Fall is coming, but you wouldn’t know it.
Despite having a few cool nights, the days continue to generally be warm and humid. The lawn still needs mowing every week because of all the rain we’ve had. This is one chore I never miss when the grass finally stops growing.
Speaking of rain, it’s not only making the grass and weeds grow, but mushrooms are popping out everywhere, too. Everything from puffballs to amanitas (some are quite poisonous) dot the landscape. Fortunately, Chester, my canine clown companion, is smart enough to leave them alone. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the insects and American toads that he seems to be obsessed with.
I suspect all this foraging is catching up with him. I have no doubt that some of the seemingly tasty insects and definitely the toads are contributing to several episodes of indigestion.
Of course, as the sole member of the cleanup crew, I am less than enthusiastic about this. Every time he goes out now, he is scrupulously supervised, even if I have to take a flashlight with me. I am hoping this is just a juvenile delinquent phase that he will grow out of very soon.
The pace of dropping leaves continues to pick up. While I thought Chester might enjoy jumping into the piles I make, he is much more excited about catching leaves when I blow them out of his kennel. Suddenly he is airborne, barking and acting like a lunatic. It is great fun and cheap entertainment.
On the bird front, the pace of migration is accelerating.
Sadly, many birds will not make it to their wintering grounds because of collisions with buildings. In a recent article I read, a volunteer with a local Audubon chapter in New York City found hundreds of beautiful migratory birds, many of them warblers, littering the ground around the World Trade Center. In this case, several factors caused the high mortality: skyscraper office lights, poor visibility and a storm system with low clouds.
The National Audubon Society has a Lights Out program to encourage office building owners to dim or turn off lights and pull down shades at night so that birds are not disoriented by the glass and artificial light. Even homeowners can contribute to the safe passage of birds by minimizing the use of lights at night. If you want to learn how you can help, look up the Lights Out program on the internet. Every little bit of effort helps birds successfully navigate a journey already fraught with dangers.
Some birds in our yard haven’t received that all important bulletin yet that it’s time to head south. Just this week I saw a pair of catbirds snacking on yew berries. Several hummingbirds are still in combat mode at the feeder. I am hoping the Cape May warblers will make their usual pit stop here before they continue their journey south but I have yet to see any. Frequent storms in the last few weeks could push them through more quickly than usual.
On a bright note, I got the chance to see an unusual visitor at nearby Loch Raven Reservoir a few weeks ago. There have been a number of sightings in the region this summer of Roseate Spoonbills, a bird normally found in places like Florida. Birding buddy Sharon and I made a quick trip to the bridge on Paper Mill Road and there it was in all its blushing pink splendor.
It certainly stood out among the usual crowd of great egrets, great blue herons, sandpipers and kingfishers. I felt like the paparazzi as my camera clicked away and several other people oohed and aahed at this fluff of pink perfection. As for the bird, it could have cared less that we were there as it preened and practically glowed in its star status. It is comical in a way when you consider how its goofy looking bill makes it look like some kind of mashup mistake. It was a treat to see it and it beats going to Florida to view these special birds.
Our viburnum and beautyberry bushes are loaded with berries for the lucky birds who stay here year-round. The extra rain has made the berries plumper than usual, a fact that will not be lost on the robins, bluebirds and mockingbirds who will certainly feast on them as the days grow shorter.
Before the cold sets in, there is one task I need to accomplish for my avian friends. I am going to try to turn my nest boxes into roosting boxes. Many smaller birds, including woodpeckers, chickadees and bluebirds roost in boxes together (by species) in the winter to stay warm.
I will modify a few of my boxes by turning the front panel upside down so that the entrance hole is at the bottom, plug up some of the ventilation openings and add a few twigs for perches. Hopefully, the birds will find them to be warm and cozy havens, especially in bad weather. It’s certainly worth a try and if it doesn’t work, I will go to plan B and find winter roost box plans on line for my partner Jim to build.
As always, keep your eyes on the skies and on terra firma. There is a lot going on in the air and underfoot. Nature never rests.