Falling Into Winter

fall winter

It is weather folklore that says that autumn will arrive 90 days after the katydids start to sing. Based on my Paradelle observations, that made this past Tuesday (November 17) the arrival of autumn. That prediction is way off. Of course, maybe I didn’t pay close enough attention to the first katydid song. Maybe the insects in my neighborhood got a late start. Maybe weather lore is just weather lore.

It was looking autumnal last month and this week it has been feeling wintry. I needed to take in the garden hoses and liquids from the garage. I did my last lawn mowing and drained the mower’s gas. It was below freezing this morning. But I haven’t given in to getting the snowblower ready. I’m not jinxing November.

I posted earlier about what the scientists at NOAA think will be coming this winter but I honestly don’t know that I trust scientists or nature for long-term weather predictions. Still, I find myself looking for those predictions and writing about them as a kind of seasonal ritual. I’m not alone. My past weather posts always get an uptick in hits when the seasons are changing from people wondering.

Before we get to predicting the weather ahead, we need to decide how we are going to organize the year. You can use the astronomical calendar of equinoxes and solstices to mark changes in seasons. The meteorological calendar breaks the seasons down into groupings of three months based on the annual temperature cycle as well as our calendar. Of course, your local conditions probably don’t really match either method’s breakdown of the year.

And then there is phenology, which is my favorite. This is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events in your area. That means the start of a season won’t follow either calendar. I like it because it requires you to observe nature – something people did quite seriously once upon a time and few people do today.  This means more than just saying “Oh look, the trees are changing colors” or “The crocuses look nice this year.” When did the trees start changing? Which species was first and when did it happen last year?”  I’ve been journaling my garden and plants around me for a lot of years and that first crocus bloom has become something I look forward to seeing and recording each spring. And it changes.

If you want to be a bit more of a “citizen scientist” you can join thousands of others in gathering environmental and climate change information from across the country in a program called Project BudBurst. But I do recommend some careful observation of your little corner of the world.

The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting for Thanksgiving  chilly conditions for most  zones with even some light snow forecast for the Rockies/Plains and points east and showery conditions for Texas, and most of Zone 5. (Check zones here)

I’m in Zone 1 on their map and that covers my New Jersey all the way up to Maine. Very different weather in there. For the 24th-27th (Thanksgiving time) it is supposed to be unsettled, with light snow/flurries but clearing in time for Thanksgiving.

Did you know that The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a different publication? That is the one my mom used to buy and I read as a kid, and I still buy a copy every year. It has a look and a style that has remained pretty much the same since 1792. It’s full of all kinds of crazy stuff.

As they say themselves, it has “fun facts, predictions, and feature items that have made it a cultural icon: traditionally 80 percent–accurate weather forecasts; notable astronomical events and time-honored astrological dates; horticultural, culinary, fashion, and other trends; historical hallmarks; best fishing days; time- and money-saving garden advice; recipes for refreshment; facts on folklore, farmers, home remedies, and husbandry; amusements and contests, plus too much more to mention.”

This almanac has me in a smaller Atlantic Corridor region which I’m thinking makes predictions more accurate? Both almanacs have websites that are free to use. I do like getting The Old Farmer’s Almanac free email newsletter with planting time suggestions and garden stuff and looking at this new-fangled World Wide Web thing at www.almanac.com. But I think for now I’ll just pour myself a neat one and settle down on the couch and read off some pages made from dead trees like God intended.

year end
Endings are often sad.

Love Songs of Late Summer

Cicada_skin
cicada cast-off skin

Sitting outside this afternoon, I tried guessing at the temperature by listening to some crickets. I do know that crickets chirp faster as temperatures rise, and slower when temperatures fall.

I’m sure my father was unaware of Dolbear’s Law when he told me about crickets and temperature. The formula is temperature = 50+[(N-40)/4] where N = the number of chirps per minute). I was an English major and math is not one of my strengths, but by counting I could tell it was getting hotter.

