- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
Sunny summer evenings in southeastern Pennsylvania are enchanting and become more so as summer progresses.
Starting late in May, I often sit on our deck or lawn during summer evenings and enjoy seeing the green grass, trees, and shrubbery drenched in golden sunlight. I like to watch the daily activities of one or two cottontail rabbits and the several kinds of birds summering in our neighborhood.
I enjoy experiencing the passing of puffy, white-and-gray cumulus clouds overhead as if in review before the blue sky. With imagination, I see innumerable, ever-changing shapes in those clouds. And I deeply inhale the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle flowers on a neighbor’s fence.
Each evening, several chimney swifts careen swiftly across the sky in hot pursuit of flying insects to eat, catching those insects in their wide mouths. Those swifts provide exciting entertainment to anyone who watches for them.
Soon after sunset each evening from mid-June to the middle of July, hundreds of male fireflies emerge from the grass roots where they spent the day and walk up grass stems and take flight like tiny helicopters, all the while flashing their cold abdominal lights.
Each firefly flies and hovers upright, blinking its signal to female fireflies still in the grass. They, in turn, glow, beckoning the males to them for mating. The fascinating beauty and our enjoyment of those many male fireflies constantly flashing their beacons is beyond measure. They, alone, make summer evenings enchanting.
At first overlapping the activities of swifts and fireflies, a half dozen little brown bats leave their daytime roosts as dusk deepens and flutter swiftly across the sky after flying insects. Those bats, too, are entertaining to watch swooping and diving after their prey and are beautifully silhouetted against the orange or pink — but darkening — sky.
Each dusk, from late July through August, in our neighborhood, as elsewhere, a variety of small, green tree crickets fill the trees and shrubbery with their loud trilling or chirping, according to the kind.
The common snowy tree crickets, for example, produce measured chirps that are more rapid in higher temperatures.
All that fiddling, which brings the genders of each species together for mating, is caused by the insects either rubbing their wings together or both wings and legs together, depending on the kind. The friction of that scraping causes the music we enjoy hearing on our lawns each evening in midsummer.
Their lovely colors softened by humidity, rosy or orange sunsets slowly fade while bats, fireflies, and tree crickets dominate our neighborhood. Trees are silhouetted black against the still-glowing sunset in the western, northwestern, and northern parts of the sky.
Venus appears bright in the western sky but slowly sinks to the horizon as Earth turns on its axis. Bats zip through the fading sunsets and stars become visible.
Sunny summer evenings in southeastern Pennsylvania are truly enchanting. They are peaceful and soothing to human souls.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.