nature’s magic

Fireflies by Xenmate

The songs of birds, cicadas, and katydids really make Southern summers special. Quickly, can you tell me the difference between a cicada and a katydid? Which sings by day, and which sings by night … Ponder that.

Unlike past summers, this one brings rain. So far, at least. And with the rain comes life. Lawns are lush and for whatever reason I’ve noticed that fireflies seem more abundant. Come dusk, they float over and around my deck, something they’ve never done before. Past summers they clung to the edges of woods, flitting here and there, males flirting with females below. Males, making their distinctive rise, glow, then fall mating dance, fill the air with sparks. Now, they bring their light show right to me when I am on the deck come evenings. Dozens flicker gold; it’s a marvelous thing, one of nature’s more magical events.

As day gives way to night, nature gets busy. Just before dark falls, ravenous birds descend on my feeders. During this show, the air fills with the sounds of singing insects, and hummingbirds add their hum to the chorus, stopping by the “filling station” a few more times.

The Season of Wings is upon us. That also brings insects. Given the rain we’ve had, mosquitoes are plentiful. I manage them okay, however. Wasps and bees join the mix too but yellow jackets, fortunately, lay low. Seems autumn is the time they’re most active. Overpowering all sounds, the songs of cicadas and katydids dominate a Southern summer. It sounds as if billions of them fill the trees and air as they take wing among the trees.

Memory takes me back to youth when my mom first talked to me about katydids, which take their name from their repetitive song. Mom told me their name was “Katy did.” Just what Katy did she didn’t tell me. The years rolled on and I heard them but never saw them. I went a long time without seeing a katydid, then one day a strange grasshopper landed near me. Bright green, greener than grass, it was. No wonder it’s so hard to see them way up in the treetops where they chew leaves.

Consider a katydid a grasshopper that leaps and flies among the treetops singing its song. It belongs to the family Tettigoniidae, which I have no clue how to pronounce, but I can tell you that when you hear that repetitive accusation, “Katy did,” it is nighttime.

As for a summer day, it wouldn’t be the same without cicadas, which seem to love the heat of day, singing best during sultry hours. The volume and pitch rises and falls. You’ll hear cicadas’ “in-and-out responding silence of noise” more than you see them, being elusive like katydids. Katydids and cicadas work shifts serenading us: katydids by night and cicadas by day.

Cicadas belong to the superfamily, Cicadoidea, which again I can’t pronounce. Their appearance is a bit imposing compared to katydids, with bulging eyes and coloration that isn’t as attractive. Cicadas look brutish; katydids delicate.

The Season of Wings … If you are so lucky as to get away from civilization’s trucks, leaf blowers, lawnmowers, and sirens, if you find yourself in a secluded bit of wilderness, you can hear quite a concert. Imagine chatter, squeaks, whistles, peeps, warbles, scratchy notes, and pure calls such as the bobwhite quail and the guttural, almost coughing of crows and now and then the piercing cry of hawks. Then comes an afternoon thunderstorm that unleashes rain and the song of frogs. Joined by choruses of crickets, cicadas, and frogs, the music of nature is a beautiful thing. As dusk falls, the crescendo of katydids takes over. Wildlife is noisy but it isn’t noise at all.

The Season of Wings brings feathery splendor to the land and that means birdsong. About ten days ago, a bird in my backyard sang like no other. At first I couldn’t spot it. Too many leaves. Each morning, I opened my patio door and slid the screen into place to better hear the beautiful melody. It sounded like unbridled joy, sheer jubilation. What kind of bird is this I wondered. Finally, it flew to a pine limb where I could clearly see it, a grey catbird.

Day after day, it took its place on that same limb singing its heart out. Then one day it was gone. I suppose mating season ended and with it the catbird’s song. I miss it, but the Season of Wings brings more music to the land. Just now I stepped outside. A crow calls, some unidentified bird sings, a dove coos, and the cicadas give rhythm to the day. It’s soothing and something I’ll miss come winter. Enjoy summer and its songs for you had better mark my words; the Season of Wings will fly by.


Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of fourteen books, 550 columns, and more than 1,200 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, and South Carolina Country Roads. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground.

He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks to groups across South Carolina and Georgia. He’s the editor of Shrimp, Collards & Grits, a Lowcountry lifestyle magazine.
Governor McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon him October 26, 2018 for his impact upon South Carolina through his books and writing because “his work is exceptional to the state.”

Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He grew up in Lincolnton, Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina.

Visit Tom's website at Email him at [email protected].