The hot and humid summer season is flying by. Sweltering days spent in social distance are blending together, leaving some of us to scramble for a moment of quiet and peace. We can all use an excuse for a walk on a breezy day, realign our nature connection, and take in the color and diversity that make summer on Nantucket such a special season. Here’s a photo blog to show you the vibrant bounty waiting for you outside the reach of air conditioning.

A wet meadow filled with Rhexia (pink) and Xyris (yellow) flowers,
photo by Neil Foley

The wet meadows around Windswept Bog have been putting on quite the colorful show lately. Since cranberry cultivation at Windswept was phased out in the Spring of 2019, our ecologists have been putting in a ton of work to document the plants and wildlife in and around these bogs in preparation for a massive wetland restoration project. (Read more about that project planning in our recent blog). The wet meadows have been very productive with flowering Meadow Beauty (Rhexia virginica), Slender Yellow-eyed Grass (Xyris torta), and a few species of carnivorous Sundews in flower (Drosera intermedia and rotundifolia).

Rhexia virginica and rushes, photo by Neil Foley
Rhexia virginica blooms, photo by Neil Foley
Tiny carnivorous sundews in the wet meadows of Windswept, photo by Neil Foley
Rhexia at golden hour, photo by Neil Foley
Rhexia flower at golden hour, photo by Neil Foley

Dragonflies and Damselflies are in full effect as the heat of the summer brings out their abundant prey. These colorful and agile predators belong to Order Odonata and are quite carnivorous as both aquatic larvae and aerial adults. Over 40 species of these insects live on the Cape and Islands during the summer and they can be distinguished by their size and vibrant color patterns.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) at Milestone Cranberry Bog, photo by Neil Foley
Azure Bluet Damselfly (Enallagma asperum) at one of the Wigwam Ponds
photo by Neil Foley
Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) at Squam Farm
photo by Neil Foley

Pollinators have also been quite active to take advantage of these showy blooms. An influx of Monarch Butterflies has been noted across the island as they lay the late summer generation. Because of the multi-generational migration in this species, caterpillars seen now will metamorphose into adult butterflies and produce offspring that will begin the migratory journey back south to Mexico in September.

A hungry Monarch Butterfly larva (Danaus plexippus), Photo by Neil Foley

Many other pollinators are not as overtly showy as the Monarch. The quarter-sized Eastern-tailed Blue caught my eye as it rested. The undersides and body are ghostly white, but the open wings display a subtle, but beautiful shade of iridescent blue.

Eastern Tailed-Blue (Everas comyntas) at Windswept
photo by Neil Foley
Bombus Bee at Windswept, Photo by Neil Foley
Bombus Bee Pollinating Rhexia at Windswept,
photo by Neil Foley
Buckmoth Caterpillar (Hemileuca maia) a state-listed Species of Special Concern
photo by Neil Foley

Cranberries are still present in Windswept, even after cultivation on this property has scaled back. In a single day on one patch, I was able to see multiple stages of cranberry life cycle and observe the developing bud that will form next year’s flower.

The last of the Cranberry flowers for the year (Vaccinium macrocarpon), Photo by Neil Foley
Developing Cranberries waiting for early frosts to turn bright red (Vaccinium macrocarpon), Photo by Neil Foley

Last year’s cranberry still holding to the vine (Vaccinium macrocarpon), Photo by Neil Foley

Other fragrant and showy blooms are in full effect on the Eastern side of the island. The heathlands are starting to turn golden with the eruption of Pityopsis falcata, the Sickle-leaved Golden Aster, an endemic to the sandy glacial deposits that formed Nantucket. Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum) is a vibrant red blossom that stands out against the green that surrounds it in Squam Farm.

Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum) is a bright red spot in the lush woodland edges of Squam Farm,
photo by Neil Foley
Fragrant Water Lily floating atop the kettle ponds of the Middle Moors (Nymphaea odorata),
Photo by Neil Foley

As the heat of the summer begins to leave us, be sure to pay attention to the thrilling sights of flora and fauna still to come. Covid can’t stop Nantucket from being a year-round showcase of true New England biodiversity and beauty.