During the first two weeks of October, south winds prevented migrating Monarchs from making a lot of progress on their flight southward. Cold fronts were weak during this time, and wind blew from the north infrequently. On Oct.12 this persistent weather pattern broke, headwinds subsided and thousands of Monarchs were seen migrating through Texas. By Oct. 20 the first Monarchs entered Mexico and by the 23rd the first butterflies had reached their wintering grounds. Follow their progress as they continue to stream across northern Mexico, headed for their sanctuaries, at http://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/monarch.html.
The low water levels in our ponds this fall do have one benefit – visitors leave obvious signs in the exposed muddy banks. It is fairly astounding how much nocturnal and crepuscular wildlife regularly visits these spots and remains undetected by humans under normal conditions.
Black bears are omnivores as well as opportunists. They will eat almost anything that they can find, but the majority of their diet consists of grasses, roots, berries, nuts and insects (particularly the larvae). As the days cool, and the time for hibernation nears, black bears enter a stage called “hyperphagia,” which literally means “excessive eating.” They forage practically non-stop — up to 20 hours a day, building up fat reserves for hibernation, increasing their body weight up to 100% in some extreme cases. Their daily food intake goes from 8,000 to 15-20,000 calories. Occasionally their eyes are bigger than their stomachs, and all that they’ve eaten comes back up. Pictured is the aftermath of a Black Bear’s orgy in a cornfield.
If you share a bear’s territory, be forewarned that they have excellent memories, especially for food sources. Be sure not to leave food scraps or pet food outside and either delay feeding birds until bears are hibernating (late December would be safe most years) or take your feeders in at night.
NOTE: Orders for 2017 Naturally Curious calendars must be received by October 31.
The migration of amphibians from the woodlands where they overwinter to their breeding pools in March is a familiar spring phenomenon to most. However, some of these amphibians engage in a fall migration as well. Amphibians (and reptiles) need to find a good overwintering spot, where they won’t freeze. In some cases, that might be a few feet upstream or into a seepage area, and in others it is a few hundred yards uphill. The extent of the migration and the species participating vary in different parts of the state.
In western Vermont, Jim Andrews, Director of the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas(http://vtherpatlas.org), has observed Blue-spotted and Four-toed Salamanders moving down into wetlands in the spring, staying close to the wetland for moisture and feeding during the summer, and then moving uphill back to wintering areas in the fall. On the other hand, he has found that most Spotted and Jefferson Salamanders, as well as Wood Frogs, move down in the spring to breed, and then head back uphill in stages soon after they are done breeding.
Eastern Red-backed Salamanders (pictured) migrate as needed during the summer to maintain their body moisture, and in the fall, search for an animal burrow or crevice to hibernate in. Migration often occurs at night, while it’s raining, so as to prevent their skin from drying out. (Amphibians need to have moist skin because a large portion of the frog’s “breathing” occurs via oxygen diffusing through the skin. Oxygen will not diffuse through a dry membrane.) After the very dry summer we’ve had, a large number of amphibians were observed taking advantage of the recent rain and migrating.
I’m delighted to announce that my latest book, Naturally Curious Day by Day, has just been released. Like Naturally Curious, it takes a look at species and events that are likely to be seen/occur throughout the year in the Northeast. However, my new book presents new photos and text in a day-by-day format, as opposed to month by month. Each day of the year has anywhere from 2 – 4 entries/photos on subjects as varied as slime mold, sapsuckers and salamanders. Readers of my blog will be familiar with some of the material, as the book contains edited/expanded versions of many of the past six and a half years of posts. The book also includes new entries, short essays and sidebars. A concerted effort was made not to duplicate information found in Naturally Curious.
Naturally Curious Day by Day can be purchased in bookstores and online. If your local bookstore doesn’t have it, they will be able to order it from Globe Pequot’s distributor. I’m hoping it will help those stumped by what to give someone for Christmas! 456 pages, 1,300+ photos. Thank you!
Once leaves start to fall, one often observes white, fuzzy patches along the branches of Speckled Alder (Alnus incana). These fuzzy patches consist of colonies of aphids feeding on the sap of the shrub. In order to get enough nitrogen, they must drink volumes of sap, much of which is exuded from their abdomens as a sweet liquid called honeydew. The honeydew accumulates and hardens onto the branches as well as the ground beneath the shrub. Yesterday’s Mystery Photo was the honeydew of Woolly Alder Aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellates) which has been colonized by a fungus known as black sooty mold, a fairly common phenomenon.
Woolly Alder Aphids produce white wax, or “wool,” filaments from their abdominal glands. Clustered together, these aphids look like a white mold. If disturbed, the individual aphids pulse their abdomens in unison – apparently an effective defense mechanism.
Woolly Alder Aphids, also known as Maple Blight Aphids, have two host plants at two different stages of their lives. In the fall they lay their eggs on Silver Maple trees. The eggs hatch in the spring and the aphids feed on the maple leaves. During the summer a winged generation flies from maple leaves to alder shrubs and establishes colonies. In the fall, some of these aphids fly to Silver Maples and lay eggs, while some overwinter in the leaf litter beneath alders.
Short, powerful, rounded wings and a relatively long tail enable Sharp-shinned Hawks to maneuver in dense cover in pursuit of small birds, which compose 90% of their diet. Small mammals and insects are consumed, but not nearly as frequently as birds. The size of the birds eaten range from hummingbirds to Ruffed Grouse. Long legs and toes (especially middle toes) enable individuals to reach into vegetation and large eyes enhance its ability to catch fast-moving prey.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are familiar sights to those of us with bird feeders – this species is responsible for 35% of 1,138 predation incidents reported at feeders in continent-wide survey. In this photograph, a Blue Jay is successfully warding off an attack by a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk. (Photo by Jeannie Killam.)