September is a month full of changes. One of the most obvious is the lessening of daylight.
For the first time since early April, we have 13 hours of light and when the days lengthened then, they get shorter now. The autumnal equinox is only two weeks away. And as the summer wanes, so do the warmer temperatures. Local critters respond to these weather happenings.
During morning walks at this time, I often stop to watch flocks of migrating warblers (warbler waves) feeding on insects that gather in the sunlit roadside trees. The species that make up these waves do not sing and are without the breeding plumage, making them harder to discern.
They are plenty of other migrants to be seen now. Broad-winged and sharp-shinned hawks have spent the night in nearby trees and now continue their southbound routes. Along the roadsides, I see a couple of robin-sized brown birds with white rump patches.
They drop to the ground to feed — not what we expect to see with woodpeckers. But that is what these flickers are. Traveling south in small family groups, they dine on ants, temporarily becoming “ground peckers."
As always, there is much more to see during the morning walks. Among the roadside dew-covered plants are a plethora of spiderwebs draped and wet. Here too are damp butterflies and dragonflies. Most of these do not migrate, but the resting monarchs will fly south.
These well-known insects are migratory, but the large green darner dragonflies are also resting and warming in the morning light and will soon be taking flight for a southern winter site of their own.
Other insects are beginning to deal with the impending cooling times in other ways.
Bumble bees and hornets that thrived in colonies all summer now see these homes emptying; workers disperse before dying and the queen leaves to hibernate. This is also the time of a strange ant phenomenon.
Many of these wingless insects grow wings and now leave the ground to take flights for the only time in their lives. These mating flights are sometimes seen as they exit from cracks in the pavement; eventually, they form new colonies.
But as I walk here, it is the crickets, grasshoppers, locusts and katydids that I note the most. Early September is orthoptera time.
Orthoptera; meaning straight-wings, is the name of the group of these common insects. They have been growing for weeks this summer and now need to deal with the coming shorter cool days in their own way. They mate, lay eggs and die in coming weeks. For this to be successful, these insects are courting mates now.
Males use rasping organs on their legs and wings to scratch out tunes to get the females attention. I frequently hear chirping, lisping and buzzing sounds while walking by the late summer vegetation. Except for cool early mornings, their songs persist throughout the day.
Easiest to hear are the crickets. Chirping field and ground crickets are black, trilling tree crickets are light green. Grasshoppers are quieter, but with regular hops, we see many.
Large and brown grasshoppers called locusts, go a bit further by spreading wings and flying. Some go far and can look like butterflies, but frequently make clicking sounds.
In the late afternoons, often continuing into the evening, green grasshoppers with long antennae, katydids, perform lisping and buzzing sounds.
This scratching noise-making is called stridulation and is common among orthoptera at this time. We will continue to hear their courting calls in the grasses and wildflowers until frosts quiet them.