Midsummer Highlights

Wild rose with honey bee gathering pollen and nectar.
A beautiful stand of Western goldenrod, Euthamia occidentalis.

August 4, 2021

Midsummer is just about here with the days beginning to get shorter and a feeling of fall coming in the air. I look forward to cooler days and hopefully some early moisture. Right now, we just must get through the “dog days of summer.” Wait, what does that mean, the “dog days of summer?” This phrase is a reference to the fact that during this time, the Sun occupies the same region in the sky as Sirius, the brightest star visible from any part of Earth and part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog. Therefore, Sirius is sometimes called the Dog Star. According to the Farmers’ Almanac, in the summer, Sirius rises and sets with the Sun. On July 23rd, Sirius is in close unison with the Sun, and because the star is so bright, the ancient Romans believed it gave off heat and added to the Sun’s warmth, accounting for the long stretch of sultry weather. They referred to this time as dies canucularis, or “dog days.” Thus, the term Dog Days of Summer came to mean the 20 days before and 20 days after this alignment of Sirius and the Sun—July 3 to August 11 each year.

Here on the mitigation lands in the center of Little Lake Valley the changes are profound and subtle at the same time. The ever-present singing of spring and early summer has diminished and there are periods of silence, especially in the middle of the day. The frantic begging of nestling birds for their parents to feed them is also just about gone, replaced by many juvenile birds in different plumages. Mother elk and deer with calves and fawns are seen more frequently along with many bulls and bucks still in velvet antlers.

The poison oak has begun dressing in its autumn finery. Always the first to display raucous red and orange colors as it climbs up the oaks and other trees. But there are still summer flowers that brighten up the landscape here.

One that always surprises me is the native rose, Rosa californicus. This beautiful shrub has been planted along the riparian corridors and is doing well in most of the sites. Sitting and watching all the native pollinators visit these fragrant flowers, I think it must be an important late summer nectar and pollen source for many native bees and butterflies.

Native Western Goldenrod, Euthamia occidentalis, blooms this time of the year until late August and is also an important nectar and pollen source. Another spectacular and I think very special plant we have blooming right now in Little Lake valley is Milkweed. We have both the narrow leaf, Asclepias fascicularis, and the showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa. Both plants have been planted extensively as part of the mitigation and restoration but are found here naturally.

So far, I have not seen any Monarch butterflies visiting the milkweed though I have seen other small skipper and fritillary species on the flowers. If you look closely there are a myriad of things happening during this seemingly quiet time. Next time I will talk about the wildlife and birds and what they are doing during the “dog days of summer.”