Late summer along the Towpath Trail
|Shown is a swallowtail butterfly on Joe-Pye weed, a common August site in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.|
|Photo courtesy of Tom Jones|
Several tall, showy flowers — wingstem, Joe-Pye weed and ironweed — provide some of the easiest-to-find seasonal treats. Wingstem is easy to identify by the leaf-like “wings” growing along its stem and its yellow flower. Joe-Pye weed has striking dusty-pink flowers that grow in a large branching cluster. Ironweed has rich purple flowers that also grow in a branching cluster, although it is smaller than Joe-Pye weed. While observing the flowers, also look for the insects they attract. Wingstem and ironweed provide valuable food for bees, and Joe-Pye weed supplies food for butterflies. Look for the large black-and-yellow tiger swallowtail visiting Joe-Pye weed.
Some plants are no longer flowering but have developed fruits or seeds. Staghorn sumac is a shrub found near the Beaver Marsh. By late summer, it develops distinctive cone-shaped clusters of red fruit. Tastier fruit is available this time of year, so birds may bypass sumac in August. However, sumac fruit persists through winter and becomes a source of food in the leaner months.
Seasonal change affects what you hear as well as see. Mornings are quieter in August than earlier in the summer. Birds have nested and are no longer singing to attract mates. However, you may still hear summer frogs, including the single-note “gunk” of northern green frogs and guttural “jug-o-rum” call of American bullfrogs, as you pass the wet areas along the trail.
Insects are now the biggest contributor to natural sounds. Cicadas, crickets and katydids create the late-summer chorus. As with birds, males do most of the calling to attract mates. Cicadas emerge from underground in July and August and head into trees to sing for mates. Not all species of cicadas have the well-known 17-year life cycle, so we can hear some cicadas any year. Their sound, which results from air vibrating a membrane, can be heard during the day.
As evening unfolds, crickets and katydids add to the chorus. These insects create their sound by rubbing the inside edge of one wing over a file-like structure. The field cricket contributes a high-pitched trill to the chorus; the snowy tree cricket produces a low, constant chirp. The latter is nicknamed the temperature cricket. You can estimate the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit by counting the number of chirps in 15 seconds and adding 37. Katydids call from high in the tree canopy, singing its name, “Katy did, Katy didn’t, she did, she didn’t.”
While birds are quieter in August, there are still plenty of season-specific bird-watching opportunities. Birds have moved away from their breeding territories and are flocking into larger groups. Some will soon start their fall migration. Others band into mixed-species groups that are a winter adaptation. They are led by the black-capped chickadee. Its distinctive chick-a-dee-dee-dee call can let you know when one of these mixed flocks is nearby. Then you have the opportunity to see tufted titmice, nuthatches and a variety of woodpeckers that have joined the band.
Late in August, you can see migration in action. Common nighthawks, a robin-sized bird, are passing through in the evening, sometimes in large groups. Their long, thin wings give them a distinctive silhouette in flight. They are dark birds, but have a white band across the underside of their wings near the tip.
These August sightings are just a few highlights of what you might see if you take the time to observe your surroundings on the Towpath Trail. You’ll notice that while it is still summer and some typical summer behaviors like breeding are still occuring, the transition to fall and winter is already under way. Nature changes constantly, seasons blend together, and there is something different to discover from week-to-week if you observe nature carefully.
Consider attending a park-ranger led program in order to have a guide to help you observe seasonal changes. Several upcoming programs occur along the Towpath Trail. All feature the Beaver Marsh, one of the most naturally diverse areas of the park. On Aug. 12 from 8 to 10 p.m., a park ranger will lead an exploration of the Beaver Marsh at dusk. This program leaves from Ira Trailhead. An Early Evening Hike will take place Aug. 15 from 7 to 9 p.m. that will take participants on a 2.25-mile stroll along the Towpath Trail from Hunt Farm Visitor Information Center to the Beaver Marsh. A bird-watching walk Aug. 25 from 8 to 10:30 a.m. leaves from Ira Trailhead to seek late summer birds.
Ira Trailhead is located at 3801 Riverview Road, north of Ira Road in Peninsula. Hunt Farm Visitor Information Center is located at 2054 Bolanz Road, between Riverview and Akron Peninsula roads in Peninsula. For more information about park programs, call 330-657-2752 or visit www.nps.gov/cuva.
Jennie Vasarhelyi is chief of interpretation, education and visitor services for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
More Entertainment News
Calendar of Events
- Tie Dye Day - 5/21/2013
- Widows and Widowers Starting Over Socially - 5/21/2013
- Cuyahoga Falls Strollers - 5/21/2013
- Murder Mystery Evening - 5/21/2013
- Stewart’s Caring Place: A Cancer Wellness Center Events - 5/21/2013