Back To All News
Blog Posts

Am I alone in hating September?

September 11, 2020

Chaucer was wrong. April is not the cruelest month. September is. In September, the unbearable heat promises to recede. But that promise won’t be kept for at least another month. So close, and still so stinking  hot.

I should be outside reveling in the glories of the natural world, damn the heat. But that would require apparently a much stronger blogger than I. I snatch what nature I can in parking lots as I run from my air conditioned car to the air conditioned store, where I don’t linger, imagining dinners I might cook. I have been told that, at my age, this would be death-defyingly risky.

Even from parking lots and car windows, I have noticed that there are a surprising number of wandering gliders all over Houston. Having just learned about their amazing travels, I want to grab each one and ask it where it’s been. I am jealous of a dragonfly because it gets to go somewhere. These days, we seem to be offered two options, stay home and stay safe (and bored), or live life on the edge and actually go somewhere.

Wandering gliders are dragonflies who roam the globe. I ran into a swarm of them in Galveston and wrote about it a few weeks ago.

The hummingbirds have started trickling in. Seems sort of late, but climate change has messed with all the bloom cycles, so perhaps they tarry a bit longer on their travels or leave a little later. Or, perhaps what I can see of the natural world from my tiny perch is not enough to make generalizations. My money is on the last one.

On the topic of migration, I recently ran into Birdcast, an amazing website that tracks bird migration by radar. My sister, who is an avid birder, informed me that she and her birding husband have known about it for years, so I am apparently late to the party. But my timing was fortuitous, the site says that we are in for a banner night tonight! (9/11)

For the most part, birds migrate at night, arriving in the morning at a new location where they settle in to feed and rest, resuming the migration at nightfall. You generally don’t see flocks of migrating birds in the dark, but if it is quiet, late at night, you can sometimes hear them. So if you are reading this the day I am writing it, go out late tonight and listen. You might hear a world moving overhead.

In another life long ago, I lived in Manhattan very near the Empire State Building. As a typical New Yorker, I had never been to the top of the Empire State Building and I still have never been to the Statue of Liberty. But one night, at almost midnight, I looked up and noticed what looked like sparks shimmering around the Empire State Building which had been somewhat recently illuminated.

I grabbed my binoculars (even in NYC, I always had binoculars to hand) and realized that a flock of birds was endlessly circling the top of the building. The glimmering sparks were reflections of the building’s bright white lights bouncing off beating wings.

I had no idea if the observation deck was open that late, but it was worth a few block’s jog to find out. It cost money to ride up in the elevator and I was pretty surprised to find out that once up there, you can go outside. This still strikes me as dangerous, but I was grateful for the clear view. BTW, this was probably 40 years ago, so everything is likely different now.

Once out there, I saw a very large flock of birds (in the hundreds) about the size of doves, endlessly circling the building. I couldn’t make out any field marks and the whole thing was surreal. It took some time for me to notice all the insects, but when I did, it started to make more sense.

A migrating flock of birds had gotten lucky. They found a flock of insects drawn to the light and were having a feast. Migrating birds and migrating insects likely intersect rather often (this post on Swainson’s hawks touches on just that), but it was unusual to get a look.

Next week, I suspect a more typical post. Until then, this photo is from my August trip to Galveston. I have nothing interesting to say about it, but looking at it makes me happy. I hope it does the same for you.