Sunday, 18 November 2018

Weekly Nature Watch: Funny Little Things

Weekly Nature Watch: Funny Little Things
19 Oct

Fall has arrived and with it have come a few funny and interesting things. Mostly, Mother Nature goes about her business in an expected, predictable way. Many migration arrivals and departures happen on the same days, year in and year out. Many young birds fledge in exactly X number of days and so on and so forth. The sun rises, the wind blows, and the tide goes in and out.

Sometimes, though, little surprises happen. A fish from the tropics shows up in Cape Cod Bay. A bird from Europe ends up in Provincetown. Birds are born late in the year and barely fledge before the snow flies. An unexpected abundance of young squirrels running around causes mayhem on local roads. A rose blooms in November.

October is a funny month. It’s warm enough to wear flip-flops and shorts one day and cold enough to consider wearing fleece jackets and hats the next. If you think it’s confusing to us, imagine being a critter that depends on warm enough temperatures to survive.

Wide fluctuations in temperature can fool our cold-blooded or ectothermic friends in ways that can be life-threatening. Most of these animals are getting ready to go dormant or hibernate and the gradual decrease in light as well as the decreasing temperatures are cues for their preparations to continue. Light is more important than temperature, according to recent studies, but a really warm day can throw some of these animals off, especially young and inexperienced ones. One sometimes finds cold-stunned frogs and turtles on a chilly morning after a warmer-than-usual day. Most of these animals warm up as the day goes on, if the day itself warms up. Some, however, never make it to hibernation—or anything else, for that matter.

Goldfinches are well known to be late nesters. They often wait until mid-July to begin courting and nesting, and the young fledge in late August and early September, just in time to take advantage of thistles and other seedbearing plants going to seed.

Knowing that, I was still surprised to find newly fledged goldfinches chasing their parents around begging to be fed this week. They still had their short tails and could barely fly but they were happily feeding on evening primrose and thistle seed in my back yard. Goldfinches don’t migrate, so there was no immediate concern for them, but it still seemed a bit strange.

Another recent family gathering in my yard was also a bit mysterious. I have a breeding pair of song sparrows that had a third brood at the end of the summer and they brought their youngster to feed on seeds outside my studio window. There was another small bird, sort of brownish, traveling with them. The more I looked, the more I realized it wasn’t another sparrow. I sent a few photos to a local bird group and the bird was identified as a young cowbird by an expert. I should have known that, but it seemed so late. All the other young cowbirds were looking much more grown up and feeding with their flocks all over town. One enterprising female had obviously decided to take a chance on a late nest and for once, it worked—for both one sparrow fledge and the cowbird. Again, not knock-your-socks-off amazing but a little different.

Some of you may be seeing raccoons, foxes and even coyotes out and about during the day. Once thought of as totally nocturnal, these now suburban animals have acclimated to diurnal or daytime foraging as well. There’s no need to worry if you see one of these unless they seem very agitated or ill. In that case you should call your local animal resource officers to check out the situation.

This is a great time to get out and about; enjoy the fall weather and see what surprises await you.



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