August Sightings

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Goldenrods are beginning to flower, one of many prominent signs of the transition from summer to fall. Blooming among the more than 20 species of goldenrods found here on Long Island will stretch well into October, with the last blooms fueling the amazing migration of the Monarch butterfly south to Mexico.Goldenrods get a bad rap among the general public, as well as some professional landscapers, for inflicting us with pollen allergies. Their pretty, brilliant yellow flowers are actually pollinated by insects; the pollen sacs are too heavy and bulky to become windborne. The hay fever culprit is often ragweed, a somewhat similar-looking plant that grows in the same type of habitat. For a well-done presentation on this issue, and how to distinguish between the two see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cg4eeQHqt7I.

Goldenrods are one of Eric Lamont’s many botanical research topics here on Long Island. Those readers who are keen on botany may be interested in the following link to a key that Eric devised to distinguish among the many species found here: http://www.libotanical.org/newsletters/0205.pdf.

Beach plum preserve aficionados are keeping a close eye on their favorite stands of Prunus maritima. Most I am watching are close, but not quite ripe enough yet, for picking.

Speaking of unripe fruit, I noticed that many oaks have aborted their acorns recently. The forest floor and pavement of oak-lined streets is littered with tiny, partially developed acorns. I’m not sure why this happened, or if our local acorn-lovers will eat them, but they will certainly not sprout into oak seedlings.

Days are getting noticeably shorter, and last week’s Thursday evening nature paddle returned just after sunset, which is now close to 7:30 p.m. Perhaps it was a function of the low humidity or maybe it was just the brilliance of the marsh grasses at this time of year, but the counter-clockwise paddle of Northwest Creek’s marsh-fringed shoreline was quite spectacular in the early evening light.

Screech owls have been vocalizing in my neighborhood most nights over the past week. This tiny owl measures less than nine inches from bill tip to tail tip, but would measure closer to five inches tall when perched. They have a remarkable ability to change their shape from a squat, oval when relaxed to an elongated, stick-like appearance when alert. Their classic call is a high-pitched, descending whinny and is commonly heard at this time of year as juveniles disperse and seek unoccupied habitat. The calls identify areas that have no vacancies for homeless youth.

Gardiners Bay and Block Island Sound is an important overwintering area for the common loon. Immature common loons, those that are too young to breed, don’t bother migrating north to nesting areas, but stay here on their wintering grounds where their preferred fish and crab prey are plentiful. I rarely see this large diving bird in the shallow inner harbors or tidal creeks, but Pete Weis reported three loons swimming in Accabonac Harbor, west of Wood Tick Island in an area where the average depth is less than four feet, this past week.

Eighteen trawlers were counted off Main Beach, East Hampton over the weekend. Apparently they were trawling for squid. Squid is the first big cash crop of the year for local trap fishermen, but several local baymen say they never materialized this past spring. The most common species found in this area is the long-finned squid (Loligo pealei), reaching two feet in length. Its tasty meat is eagerly sought by recreational and commercial fishermen, as well as seals, porpoises, whales, bluefish, bass and mackerel. Fishermen use bright spotlights to attract squid to their fishing gear. Some deep ocean species can reach sixty feet in length and are the favored prey of sperm whales.

Long-finned squid is an extremely short-lived and fast-growing species that reproduces just before it dies at the ripe old age of 6-8 months! The entire population replaces itself every six months or so. Because of this, they can handle relatively high fishing pressure.

Long-finned squid move in schools from their wintering grounds far offshore into our bays and harbors in late April and May, migrating back offshore in November to warmer waters near the Gulf Stream. They reproduce year-round, with two spawning peaks: one in winter and the other in summer. Females lay hundreds of two-inch-long, banana-shaped, gelatinous egg capsules, each containing as many as 200 eggs, for a total of between 3,000 and 6,000 eggs per female. Mass spawning creates communal egg clusters that adhere to one another such that they can resemble a mop. They are apparently unpalatable to most potential egg predators. The egg clusters are attached to seaweeds and other bottom debris, and hatch in as little as 10 days in warm water.

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