July, a Month of Changes
by Ro Wauer
July, the 7th month on the Gregorian calendar, is a month of changes in the natural world. July is the month when the entire Gulf Coast can experience major weather patterns that can arrive in the form of hurricanes. Remember July 2003 when Claudette stomped the central Gulf Coast? Although my house near Mission Valley was barely touched, my yard was a mess. I lost much of the huge cedar elm that rose over all the other trees in my neighborhood. And since then that tree has continued to shed large branches, including one major crash only about a month ago.
Perhaps, of all the wildlife, the birdlife changes the most. July may be the quietest month of the year, for the springtime and early nesters are finished, and there is little reason for territorial defense and birdsong. Exceptions include some early morning singing by some of the full-time residents. July usually is the time when several of the neotropical nesters begin their southward journeys, heading back toward their wintering grounds. Purple martins are one of the best examples, for these large swallows often stage (congregate) in huge family groups, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, at favorite locations. They will be present one day and gone the next. Only some of the more northern nesters can still be found passing through South Texas by the end of the month.
Then there are some of the early fall migrants that suddenly appear in the area. Most of these early migrants are males that have finished their "breeding" duties and have left their mates with the chore of caring for the nestlings and fledglings. Hummingbirds are some of the best known of these "promiscuous rakes;" male hummingbirds from far north of the Coastal Bend can suddenly appear at out hummingbird feeders. And shorebirds some that have nested as far north as the Arctic can be found in some at our ponds and bays. Semipalmated and piping plovers; solitary, upland, semipalmated, western, least, and stilt sandpipers; marbled godwit; short-billed and long-billed dowitchers; and Wilson's phalaropes can be expected once again.
A number of migrating songbirds are also possible in July. Although the majority of these neotropical species cannot be expected until late August and September. Many of our July visitors are simply those that may have nested just north of our area and are little more than post-nesting wanders. The best examples include blue-gray gnatcatchers and black-and-white warblers. And one cannot ignore some of the post-nesting wanders that come north into out area. Some of these, like wood storks, can be most impressive.
The butterfly population reaches its annual low point during July; the exception is during the cold winter months. But once the rains begin, often as a result of storms off the Gulf or from the West, there can be a sudden turn-around. So much depends upon the amount of available nectar for butterflies, for many species may quickly pass through our area without a reason to stop. But a few nectar sources, gardens and roadside wildflowers for example, will make a significant difference, a reason to linger and be seen.
A few of the more tropical butterflies can often be expected in July, species and numbers increase in August and September, and reach a peak in October and the first half of November. Some of the summer/fall strays to watch for include orange-barred sulphur, yellow and white angled-sulphurs, Julia and zebra heliconians, white peacock, common mestra, and soldier. And by mid-August, monarchs are possible, all heading toward their wintering grounds in the mountains and central Mexico.
There is not a time in South Texas when some truly amazing events are not playing out in our yards, fields, and coastal areas. Anyone with the interest and time can watch the changes unfold before your very eyes.