Northland Nature: Berries keep birds well fed (and hungry hikers happy)
During late July, we see many of the products of the season, some of which can be found in the world of birds. The singing of songbirds, so prevalent a month ago, has now mostly faded. A few still proclaim morning rites of territory, but, for mos...
During late July, we see many of the products of the season, some of which can be found in the world of birds.
The singing of songbirds, so prevalent a month ago, has now mostly faded. A few still proclaim morning rites of territory, but, for most, the need for a nest has vanished as their hatchlings have matured to fledglings and gone beyond the home site.
It is not unusual at this time to see a family unit move through the woods and fields as the new birds travel with the parents. Also a fairly common sight is tiny frogs and toads, emerging from an aquatic youth and springtime eggs, now hopping in local wetlands.
In May, these amphibians called out through many a cool night. In July, they silently move in our yards and gardens as they go about in search of insect meals. For many of us, though, late July is ushered in by the plants as they show off their products of the season.
The early spring that unfolded back in March (far earlier than normal) seems like a long time ago, but we are still seeing the results of that quick start. Recently while traveling down a country road I noticed the usual wildflowers expected at this time -- fireweed, milkweed, evening primrose, thistles and early goldenrods -- but I was quite surprised to see a few asters also in bloom. These plants are normally part of the late-summer scene and are rarely seen flowering in July. This is yet another example of the early season.
Here I found many berries as well. Late July is always when we'll see, and often pick, these juicy morsels of summer. Many kinds flourish now; I saw berries of red elderberry, pin cherry, honeysuckle, gooseberry, juneberry, blueberry and raspberry. I have been harvesting the last three of these lately, since the strawberry season is winding down. Apparently an earlier start for this crop meant an early end as well.
Picking juneberries, blueberries and raspberries calls for us to take on different postures. Juneberries, also called serviceberries, come from small trees, so we need to reach up or bend the branches to harvest the small fruits. I have found many sites where bears solved this problem by breaking down the whole plant. The low blueberries require a bending of our bodies to reach these small delicacies. Raspberries, growing on medium-sized shrubs, make the task of collecting far more of a normal movement for most of us.
Raspberry plants grow from 3 to 5 feet tall with rough stems (the source of the "rasp" part of the name) and small spines.
These are not like the more powerful thorns of its cousin the blackberries, but it is best for the picker to be protected.
The bright berries are easy to extract from the sepals where they grow on branch tips. Each soft red fruit contains many small seeds. (Botanically, the arrangement is known as a cluster of drupelets.) The berries are a way of dispersing the tiny seeds: Colored so as to be seen by birds and small mammals, they are found and carried off, and usually eaten.
Passing through the digestive system unharmed, the deposited seeds will still be able to grow.
It is nice to know that by picking and eating raspberries, I'm doing what nature has designed and that the berry season that we see now in late July will continue for weeks.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books that are available now: "Butterflies of the North Woods," "Spiders of the North Woods" and "Fascinating Fungi of the North Woods." Contact him c/o email@example.com .