Allan Bell’s Birch Bark Nature Notes revisited

Can you believe it? It’s almost the middle of August. What have you seen this year that you hadn’t seen before? It is the new discoveries that are exciting.

The roadside between Merrill and Wausau have been painted with lavender and purple. The smaller, darker blossoms which spread over larger areas are likely spotted knapweed. Pretty, but not a favorite of farmers. A close look at an individual bloom will reveal a becoming beauty.

A lighter lavender shade, with flowers in close-knit clumps, may prove to be wild bergamot. Both of these brighten our roadsides and add to its unmowed attractiveness.

Standing taller than these two and more on the pink side is fireweed, with its flower head in a tall spike. Purple thistles spring up here and there, too. In the ditches, at four or five feet tall, with its feet in the water, is that purple cluster we know as Joe Pye weed.

If you are real lucky, you may find an orchid. The stunning pink, many-flowered, bratwurst-shaped purple fringed orchid grows in wet ditches.

That gorgeous devil, purple loosestrife, is now flowering. Deep purple spikes top off a tall stem right in the water or very close to it. What is wrong with this plant? So far, no redeeming features have been discovered for this plant. It takes over the habitat of plants that formerly furnished food for waterfowl, game birds and animals. It spreads and spreads and spreads. Why can’t orchids be like that?

It is time for monarch butterflies to be laying their eggs on milkweed leaves. Look for leaves that have been chewed. Then look underneath for a caterpillar with yellow, black and white stripes. Because of the millions that were killed by freezing this past winter at their wintering grounds in Mexico, there may not be many to be found. Let’s hope some made it back.

Nighthawks will soon be circling and swooping in large numbers as they wend their way south, all the way to South America.

Like so many names of plants and animals, this name is misleading. Nighthawks are not hawks at all and are not strictly night birds.

Somewhat the size of a blue jay, with a body of about 10 inches long, the long, slim wings are much longer, up to 24 inches. The wings have a very noticeable white bar on them near the tips. Overall, the bird is a grayish-brown color.

They do most of their feeding in the evening and nighttime, catching flying insects in a huge, open mouth. It may remind you of Joe E. Brown or Martha Raye.

Their flight looks herky-jerky, with a few quick wing beats, then a glide, a plunge and a swift pull-up.

Springtime is showoff time for the boys as they attempt to impress the girls with their acrobatics. They fold their wings and dive toward the ground, then zoom upward in a steep climb. Air passing through their flight feathers gives off a loud boom. Does it work? We should know how successful they were very soon as they head for an area where they can find insects when it is winter here. How many will you see?

Here is an unwanted forecast.

It can freeze anytime.

Don’t be afraid to fail.

You fell down the first time you tried to walk.

Did you sink, the first time you tried to swim?

Did you hit a homerun the first time you swung?

R.H. Macy failed seven times before his first store was successful.

Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times. He hit 714 home runs, too.

Don’t worry about failure.

Worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.

Try something new today.

Late nature writer Allan Bell wrote this Birch Bark Nature Notes column for the Tomahawk Leader back on Aug. 13, 1996. In revisiting some of his vast insight into the natural world, you can come to appreciate even more just how fortunate we are to call the Northwoods of Wisconsin home. The midway point of August has arrived. Take a trip down the Allan Bell Memorial Nature Trail located at the Tomahawk High School parking lot where some of these plants can be seen. The mile-long looping trail includes interpretive signs created by students and staff from the school that tell about nature and wildlife that can be viewed.

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