August and February, which follow the persistent heat of July and the deep freeze of January, are not beloved months; on the surface, they appear to offer more of the same. But, unlike their predecessors, these months produce clear signs of a transition to the glorious seasons of autumn and spring. August may bring stifling heat and February may harbor severe winter storms but, toward the end of each month, the solar cycle is having significant effects.
In late February, the lengthening days coax snow geese from their coastal marshlands and send them northward across the Great Plains of North America. In our own suburban yards, snowdrops and crocuses poke through the warming soil while, out in the wetlands, spring peepers and chorus frogs stir from their winter retreats. For naturalists in the Midwest, all of these events are welcome signs of the coming spring.
August, often depicted as a hot and dusty month, brings the first evidence of the mild and colorful fall. Migrant shorebirds stop to rest and feed along our lakes and reservoirs and, late in the month, a host of water birds (gulls, terns, white pelicans, waders) congregate at favored staging sites, preparing for their seasonal journey. Asters and goldenrod brighten the grasslands and the brilliant flame of sumac heralds the season of crisp air and painted foliage. As the days continue to shorten, flocks of common nighthawks circle southward in the evening sky and a chorus of fiddlers (katydids and crickets) ushers in the cooler nights. Like February, August brings early signs of relief and the hope for better days ahead.