Nature Notes


Was that it? Is the summer gone already?

There will still be days that are hot and sticky, but the rotation of the earth, the angle of the sun and the diminishing day length are taking us unrelentingly into autumn. The fall is a fantastic season for wildlife viewing. Birds are migrating, the pollinator gardens are buzzing with activity and mammals are going about the business of putting on weight in anticipation of leaner times to come. In addition to the increase in animal activity, trees are starting to lose their leaves, opening up the forest and making it easier to spotcritters as they go about their lives.

Birdwatchers don’t have to go far to be entertained. This is the season of greatest diversity in the park. Walking the perimeter of the parking area at Paddy’s Creek is always a good choice, especially during the early morning as the sunlight first hits the tops of the trees. Colorful warblers, cryptic thrushes, high-flying hawks and a host of others will be using the habitats around Lake James to rest and refuel as they make their way south for the winter months.

The birds don’t have exclusive rights on migration. Some insects conduct seasonal movements as well. Monarch butterflies are most famous for this and October is the month we’ll see the biggest numbers of these boldly-patterned, orange and black beauties as they fly thousands of miles to a single mountaintop in northern Mexico.

During September we will start to get an idea of the amount of hard mast that will be available to resident animals and birds as they prepare for winter. Trees like oaks, hickories and walnuts produce these nuts annually, but the amounts vary widely from year-to-year. These hard-shelled power pills are important for white-tailed deer, black bears, wild turkeys, blue jays, gray squirrels, wood ducks and many others. The sound of acorns dropping onto the forest floor is the first indication that our animals will be healthy and happy when the bleakest winter days take hold.

We’re still a long ways from that though, so make sure you walk the extra mile or two on the trails.

Hope to see you out there!

Nature NotesMolly Sandfoss