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Sep 30, 2019 1:40 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

September 2019: Going, Going, Gone

Sep 30, 2019 2:52 PM

Our weather for the month of September was notable for its overall warm temperatures (2.4 degrees above average for the month) and lack of rainfall (3.2 inches below average for the month).It’s possible that this combination is responsible for the unusual end of September fall foliage situation. Tupelos are generally the first native tree to don fall colors and begin dropping leaves, while the American beech is the last. However, the tupelo leaves in my neighborhood are still a lush green, while the big beech out front started losing its leaves last week.

Although we’ve had some cool nights, Gardiners Bay is still registering a summer-like 72 degrees. The bay’s microscopic plankton community composed of both plant (phytoplankton) and animal (zooplankton) has decreased dramatically, most likely in response to the shorter days, and the water visibility is excellent, typical for this time of year.

September is notable for a spike in white-tail deer and gray squirrel roadkills. Deer are entering their breeding season, and the focus of hormone-charged bucks on mating is thought to be the root of the fall roadkill uptick. For squirrels, the increase in encounters with motor vehicles is likely the result of foraging for, collecting and storing their favorite winter food: acorns.

Notably absent this month is the pitter-patter of acorns falling from oaks onto roofs, decks, patios, overturned SUVs and kayaks, and other backyard surfaces. This looks to be another poor mast year, with low numbers of acorns, hickories nuts and beech nuts. All are key winter survival foods for turkeys, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, mice and voles. Deer have been out foraging along roadsides and in backyards in the middle of the day this past month.

Speaking of wildlife and roads, I’ve noticed lots of turkeys with their young-of-the-year in tow feeding on the edges of roads this month. There’s a species that rarely gets hit by a motor vehicle.

Flocks of robins and catbirds have been busy foraging on fruit this month, a major shift in their diet from a summer of insects and other invertebrates. Among their favored fruits this month are dogwood and tupelo berries. These have just ripened and are rich in lipids, and make an excellent fuel for the migration south. Sharp-shinned and Coopers hawks fuel their fall flights with songbirds, and follow these flocks around. Wary prey will accidentally dart into windows to escape; even my 14-inch-wide windows get struck several times a day in September. This morning’s “strike” was a catbird, momentarily stunned but able to fly off.

Our dominant fall flowers, the asters and goldenrods, are in full bloom and attracting all sorts of hungry bees, moths, butterflies and other insects. My backyard asters dominated the garden this year, spreading via tough rhizomes and outcompeting most annuals and holding their own in the milkweed patch. Many bees (I’m guessing they are our most common bumblebee — Bombus impatiens), either exhausted from a 10-hour-long day of collecting pollen or too full of nectar to fly home, snuggled into a soft bed of aster petals to spend the night.

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