about. Maybe enough for a whole post!
Coming into bloom in the wet meadow and along the driveway is Big Bluestem. This native grass can get many feet tall and after the first frost turns a beautiful red color. Native grasses provide food and appropriate habitat for many different animals including song birds.

Some of the last flowers to bloom at the end of summer and often well into fall are the Asters. Many asters can be difficult to identify because they tend to hybridize. But there are a few that are pretty distinctive. The top picture is New England Aster, the middle is unknown (to me), and the bottom is Crooked Stem Aster. This last one is much branched and tends to have a zig zag appearance.
The Silky Dogwood in the along the boardwalk always gets a head start on fall color. No complaints though, it is very beautiful ranging from bright red to dark purple. This plant is just a precursor to the much anticipated fall season. Hope it will be a colorful one!

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