gill mushrooms. Photo by Donna L. Long

Nature in Summer: An Overview

Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe)
Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe) Photo by Donna L. Long

Nature in summer is bursting at the seams with life and activity. Let’s get started on this season’s nature study.

Now we have the warmest time of the year with high temperatures, long hot days and uncomfortable warm nights. Summer for me, always has had a laid-back easiness. And a mañana attitude that things can get done tomorrow.

I’ll give my usual advice in nature study, choose your focus. If you don’t choose your focus you’ll see everything but learn nothing in depth.

Summer Solstice

The season begins on the summer solstice on June 21 or 22, depending on the year. The Northern Hemisphere has summer in June, July, August and September.

In the southern hemisphere summer solstice happens on December 21 or 22. There, summer is in December, January, February and March. The Southern hemisphere has summer while the northern hemisphere has winter.

The summer solstice is the day when the North Pole is at its’ greatest slant toward the sun. The sun is high in the sky and directly overhead. The longest day of the year is on the summer solstice or shortly before or after it.

At this time of year, there are several striking night sky constellations. In the northern hemisphere are, Scorpius, the Scorpion, visible just above the southern horizon, Virgo, and the Corona Borealis (the Northern Crown).

Summer Weather

The eastern half of the North American continent, from the Rocky Mountains eastward, experiences warm, humid weather. Warm southern winds carry moisture north from the Gulf of Mexico to central and eastern North America. The warmest temperatures are in the interior of the continent, namely the prairie and plains regions.

Rarely, does it thunderstorm in the morning where I live. And sometimes it rains every afternoon for a month. My home of Philadelphia is surrounded by two rivers, the Schuylkill and the Delaware and with the Atlantic ocean less than one hundred miles away, Philadelphia is hot and humid through much of the summer.

For me this time of year means afternoon thunderstorms. When I was a child, it used to rain around five o’clock every afternoon just as my dad was getting off from work. He would get drenched and we would always have towels for him at the front door to him to dry off.

Because of the humidity and heat during the day, I tend to go outside very early in the morning. Nature in summer is filled with activity, but even the birds rest in the shade at mid-day. Remember to keep your bird and water bowls full. Sometimes, I have to fill mine twice a day.

Monarch caterpillars eating Common Milkweed
Monarch caterpillars eating Common Milkweed

Plants in Summer

It always fascinates me how perennial plants grow so quickly in the spring and summer months. Some grow quite large and then die back to the ground and start over next spring.

With so many flowers in full bloom, now is a good time to learn the parts of a flower. Tree leaves hold the key to species identification.

Summer and autumn is the fruiting season. Many vines, shrubs, trees and flowering plants produce fleshy fruit to entice birds to eat them. Fruits eaten are dispersed by animals and birds. Now is a good time to study the relationship between, fruiting plants and the birds and other animals that eat them.

Goldenrods and Milkweed plants are busy places of insect activities. Monarch butterflies, milkweed beetles and milkweed bugs are just a few of the insects that use the Milkweed plant. The Goldenrods host a wide range of insects.

I have to give my backyard plants plenty of water. Nature in summer often means dehydrated and thirsty plants.

Green frog (Rana Clamitans)
Green frog (Rana Clamitans)

Animals in Summer

Birds nest and raise their young in summer. By late summer the birds begin to migrate to their cold weather homes.

If you like insects, now is your time of year. The calls of crickets and frogs fill the night air. If you want hours of fascination, watch the drama on a goldenrod or milkweed plant. It is amazing the variety and number of insects (and their) predators which gather on either plant.

Each plant community is worthy of study. Instead of traveling to old fields near my house, I plan on planting milkweed and goldenrods in pots in my backyard. I collected seeds from each species last fall. I want to take a lot of insect photos. This should be a great way to continue my ongoing study of camouflage and mimicry among insects and spiders. A hand lens comes in very handy for viewing tiny insect beings.

Nature in summer is exciting and filled with many things to learn. The focus of this nature in summer page is to help us to narrow down the choices. Perhaps, insects are your favorites. Or birds. Those of us who like to draw beautiful flowers are so dizzy with choices, we don’t know where to start.

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