WHEN THISTLEDOWN FLIES
DROUGHT TO DRENCH
What a truly amazing summer it has been - a Summer of Superlatives. It started out unremarkable - June was just average, if I remember correctly (proving my point, in a way), though the month ended in a serious dry spell. Initially, July continued dry, bordering on drought, with feeder-streams drying up and leaf-litter in the forest bone dry - a perfect setup for brushfires. Little did we know that the last half of July would be non-stop rain, then more rain, continuing into the first three weeks of August, bringing the Southeast Catskills record summer rain totals (at least since the ‘50s). Interestingly, though (and luckily for us), we received precipitation in relatively small 1-, 2-, 3-inch batches - throughout the 5-week period - instead of all 10 or 12 inches (my estimate) at once which would have led to very devastating, catastrophic flooding, on a par with recent major hurricanes. Instead, local streams were repeatedly being brought up to a medium flood-stage because the ground was so saturated. In Woodstock, most of the streams run pretty clear, even when high. The exception here is the Sawkill, our little babbling brook, the Old Millstream of note. People are always astonished at how wild this normally peaceful creek can become, not understanding that it drains many square miles. It’s also interesting how the Sawkill runs a Yoohoo-brown when in flood, not the dark green of other local waterways. I believe this is because of the (very) long-term effects of a man-made ecological disaster caused by the local 19th-century tanning industry. Local hemlocks were stripped from the forest to use their bark for making tannin, the prime ingredient in tanning. When hemlocks were removed from the riparian buffer of the upper Sawkill a couple of things happened: 1.) the stream-bank lost cohesion because of the loss of the hemlock’s roots to secure the bank; 2.) clays in the soil are continually eroded into the stream, creating the “Yoohoo effect”; 3.) this happens often enough that the hemlocks have never - in almost 200 years - been able to naturally reroot there. This is a cautionary tale, a lesson on how NOT to harvest forest products. Finally, the constant rains have let up and we’re all getting to enjoy what remains of a beautiful summer (and the Sawkill is finally clearing up).
It was consistently hot and very humid during our Monsoon of 2018, which led to an incredible (record-breaking?) fungi season that seemed to stretch out for weeks. Not only was it a long season for mushrooms (actually, plenty are still growing), but an extremely prolific one. Everywhere one looked there were fungi of every size, shape and color - mainly on the ground, but also on trees - dead and alive - and growing out from between stones - from anywhere they could grow.
I have photos of a 2’x 3’ patch on the forest floor with 6 or 7 different mushrooms in it. It was such a crazy season that I was growing mildew on the mold I grew on top of my mushrooms, which I then fed to my burgeoning crop of slugs! Our Monsoon also led to our woods having a distinct Rainforest effect. Just when you thought the forest couldn’t get any thicker, it did, verdant leaves proliferating profusely (?), letting even less light onto the forest floor.
EFFECTS ON FAUNA & FLORA
These conditions have had more of an effect on some of the area’s denizens than others - animal as well as plant, though in some cases it could have been worse. For instance, if the heavy rains had occurred earlier, fewer Whitetail Deer fawns would have survived because they are born basically without fur and easily succumb to hypothermia. As the season started so dry, Timber Rattlers were coming down out of the hills looking for water, but returned to elevation as the rains came. I saw a dead Porcupine on Rt. 28 in this period - way too low for them normally. I surmise it had come down also looking for water (usually they live above 1000’). On the positive side, a good rinsing seems to have done wonders for the Black Bears hygiene. They are so oily that by this point in most summers you can smell rancid grease as a warning that a bear is near (true fact). Not so this summer, even with a plethora of bears. Wild Turkeys, Coyotes and most other local wildlife seem to have fared fairly well through this wet spell. I think the creatures this weather was the hardest on were those who made it harder on themselves - human beings. Wildlife is better at adapting - it has no choice.
Two of our most long-distance migrators are about to start their incredible journeys - the Monarch Butterfly and the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. These final, comparatively long-lived (8 months), fourth-generation Monarchs are busily nectaring up a storm as they prepare for their phenomenal trip - purely based on DNA, which somehow allows them to navigate 2500 miles to a wintering homeland they have never visited (maybe they give each other detailed directions?).
Traveling almost the same distance, the Ruby-throats fly straight across the Gulf of Mexico - 500 miles in one shot. Absolutely incredible for such a small creature but they are indomitable and fearless, fending off much larger birds. My understanding is that the males have already left, the females are about to go and the valiant, tiny young ones will have to make their first journey alone. For more on these, and other migrators, visit www.journeynorth.org.
SIGNS OF CHANGE
The Fireflies have fizzled but the Cricket Chorus of Cicada, Cricket and Katydid continues, though slowing when the air cools. The days are noticeably shorter, the Sun not rising as high in the sky as before and the Thistledown flies in late summer wind. While, yes, Fall is on the way, Summer is still here. Let’s enjoy it, I say, for a colder time is coming, when memories of the Sun’s warmth piercing heavy, humid air will be just that - memories. Please make them good, safe ones. Thanks.
“Ranger” Dave Holden
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