It’s hot. Really hot. The average high temperature in central Florida for the past two weeks has been 90-95 F (32.22-35 C). We have pretty much daily rain in the form of loud, fast-moving thunderstorms. Florida has more lightning strikes each year than any other state in America. Did I mention it’s been hot?
It was, therefore, with some relief that I recently learned the “dog days of summer” ended on August 11. Finally! Now I can go outside and be cool and comfortable and … wait a minute. I was out yesterday and it’s just as hot as ever. What about those dog days being over?? For that matter, what ARE the “dog days of summer” anyhow?
As a child (yes, in the cave man days), I heard the phrase simply meant the weather was too hot even for a dog to be outside. I have also heard the saying came about due to dogs going mad from the heat at this time of year. There may be another, more “heavenly”, origin.
In astronomy, the “dog days” are defined as the period from July 3 through August 11 when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises in conjunction with the sun. Some folks even more ancient than me felt that the combination of the sun and the brightest night time star (Sirius) was responsible for the extreme heat of this time of year. They also thought this event caused droughts, plagues and madness.
Around 70 B.C., a wise guy named Geminus, who was a noted astronomer, wrote the following opinion: “It is generally believed that Sirius produces the heat of the “dog days”, but this is an error, for the star merely marks a season of the year when the sun’s heat is the greatest.” Pretty smart for an old guy.
Since I never have paid much attention to calendars, I’ve been wandering around in the heat, humidity and rain pretty much all summer. The breeding activity of birds has been declining for the year and we’re actually beginning to see a few early migrants from the far north. The following are a few images from around central Florida taken in the last week as we searched for migrants, breeding activity and just generally enjoyed our “dog days”.
This Crested Caracara sported pretty much the maximum “bling” allowed by avian law. Two bands (rings) on each leg, all four in different colors and a radio transmitter antenna under his tail. Someone really wants to keep track of this guy!
The Southeastern Lubber grasshopper is large (2.5 inches/6.35 cm) and colorful. They are not always welcome in gardens as they can eat a lot of produce! This one is missing a leg, and if he doesn’t move from atop that post, he’ll be missing a lot more! Within sight of him were a family group of Great Crested Flycatchers who would love to invite him to dinner.
The ant that isn’t an ant. Velvet Ants are actually wasps. Their other name is Cow Killer Wasp, even though it’s unlikely any bovines have succumbed to this insect. The name may have come from someone trying to describe the painful bite of this colorful bug. The female has no wings, thus the “ant” alias.
An early warbler migrant, this male American Redstart flashes his bright tail and feather patches often in order to scare insects into revealing their location.
At this time of year, we see hordes of dragonflies. I hope they live up to their nickname of “mosquito hawk”, as we’re seeing hordes of them, too! This is an Eastern Amberwing. There were dozens of these small insects by the edge of a lake. (I am definitely unsure of any of these dragonfly identifications! If you notice an error, I sure would appreciate a note.)
The Halloween Pennant is larger than the Amberwing. He’s quite striking with his wing pattern.
A bright green Eastern Pondhawk is even larger than the Pennant. The color really stands out like a neon sign.
High in the canopy of a huge oak tree, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher seems to never hold still. He constantly looks under branches and leaves and sucks up insects as he hops from twig to twig.
This colorful yellow flower is a Seedbox. It’s named for the square, box-like fruit it bears which is full of seeds.
The Pale Meadow Beauty also comes in a yellow variety. Mother Nature has such an eye for color!
This is one of a pair of Red-tailed Hawks we startled from their perch in a tall pine tree. He circled us for quite awhile, leading me to believe they might have a nest nearby. A search yielded no results.
Gini said, “back the truck up just a bit”. She had spied this beauty, a Yellow Rat Snake. He was almost three feet long, had rich brownish-red stripes running the length of his body and a gorgeous yellow underside.
I kept hearing a solid “thunk” in the branches above but couldn’t find the source. As I sat down in the shade to cool off a bit, a Pileated Woodpecker flew to a tree branch right in front of me. This male looks like he may be going through a molt based on his “raggedy” appearance.
The group of dark-colored butterflies in the Skipper family seem, at first glance, quite drab and uninteresting. Then you notice the spots, the subtle coloration differences on the wings, the iridescence on the wing edge and realize how beautiful they are! I am guessing this is a Zarucco Duskywing, but I’m definitely not sure!
A White Peacock with wings spread is eye-catching from a distance. As you get closer, she becomes even more mesmerizing!
This Cloudless Sulphur makes a nice contrast with the dark maroon flowers of the Wild Bushbean.
Long-tailed Skippers are fairly abundant here but always cause you to take a second look due to that long tail.
At this time of year, Swallow-tailed Kites begin to form in groups as they prepare to migrate to Central and South America. Some areas report seeing up to 70-100 of these raptors form a “kettle” as they rise on thermals leaving a roosting area. This one was alone and had just captured what appeared to be a rodent. He gripped it in his left talon but I couldn’t make out exactly what it was.
A young Northern Parula was very curious about us. He would feed awhile, preen awhile and stare at us for awhile. Cute bird!
So, despite the heat and accompanying discomfort, get out there and discover a little beauty in your own area. After all, the “dog days” are over. “Sirius-ly”!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!