September in Michigan is sometimes the last month of summer, and sometimes the first month of fall. This year summer clearly hang on for many extra and welcomed days.
The remnants of hurricane Ike rolled through the area early in the month and dropped 8 to 12 inches of rain (depending on location.) Following it, a summery weather pattern settled in, with sunny days, 80 degree temperatures, and cool crisp evenings.
I missed this first part of the month, since I was away. As a result I tended to linger a bit over the last week, enjoying some of my favorite places in the Allegan Forest. Even in the last days of September, the woods were lush and green, with almost no sign of autumn.
The dragonflies have changed, though. As the seasons unwind, new species emerge and old ones drop by the wayside. There are, of course, some points on continuity – the green darners still lumber over the meadows, as they have since late April. But the Blue Dashers, Twelve Spotted Skimmers, and Halloween Pennants are now gone. The Dot Tailed Whitefaces, Calico Pennants, Spangled Skimmers, and Clubtails of all stripes have long been absent. Now the Autumn Meadowhawks (formerly called Yellow Legged Meadowhawks) are on the ascendancy. They will stay on till the hard freezes come, the last of the dragons for this year. White faced Meadowhawks are also still abundant, and I saw (but did not photograph,) a few Carolina Saddlebags.
The fields around the temporary marsh are now waist high will grasses. The triangle of walnut trees that stands next a crumbling building foundation is now thin and almost leafless. The apple tree next to a pile of field stones has dropped most of its fruit, and has also given up most of its leaves. The ironweed and bee Baum are now brown stalks capped with seed heads. The patch of wild strawberry that carpets the northern end of the field is starting to turn reddish brown. Bright oak and maple forest that surrounds the field remains vibrant green – not a trace of fall color yet to be seen.
The rain has fortified the temporary marsh. It’s hard to believe that two summers ago I walked through it, and aside from one small, muddy patch of cat tails, the marsh was dry. This year there are no cat tails – I think they drowned as the place where they once stood is now under several feet of water. The edge of the marsh is now higher than it usually is after the spring snow melts.
Several splashes greet me as I near the edge of the marsh – frogs and toads are now abundant in this field. One fearless leopard frog bucked the trend, and jumped out of the water and towards me as I was photographing dragonflies. I managed a few shots of it, as it worked its way into the pine forest that presses again the eastern end of the marsh.
The marsh was also the home to lots of white-faced meadowhawks. Autumn meadowhawks already dominate the higher ground to the north, but right at the edge of the marsh the whitefaces still hold their own. They are not particularly cooperative about being photographed – since they tend to land on the grass stalks several yards out into the marsh, but a few land on dried raspberry branches or other plants a few feet into dry land, giving me the chance to take their photos.
I’ve tried to visit some of my favorite places in Allegan this last week. Unfortunately, the fields north of the river, which were rich with dragonflies in the spring and early summer, have been mown, and are now more or less lifeless. The same hold true for the field along 46th Ave. The low levee near the Swann Creek dam was flooded last week – the water from the creek was running over it and into the swamp to the east. But that area finally dried out late this week.
One area of note was at the end of a small two-track, cutting into the woods east of 46th Avenue. It’s always a good spot for dragonflies in the spring and fall, but for reason doesn’t have much of a population in the summer months. Here I found several Autumn Meadowhawks, and to my surprise a female widow skimmer. Widows are among the earliest dragons to appear, and I haven’t seen one locally since July. Odd to see one flying around in the last days of September – but there it was. I guess that, like me, she decided to just hang on a little bit more.