Thursday, August 28, 2008

Opportunities for enjoying September outdoors

Opportunities for enjoying September outdoors

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School is open, the pools are closing, and Labor Day is upon us. Much as I hate to admit it, summer is just about over. But that doesn’t have to mean an end to outdoor activity for the year. Indeed, the clear, dry days of September offer opportunities no other month can provide.

It’s a great time of year for a visit to a prairie remnant or restoration area. By the time September rolls around, the plants of the tallgrass prairie, which once defined central Illinois, have reached their full height—some, like compass plant, with flower stalks more than ten feet tall. Despite having lost a bit of color due to the lack of rain in recent weeks, Meadowbrook Park in Urbana has never been more beautiful, and other area prairie restorations, including Buffalo Trace in Mahomet, and those at Allerton Park near Monticello are also in their glory.

The profusion of late-summer prairie flowers is accompanied by a profusion of insects. Dragonflies are out now in force, and butterflies can be so numerous in places it’s difficult to focus on individuals long enough to identify them. In our area you can usually see more Monarch butterflies in the second and third weeks of September than at any other time of year. Spurred on by cooler, shorter days, Monarchs from southern Canada and the northern U.S. collect here as they journey to their wintering sites in the mountains of central Mexico.

Birds are on the move now, too, as anyone who maintains a hummingbird feeder can tell you. It’s a good time to see shorebirds, including plovers, sandpipers, and the like as they stop over on their journey from the northern tundra where they breed to the Gulf Coast and points south where they winter. Look for shorebirds probing for food around the edges of retention ponds and any wet areas that remain where farm fields were flooded earlier in the year.

Our local rivers may be too low for paddling in September, but that means conditions are perfect for wading in to turn over rocks and explore the life of these streams. Crayfish are superabundant now, and the low clear water makes it possible to find live mussels if you take the time to look for them.

If the heat of summer kept you from getting out on your bicycle, now is the time to put some air in those tires and get back in the saddle. In weather like this you could try riding to work, or you could reduce your carbon footprint by bicycling to a farmers market.

September offers great satisfactions for people who value local foods. Hot weather crops are plentiful now, and by the end of the month some of the cool season vegetables may even be back again, along with winter squash and the like.

The earlier onset of evening in September means you don’t have to be out much past dinner to see bats on the wing as daylight fades. Stay out a bit longer, though, and you realize that this can be the most comfortable time of year to sleep outside in our part of the world. If school and other activities prevent family camping trips, they need not kids from having one more backyard sleepout for the year.

September may be the month for letting go of summer, but letting go need not happen all at once.