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The August Shift

We’ve slipped into what I’ve come to call “The August Shift.” Even though the days are still hot, the nights are getting cooler and there’s a dew on the grass in the morning. As the sun inches south, the shadows are changing, particularly in the low angle light of sunrise and sunset.

As I said earlier, as we get into August it’s time for beekeepers to start thinking about winter, in my view at least. Some beekeepers will push the season to the very end and then feed the bees up for winter with syrup. Fall feeding is more common for larger commercial operations where they are set up to do it efficiently, but supplemental feeding is becoming much more common for smaller beekeepers, too.

My friend Paul Hendricks, now gone, was one of those “push it to the end” beekeepers and he would try to wring as much honey out of a season as he could. He was always telling me about the super or two he got off the third cutting and I was enticed now and then to leave a few supers on and try to get some of that late flow myself. It never happened. At best, I might gain a few pounds, but it was hardly worth the effort. What honey did come in would have been better invested in the bees’ winter stores.

I think the migration is starting, at least for a few of the birds. Earlier this week I caught a glimpse of a Tennessee Warble as it disappeared into the apple tree. I think it was a Tennessee Warbler, I had one pass through several falls ago, so I’d identified it back then.

The wrens are still busy coming and going to their house with assorted insects so they’re still raising young. This must be their third batch. Their house is buried deep in the foliage of the Red Delicious apple tree and their flight paths radiate out from there. One flight path is right across the deck and two days ago, one zipped past my nose less than two inches away. I saw one coming in the other day that went under the table and between the rungs of the railing without slowing down a bit. They must know what they’re doing, they go across the deck at full speed and I haven’t seen any splattered wrens.

The traffic at the hummingbird feeder has picked up dramatically in the past week. Through most of the summer I figured I had one or two pair, as their daytime visits to the feeder were infrequent and brief and most of the feeding went on at dawn and dusk. This past week, the number of birds has increased. Where in the summer I had just broad tails, there are now rufous and ruby throats. I think these are the migrants that we saw every year at about this time, coming down out of the hills preparing for the migration south. The feeding is almost constant now and I can walk out onto the deck at any time of the day and within a minute or two, one or more birds will show up.

When Doyle and Luvesta Jones sold the farm in 1964, two acres and the barn were divided off and Herman and Opal Kirchner bought it and built a modest house. Herman had been an upholsterer in Boulder, and as Boulder expanded and retirement approached, they sold their house and land on Valmont Road between 28th and 30th and bought the two acres in Niwot. The Kirchners became close friends and were sort of surrogate grand parents to Tracy. Inside the barn is a board with August 5, 1905, the date the barn was completed and coincidentally, Herman’s birthday. That’s also the date when the migrating hummingbirds begin to show up.

Up until last year, when I saw the hummingbirds early and put up a feeder, we always thought these August migrants were all we had. I know better now, and for the past two years have really enjoyed watching the summer hummers. The dynamics at the feeder have changed with the new arrivals and its hard to tell sometimes if the birds are competing or cavorting. Some of it seems to be competition while at other times it looks like joyous aerobatics. There are times when two birds will feed together, at other times a single bird gets dive bombed by another. Often two will fly in unison an inch or two apart, climbing straight up then diving back toward the ground. These look like play flights rather than competition or maybe even courtship, but it is too late in the season for that it seems. I don’t remember having this increased activity last year.

This is the time of year when I begin to terminate my tomatoes. By that, I mean clipping off any blossoms that aren’t set, there just isn’t enough time left to mature any more fruit. We could get a frost as early as September and even if it holds off until the middle of October, the tomatoes really slow down with the shortening days and cooler nights so any late tomatoes ripen slowly. I’ll also trim most of the axial sprouts and most of the vines that don’t carry maturing fruit, I want the plant’s energy going into fruit, not vegetative growth, but I’ll leave enough leaves to keep the engine going.

Things have slowed down for the bees. Most of the second cutting is down. In some parts of the county, Birdsfoot Trefoil is blooming. Trefoil is a plant I recommend for mixed pastures, it blooms from early June almost to the end of August and provides a slow and steady nectar source not only for honey bees but for a lot of other beneficial insects. For any of you looking to plant or improve you pastures and wanting to help the bees, Birdsfoot Trefoil is a good way to do that. Forty acres of blooming Trefoil can give a big boost to bees within flight range.

I was up at first light this morning, watching my sparrows gobbling up breakfast at the feeder and wondering if I should take it down rather than feed the feathered hoard, when a Coopers Hawk glided in quietly and took a perch on the power line. The sparrows disappeared and all went silent. I’ve seen the Coopers Hawk go right into the bushes after small birds and seeing a glimpse of the harrowing life these little birds face, I have a little more charitable view of feeding the little buggers.

It was 55 degrees yesterday morning and 96 degrees in the afternoon. There was dew on the grass and it was 52 this morning with another mid-90s day in the forecast.

Welcome to the August Shift. ❖


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