Phenology Daybook: September 20, 2020

September 20th

The 263rd Day of the Year


Look to the Great Harvest

When all Things will bear Fruit and

Will be ready for the Gathering.




Sunrise/set: 6:20/6:36

Day’s Length: 12 hours 16 minutes

Average High/Low: 76/54

Average Temperature: 65

Record High: 95 – 1908

Record Low: 37 – 1962


The Daily Weather

Five percent of today’s afternoons rise into the 90s; thirty percent warm to the 80s, fifty percent to the 70s, 15 percent to the 60s. Rainfall occurs one year in three on this date, and the sky is clear to partly cloudy eight years in ten. Morning lows dip below 60 degrees 80 percent of the time, the first time in the fall that such cold is so likely.


Natural Calendar

In Oregon and Maine, foliage colors are often approaching their brightest. Along the 40th Parallel, the smoky tint of last week’s canopy becomes clear and crisp. The summer green of a few sycamores, locusts, elms, box elders, maples, poplars, cottonwoods and redbuds is breaking down. Patches of deep scarlet in the sumac and Virginia creeper highlight the changes in the tree line. There are streaks of amber on the lindens, ginkgoes, tulip trees, locusts, mulberries and Osage orange.

Robin migration calls complement the chatter of the crows and jays and squirrels in the early mornings. Grackles and starlings flock in the fields. Sometimes katydids keep silence after dark, leaving the whole night to the great chorus of crickets. In the Rocky Mountains, bull elks are mustering their harems, and snow is falling.



1983: Catalpas are turning pale along Stevenson Road. Some white snakeroot becoming brown. Small flowered asters in full bloom everywhere.


1984: Maple seeds falling. At the Antioch School, maybe a fifth of the chinquapin oak leaves are turning yellow, began the first week of September.


1985: Between the 13th and the 20th, a decided change in the tree coloring. Yellow predominates in this dry September. Sycamores, locusts, hackberry, box elder, some maples turn, some cottonwoods and red buds, too. In the arboretum and throughout the area, the ash trees show their changes, some red, some gold. Judas maples are everywhere. At the same time, the goldenrod is in full bloom, and the soybean fields are solid yellow. Scattered in the pastures, the milkweeds have all turned yellow too.


1992: The same acceleration of color this year as last. And the garden mums are coming in full, the purples first, now the reds opening. The volunteer pumpkin is completely orange, and its stem is almost dry. First of the autumn radishes pulled last night, a little thin, bet they have fine flavor. Lettuce and spinach still not full enough for salads. Beans and tomatoes still strong.


1997: The frog croaked this morning, air temperatures mild in the 60s. Cicadas strong all day, katydids at night. Cats are catching crickets in the house. On a brown stem of horsetail in the water, I found the hollow skeleton of a dragonfly, which must have emerged within the past few days.


1998: Major ash turn now. Some false boneset and goldenrod rusting.


1999: Crickets and katydids were strong this morning at three o’clock. In Wilberforce, my ash tree is mostly golden, but it is holding its leaves well. The parking lot ashes have just started to turn. Soybeans are yellow throughout. In the pond, the arrowhead leaves are yellowing too, and all the plants are dying back. But the koi are still hungry, still eat excitedly even with the water cool.


2000: As a low-pressure system approaches town the afternoon carries warm gusts of wind, sun, showers of leaves. The first heavy snow in the Rocky Mountains was reported this morning. The burning bush on High Street is almost completely red. Chicory is still in full bloom along the roadsides. Ash turn is accelerating.


2001: Low whinny of a screech owl this morning toward King Street at 5:15 . On Limestone Street and on Walnut, the virgin’s bower is almost done for the year. At 8:45, one cardinal call.


2002: Long flock of blackbirds seen crossing Grinnell Road today. Don Wallis said he saw a flock like that last week. Fewer butterflies in the yard today.


2003: Only a wren and chickadee chattering in the yard at dawn.


