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Summer nature guide

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Summer nature guide

Reprinted by permission from Metro GreenScene.

Looking for signs of summer? Metro naturalist James Davis offers up buckets of blackberries, mysterious bird songs, meteor showers, bug pee (really) and baby birds learning to fly. You can experience these seasonal highlights for your self at nearby parks, trails and greenspaces, and often in your own backyard.

On any sunny day, you’ll find Western painted turtles at Smith and Bybee Lakes Wildlife Area basking on the logs, right near the parking area. As the summer wears on, it starts getting too hot for the turtles to be out in the sun all day, so sunny July mornings are best for seeing dozens at a time. You will need binoculars to see that the bumps on the logs are indeed turtles, or participate in one of the many Saturday turtle walks and check them out in Metro’s small telescopes.

Plant life is lush in July and many of our later-blooming flowers are getting very conspicuous. Look for the beautiful blue flowers of chicory, the coffee substitute introduced from Europe. Often growing with them will be the flat-topped flower clusters of wild carrot or Queen Anne’s lace. Pick some of these introduced weeds; put them in water with food coloring and watch the flowers take up the color. You can make flowers any color you want! Another introduced European flower that has become widespread and is quite spectacular is foxglove. All these plants do well in disturbed soil along roads, along with our native fireweed. Look for them in you local vacant lot.

Leave your windows open on July nights and you are likely to be visited by crane flies. Although these big skinny flies look like giant mosquitoes, they are completely harmless to humans. In fact, they are harmless to mosquitoes despite one common name for them, ‘mosquito hawk’. They are mainly vegetarians, decomposers and fungus-eaters. Be careful as you put them back outside; their legs break off easily.

In July, cottonwood fluff fills the air. The black cottonwood is the largest deciduous tree in the Northwest and grows almost anywhere there is enough water. Its seeds get everywhere, floating through the air in the fluff that gives the tree its name. These tall trees, which line the rivers throughout the West, were an important sign of water for settlers heading to Oregon.

Bugs, bugs, bugs. Insects and their relatives just keep cranking out the babies and growing, reaching astonishing numbers by July. Walk through a grassy field and try to count all the grasshoppers that rise up before you. Dragonflies and damselflies are abundant and fun to watch zipping over grasslands or water. Butterflies will be out in the sun feeding on flowers. Pick any area with lots of plants, start looking closely and you are bound to find many different kinds of insects, spiders and other arthropods. Look carefully under logs and rocks for cool beetles, millipedes, centipedes, and those ‘land shrimp’ called pillbugs, sowbugs, potato bugs or roly-polies.

To receive your own free copy, call Metro at 503-797-1850 option 3.
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