Phenology Journal: Finches-in-the-Thistles Time

When nodding and Canadian thistles turn all to down, then golden finches haunt the fields to feed. Tree frogs cling to windows, singing through the night. Early morning birdsong weakens, and the robin predawn chorus comes to a close, the silence pushing the narrative of middle summer toward cicadas in the days, crickets and katydids after dark. Woolly bear caterpillars, outriders of October, appear on the warm country roads. Blackberries redden. Black raspberries disappear, while the second crop of red raspberries ripens. Osage fruits are bigger than apples. Black walnuts are autumn size. Acorns are as big as marbles. Sumac stag horns are velvety red. Catalpa beans grow long and firm.

Among the many flowers of finches-in-the-thistle time, find showy coneflowers, phlox, midseason hosta, pale blue campanulas, purple coneflowers, beebalm, germander, skullcap, fogfruit, great Indian plantain, fringed loosestrife, bouncing bets, daisy fleabane, moth mullein, leafcup, lopseed, hobblebush, wood mint, tall bell flower, great mullein, moth mullein, small-flowered agrimony, tick trefoil, velvetleaf, trumpet creeper, rose of Sharon and jimson weed. All the vegetables planted in April and May are coming in, and rhubarb grows back among its wilted spring stalks.

Accelerating the finch-time narrative, leafturn is beginning in the undergrowth. A few yellowing leaves appear on cottonwoods. Angelica blanches in the sun, turns creamy white and pink. Ramps go to seed, and euonymus berries fatten like the honeysuckle berries. In the ponds and wetlands, purple loosestrife overruns the sloughs, while the heads of lizard’s tail, still white and soft a few days ago, become stiff and gray. June’s clovers and grasses are past their prime, white and red clover browning in the heat, yellow and white sweet clover spindly and bare. Along the highways, hemlock and parsnips are withered and brittle, ending their chapter of early summer when finches come for thistledown.

Bill Felker

1 Comment

  1. Barbara Valdez

    I don’t know the names of even the plants blooming in pots in the yard, but the petunias have not done well. The purples seem to be coming forward after weathering the June record heat. Your writing draws me outdoors for a morning walk–there are bachelor buttons out there along the roadway. Can as much be happening here in this high desert as you report going on there? That dynamic universe. ( And, at Shari’s, blackberries are being featured.) (Report from Idaho) We’ve had about three weeks of storminess, including nice showers that water the lawn for us.


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