2004: False boneset and virgin’s bower are almost done blooming for the year. The ash by my old office window in Wilberforce is more than half bare, the remaining leaves yellow. In the parking lot there, locusts and ashes are starting to turn. No monarchs seen on my drives today.


2006: Big camel cricket found in the bathtub this morning. I put it out in the shed. The day is cold and gray.


2007: In the alley, almost all the seeds are gone from the great ragweed. Near Limestone Street, the bittersweet is blushing pale orange.


2008: Very quiet morning. I walked Stella in the dark – no cardinals or crows or doves. In the yard, our volunteer virgin’s bower has been gone for a couple of days. Peggy’s still holds full. A few serviceberry leaves are falling, a few more turning orange. The land is dry, coleus foliage wilting, the pond low. High stratus covered the village this afternoon, cooling my work on the brick sidewalk to the street.


2010: Crows at 5:56 a.m. Sudden decline in the numbers of skippers at the butterfly bush and the false boneset. No swallowtails or monarchs seen today. Last peaches from our tree for breakfast.


2011: More duskiness to the tree line, more maples turning to sharper oranges, more ashes gold. In the alley, one rose of Sharon bush is almost completely yellow, the great knotweed half finished, Jerusalem artichokes strong and bright. Crickets steady when I went out at 9:30 a.m. At least three monarchs in the garden this afternoon, and a hummingbird came to the feeder several times. Tonight, the tree crickets were strong; Gerard’s katydid was loud as ever, and Peggy’s field crickets were in full voice.


2012: More monarchs, more hummingbirds in the garden today. On the way to Dayton, a patch of dandelions. At Ellis Pond just outside of town, beggarticks and goldenrod and small white asters (laterfolia), swamp bidens, jewelweed, bindweed, horseweed, ragweed seeds all gone, one parsnip in bloom, black walnut trees almost bare, cottonwoods going, very last sundrops and white vervain, some white clover, a little watercress in bloom, all the hickory nuts down, just two thistle buttons, steady cricket song. And two white ducks shadowed me all around the pond.


2013: Sylvia sent me an effusive note about finding a toad in the grass. She was “feeling lucky,” she said. And she went on: “Oh yes, lucky, so I got down on my hands and knees…I didn’t want to miss a single detail…such serious eyes for one so young regarding me with great solemnity.”

Toads are relatively common in Yellow Springs, and sometimes they mate in my garden pond in April or May. The young tadpoles reach land in Early Summer and grow to at least an inch or two long by about the time Sylvia saw hers in late June. After that, according to my notes, they wander on cooler days and nights, hiding from drought and heat in dank corners of the woods, eating the insects that frequent those places.

I find them most often between the last week of August and the third week of September, and the increased frequency of my backyard sightings at that time coincides with the toad migration which occurs between Late Summer and Early Fall here in Yellow Springs and throughout the region.


2014: A slight warming today. Early morning brought one painted lady (Cynthia). A monarch came by at 9:45, and then there were cabbage whites and several monarchs and painted ladies in the zinnias throughout the day. A red-tailed hawk cried off and on when I was outside in the garden; I have heard red-tails for the past several days. In the arboretum across the stream from Ellis Pond, the buckeyes are down from the yellow buckeye tree, splayed open on the grass, the buckeye foliage ochre now, the first of the turning on this side of the pond. And the Sweet Hart chestnut has also dropped its fruits.


2015: Bright sun, cool. Goldenrod rusting, virgin’s bower and prairie dock almost gone. A brilliant Eastern black in the tithonias this morning, cabbage whites and a polygonia in the afternoon. The New England asters are solid full bloom along the edge of the north garden, only interrupted by zinnias flopping over on top of them. The purple thin-leafed hostas have finally closed their seasons, but the latest variety (Red October) is still lush. I note last year’s comment about hearing red-tailed hawks – and it seems I have been hearing and seeing them more and more from early September.