If you can’t distinguish a cricket “song” from a cicada or a katydid, listen to a field cricket sound.

As an amateur phenologist (one who studies the seasonal changes in plants and animals), I’m interested in these sounds. Not that I could ignore the cicadas who are very noisily chirping around my house this month.

katydid
katydid

The cicadas are pretty creepy looking and their cast-off skins that they leave attached around the backyard are also creepy. Katydids are much nicer looking in their bright green. It is difficult to find them, but easy to hear their eponymous “Katy did! Katy did!” call from the trees.

Can you hear females answering “Katy didn’t, didn’t, didn’t?”    Take a listen to them They hide with their veined oval-shaped wings that look like leaves in the treetops.

They start singing in August, but, if you can identify when they start their summer song, weather lore says that autumn will arrive 90 days later. I’m not sure I caught the first katydid, but today was the first day I noticed them calling. That makes autumn in Paradelle arriving on November 16.

The katydids are singing for love, lust and a mate. It is the mating season (August through mid-October). Feel the love?

A Katydid Love Song

August is the sound of insects at night. When I am sitting outside I am assaulted by cicadas loudly announcing that it is mid-summer.

I wouldn’t call their sound a “song” and cicadas are pretty creepy looking. I came upon a dead one today when I opened the barbecue grill. (Take a look at this cicada molting for a quick sci-fi moment.) They have those large, wide apart eyes transparent, veined wings.

Cicadas are often colloquially called locusts, but they are unrelated to true locusts. In the second half of August,  you find their cast off shells around the garden.

And then there are the katydids.

You can hear some calling out “Katy did! Katy did!” in one part of the trees, and another answering “Katy didn’t, didn’t, didn’t!” from the opposite direction.   Listen to them.

katydid-needpix
Katydids are a large group of insects in the order Orthoptera, and are sometimes called long-horned grasshoppers but they are more closely related to crickets than to any type of grasshopper.

Okay, I admit that I don’t really hear those words clearly in their song.  I have trouble with bird songs that are compared to human speech and seeing the “pictures” in constellations. It is a bit of a stretch, but good for the imagination.

True katydids (Pterophylla camellifolia) are relatives of grasshoppers and crickets. They grow over two inches long and are leaf-green in color. Katydids have oval-shaped wings with lots of veins which makes them look a lot like leaves. They spend most of their time at the tops of trees.

Females chirp in response to the shrill of the males, which sound like, “katy did,” which is how they received their name. The males use this sound for courtship, which occurs late in the summer.[10] The sound is produced by rubbing two parts of their bodies together, called stridulation. One is the file or comb that has tough ridges; the other is the plectrum is used to produce the vibration

According to my nature calendar where I record buds, blooms, fruiting and other signs of seasonal change, the katydids usually show up right at the start of August. This year, the cicadas and katydids arrived a week early.

It is a folklore observation that says that autumn will arrive 90 days after the katydids start to sing.  That would make it the last week of October here in Paradelle.

You are much more likely to hear a katydid than see it.  And what are they singing about? Like many insects, they are singing for love. Or lust, I suppose, as the males are trying to attract a mate. This is their reproductive season (August through mid-October).

The males are high in the trees and females come to them. Katydids are poor flier, preferring to walk, and a male katydid may never leave the tree on which he was hatched.

Their song comes from rubbing their wings together (known scientifically as stridulating) and the other katydids are listening with tympanal membranes on their knees.

The song’s tempo is faster in hot weather and slower on a cool night. Their number diminishes as we get into autumn and that first hard frost will kill the remaining ones.

Katydids eat leaves of most deciduous trees and shrubs and seem to like oaks best. But they don’t do any serious damage to the trees or shrubs, so we don’t bother spraying insecticides for them. Their enemies are birds, bats, spiders, frogs, snakes, and other insect-eaters.

There are some folk stories about “what Katy did” but none I have read are very interesting. I prefer to think of them as a signal that summer is half over, and their song fades as summer fades.