August Favorites

The slideshow below features photos of wildflowers seen in our area in late summer.


The website Minnesota Wildflowers lists ten species of sunflowers within the genus Helianthus. The ‘Picture This’ app made the species identifications listed above.


Young swans are known as cygnets, a name derived from the swan genus Cygnus. These two were seen in a pond next to the Paul Bunyan trail in north-central Minnesota, their parents stayed at a distance.

Trumpeter swans  (Cygnus buccinator) are now fairly common in our area. However, in the 1930’s they were thought to be near extinction, with less than 70 known to exist. Fortunately, in the 1950’s a population of trumpeter swans was discovered in the Copper River Basin of Alaska. These Alaskan swans were key to restoration efforts, which have been quite successful. The Minnesota DNR estimates that there are now over 30,000 swans in the state.

Swans are the heaviest flying bird in North America. This may be why they tend to not migrate far south in the winter. A favorite spot for trumpeter swans to spend the winter is in the Mississippi River near Monticello, MN. Warm water discharged from the Monticello nuclear power plant keeps a stretch of the Mississippi ice-free. A few swans discovered this spot in the late 1980’s. Today an estimated 2000 swans over-winter near Monticello, where they have become an attraction for winter visitors. In winter a real-time view of the swans is available using the “swan cam” maintained by Monticello.

Bee Balm with Insects

During these last days of July our blooming bee balm plants (Monarda fistulosa) have been a hive of activity for insects and an occasional hummingbird. The hummingbirds were too skittish to capture in a photo, but the insects were too busy to notice my presence.

Two-spotted Bumblebees

When the sun is out two-spotted bumble bees (Bombus bimaculatus) are constantly working the bee balm flowers. This bumble bee is thriving in eastern North America. Unlike other species of bees its numbers are not declining. They typically nest below ground, commonly repurposing abandoned rodent burrows.

Clearwing Hummingbird Moth

The Clearwing Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe) Is also a frequent visitor to our bee balm. It is found in forests, meadows, and suburban gardens throughout North America, but is most common in the Eastern United States and Ontario, Canada. This moth is very similar to hummingbirds in appearance and feeding habits, it can easily be mistaken for a small hummingbird.

The petals of Bee Balm flowers are small tubes. The pollen and nectar of the flower are apparently within these tubes; the bumble bees go from petal to petal sticking their heads into each tube. The photos below of our domestic bee balm focus on illustrating the tubular shape of its petals.

Native Bee Balm

Native bee balm in our area is lavender, in contrast to the magenta flowers of domestic bee balm from the local nurseries.


Peonies are beautiful garden flowers that bloom for a short time in late spring and early summer in temperate climates. Two peonies we planted last year in north-central Minnesota came through with gorgeous flowers in late June.

Peonies are known as the “king of flowers” in China, where they have been highly appreciated for over 1000 years. In a recent online poll in China asking which of 10 choices should be the national flower, the peony won the support of 79% of the voters. Peonies have also been a favorite subject for Renoir, and are a common motif in Japanese tattoos.

Giant Mayfly

Yesterday there were huge numbers of the Giant Mayfly (Hexagenia limbata) covering building surfaces facing the shoreline of Leech Lake in Walker Minnesota. The images below were taken on Walker’s public dock.

In the central image above, the Mayfly to the right is male and the one to the left is a female. Males typically are smaller, darker, and have larger eyes.

This species of Mayfly can be found throughout most of North America, but is most common in the Great Lakes region. There are several interesting facts about Mayflies.

  • Mayflies are one of the first insect species to evolve, appearing more than 300 million years ago.
  • As commonly known, they only live 1-2 days in their adult stage (imago), but can live up to two years in the nymph stage, and spend 2-3 days in a sub-adult stage (subimago).
  • The yearly emergence of Mayflies from nymph to subimago stages commonly happens over a very few days. This results in thick swarms of mayflies, so huge that the swarms can be mistaken for storms on weather radar.
  • Mayflies are a critical food source for fish in lakes and slow-moving streams, where they can comprise a significant proportion of the aquatic biomass.
  • Fly fishermen study the habits of Mayflies closely, in particular the Hexagenia, known by them as the “Hex”. Avid trout fishers flock to northern streams when the Hex emerges in late June and early July.