And another note – this one about toads. Yesterday I saw a fat American toad squatting under the bike rack at the post office, reminded me of Silvia’s message on this date in 2013 and of my previous sightings of toads in mid-September. Coincidences? Of course not. (After Ed Oxley’s toad sightings of October 2, 2013, I have had no toad sightings or reports, and I presume that not too long after that, they have dug their hibernation burrows and are ready to sleep away the winter.) Apropos: a chilly north wind is picking up in the afternoon: I started the day with a fire in the wood stove and have kept it cooking throughout the day.


2016: The days continue bright and warm, dew on the grass each morning. But suddenly almost all the silver-spotted skippers have disappeared from the zinnias. Only one or two of them still play here, along with a handful of cabbage whites. No larger butterflies seen, no swallowtails or monarchs or great fritillaries. Now the box elder leaves have withered but haven’t fallen. The hackberries are weathering, some pale, others curling. The serviceberry trees have thinned but keep much of their foliage. Locust leaves come through the bushes every few minutes.


2017: Hackberry leaves fluttering to the zinnias, tricking me into thinking they are butterflies. Along Greene Street near Jill’s house, the road is slippery with fallen cottonwood leaves. Jill’s maple is cluttering her yard now, the great leaf fall beginning in earnest. As we walked down Davis Street, several black walnuts clattered onto the roof of what used to be the old fish market decades and decades ago. Two monarchs, a couple of painted ladies, a silver-spotted skipper, pairs of cabbage whites, one fold-winged skipper. The hummingbird still checks the zinnias. Along Dayton Street, the serviceberry trees are rusty brown and shedding. Halfway downtown, I almost twisted ankle on black walnuts. More red maple trees turning yellow and beige, starting to come down.


2018: One buckeye tree completely down on Elm Street. And most of the serviceberry trees have thinned to a few leaves, rusty, lace-like against the sky. From Italy, Neysa sends a photo of Clathrus uber, a red, sponge-like mushroom. She has a “little patch of them” now because, she guesses, of all the rain they have had recently.


2019: To Gethsemani near Louisville, temperature in the 90s, one fierce downpour then sun, occasional turkey vultures soaring overhead: The tree line was weathered from age and heat, soybeans fields yellowing and some standing corn completely dried out.

The New York Times reported that studies show the bird population of the hemisphere has declined by three billion birds since 1970. But Chris Walker talked about seeing flocks of nighthawks, an osprey and a bald eagle, and a giant swarms of dragonflies on his farm in Champaign County, about 40 miles north of Yellow Springs. At the monastery, Father Michael said his bees had had a pretty good summer, responded well to the medication for mites, and even produced some comb honey that had been relished by the monks.

In the evening I watched half a dozen hummingbirds competing for nectar and mockingbirds chasing each other through the chestnut trees outside the refectory window. Then I received a note from Leslie and Bruce, and they had heard calls of blue jays, pileated woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, Carolina wrens, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, crows, red-shouldered hawks, red-bellied woodpeckers, cardinals, killdeers, starlings and titmice. They had a list of butterfly sightings, too.

So I put all that together with the turkey vultures, the hummingbirds and the mockingbirds I had seen myself. I read what Henry David Thoreau had written about how the world was well kept and how its undertakings were secure and never failed. What if, I thought, Henry David were still right?


2020: Another chilly morning, sun, breeze. I sat and watched for butterflies in the zinnias, but only three cabbage whites appeared. One green-bottle fly basked on a new spiderwort leaf. No bees seen, even on the knotweed. Hackberry leaves sailed down into the flowers, surrogate swallowtails, softening the impact of the scarcity of insects. A hummingbird came by in the late afternoon, tested the orange tithonias. At Jill’s, the thin-leaved coneflowers have started to decline.



The world is well kept…. Her undertakings are secure and never fail. If I were awakened from a deep sleep, I should know which side of the meridian the sun might be by the aspect of nature, and the chirp of the crickets, and yet no painter can paint this difference. The landscape contains a thousand dials which indicate the natural divisions of time, the shadows of a thousands styles point to the hour…. It is almost the only game which the trees play at, this tit-for-tat, now this side in the sun, now that, the drama of the day.


Henry David Thoreau



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *