October Sightings

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The mild weather we experienced in September continued through the first week of October. Bay and ocean water temperatures are still in the high sixties. On October 7, I recorded 69-degrees Fahrenheit in Gardiners Bay (at Barnes Hole Road) and an ocean temp of 67-degrees Fahrenheit at Indian Wells, Amagansett. These are still in the “excellent” range of water temperatures for a long, open water swim even without a wetsuit.In last week’s “In the Field” column, Michael Wright wrote: “There is an absolutely astounding number of bait species in the nearshore waters of the South Fork these days.” I got to witness that firsthand while swimming the stretch of ocean beach in downtown Montauk over the weekend. I came upon a huge school of what appeared to be sand eels, all approximately 2.5–3 inches in length. They seemed to be traveling westward, at least they were all pointed in that direction, and were hugging the bottom just seaward of the point where the sand bottom gives way to algae-covered rock. As Wright noted, it was astounding!

Leaves are just starting to fall. Among the trees, swamp maple, tupelo, flowering dogwood, sassafras, grey birch and hickory have turned. Virginia creeper, a vine, and sumac shrubs are among the most colorful of our fall foliage right now, along with the ubiquitous poison ivy.

Hold off on the urge to crank up the leaf blower. Enjoy Nature’s carpet of colors for a few weeks. And consider giving your neighbors a break, as well as our air quality, by collecting your leaves the old-fashioned way: with a rake. It’s a good, low-carbon-footprint exercise, and you may find that it saves time over pushing leaves along with a noisy blast of air.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that this looked to be a low acorn year. Well, it’s definitely not a “mast year” but my white oaks have been raining acorns all week long. Just after dawn this past week, the grey squirrels have gotten right to work on the neighborhood hickories, climbing high into the canopy and clipping the slender, woody twigs that hold the large, thick-shelled nuts in place, then racing down the trunk to retrieve and store them for another day.

What happened to the monarch butterflies this year? I was hoping that their fall migration was delayed by the warm weather, but the response to that question from all my colleagues was the same: this was the worst year ever for monarchs!

According to the www.monarchwatch.org website, the 2012-13 winter population nestled in the oyamel fir trees of Mexico was at an all-time low number based on 20 years of monitoring. The annual census revealed nine hibernation colonies spread over approximately three acres of forest, as compared to the 2011-12 census that mapped the hibernation sites covering just over seven acres of forest … a 59-percent decline.

First sightings (dates and numbers) of monarchs migrating north are also recorded each spring, and the spring 2013 numbers, despite many more observers, were the lowest recorded since 2005. Biologists were uncertain how much these observations reflected unusually cool spring weather.

Weather, especially temperatures during the first phase of the northward migration (March-April-May) as the monarchs move through the south region (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi) seem to be particularly influential on the overall population of monarchs that will eventually overwinter in Mexico.

Late frosts in the south during the northward migration this past spring may have further reduced an already low overwintering population, resulting in very low numbers reaching Long Island for the summer breeding season.

There is a consensus that a number of factors are impacting the eastern North America population of monarchs. One is the continued logging at the Mexican overwintering sites. Despite a lot of hard work trying to protect those sites, including the establishment of protected reserve areas, small scale logging continues.

Another major factor is the loss of habitat for monarch larvae and adults in the form of host plants (milkweeds) and nectar sources. This problem is attributed to wide-scale herbicide spraying that has increased dramatically since the advent of genetically modified plants (e.g. corn and soybean) that are not affected by the herbicides.

For more detailed information on this complex issue, visit: www.monarchwatch.org/blog/2013/05/monarch-population-status-19/.

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