Cynthia Drummond: Signs of transition from summer to fall

Cynthia Drummond: Signs of transition from summer to fall

Record-Journal


For me, the transition from summer to autumn begins with the goldenrods, and they’re starting to bloom now. I am not hearing the hermit thrushes, the veeries or the whipoorwills anymore, and the tree frogs have gone quiet. All of these natural signals prompt me to look back on the highlights of my summer so far, which have involved plants, insects and mammals.

One those highlights was coming upon the plant in the above photo during a hike in New Hampshire. It’s a terrestrial orchid, and there were several of them in the marshy area beside the trail. Its name is Platanthera psyches, or “lesser purple fringed orchid,” and it is native to North America, growing from Eastern Canada to the Great Lakes region. It looked stunning against the backdrop of green leaves, and was such an unexpectedly exotic pink color in the rugged mountain ecosystem.

Earlier this summer, I also witnessed the metamorphosis of a black swallowtail butterfly. A tiny black smudge of a caterpillar hitched a ride home on a fennel plant that I had bought at the nursery. It didn’t look like much so I left it alone, and within days, it grew into a much more recognizable caterpillar that ate so much of the fennel that I was afraid it would kill it.

Then one morning, it was gone, but after some searching, I spotted its chrysalis on the side of the house. I watched that thing like a hawk, and even poked it gently once, which provoked a surprisingly strong jerking and writhing from within. I apologized and left it alone. The next day, I noticed a small slit in the chrysalis and began looking around for the butterfly, which I found not far away, drying its wings on the lawn.

Colony of bats

My other notable wildlife encounter was with bats. By now, I’m sure most people are aware of white-nose syndrome, a disease that kills bats as they hibernate in caves. Named for the white, powdery fungus that appears on the muzzles, forelegs and wings of infected bats, white-nose syndrome was discovered in New York State in 2006 and has killed millions of bats.

Sadly, I’ve seen few bats during the past several summers, and I can only assume that they have been decimated by the disease. However, when we moved into our new house last year, I noticed some weird-looking droppings on the side stairs, but was too busy with the move to figure out the source. Then, faced with a carpenter ant problem, I had an exterminator come to give me an estimate and asked him if he knew what the droppings were.

“Oh those are bat poops,” he said without hesitation, waiting to see how I would react to the news.

Unlike many of his customers, who would squeal in horror and demand that the bats be removed, I was delighted. There appears to be a colony of big brown bats roosting under the eaves. They are not inside — I checked — which would be a problem because they do carry rabies. (To put this in perspective, though, there has not been a death from rabies in Rhode Island since 1940.)

Female bats need warm places to have their young, and this spot apparently fits the bill. Now that their pups have grown, the members of this “maternal colony” will be leaving soon. The females will mate and have new pups next spring, and hopefully, continue to consume thousands of mosquitoes in my yard as they’ve been doing for at least a couple of years. We’ve been going outside at dusk and waiting for them to emerge. I enjoy watching them flutter around eating about 600 insects each, per hour, every single night.

Bats are a protected species here, so getting rid of them means excluding them from the places you don’t want them to be and hiring a professional to do it. It can be a tricky business, because you have to wait until the pups are old enough to fly and the entrances to the forbidden roost must be blocked only after all the bats have vacated the premises. I am thinking of buying a bat house, but I want to make sure I get the right type and size. For now, the eaves will have to do.

cdrummond@thewesterlysun.com @cynthiadrummon4


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