Late October Sightings

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Paddlers on last week’s Accabonac Harbor trips were treated to some spectacular fall foliage. High tide allowed us to venture up the mosquito ditches for a close look at the source of the brilliant crimson color in the salt marsh. It was the low-growing succulent that resembles a miniature cactus called glasswort (Salicornia spp.). This edible plant is easily overlooked in summer but impossible to miss at this time of year.Small flocks of yellowlegs (I’m not sure which of the two species we observed) were the dominant bird in the marsh. Common loons usually limit their visits to the deep waters near the inlet, but we found them plying the shallow waters of the inner harbor in search of fish and crab prey. Which were they catching? That is difficult to determine, as loons will often swallow their small prey underwater before they resurface.

Great blue herons have replaced their relative—the great egret—in the harbor. None of the latter, very common during the summer months, were seen last week.

One of the highlights of the tour was a group of five deer out on the upper marsh. Two, with heads down facing each other, appeared at first to be grazing on something. That seemed odd with all the acorns and hickory nuts available on the ground in the adjacent forest. Were they feeding on the glasswort for its salt content?

I reached for my binoculars and realized they were not feeding at all. The two with their heads down were bucks; they had locked antlers and were engaged in a shoving match. The three others, all does, watched.

Of course, we were witnessing part of the white-tailed deer’s annual mating ritual, also known as the rut. Bucks are no longer interested in food. Changes in hormone levels result in physiological and behavioral changes in the mature males: neck muscles thicken, they become very aggressive and less wary. This is the time of year when many deer get hit by cars—bucks because they are less wary and does because they are being chased by bucks.

Paul Frediani encountered a buck over the weekend while cycling down Napeague Meadow Road. The buck raced alongside the cyclist at a 16 mph clip for a full mile. It was probably trying to position itself in front of him to lock antlers with his handlebars.

Mixed flocks of songbirds are everywhere. I’ve had a few visits by large flocks of noisy grackles and starlings, and some less conspicuous flocks of sparrows and juncos. On the ocean, long lines of hundreds of black scoters formed just beyond the outside breaks, while on the beach a sole Monarch butterfly passed by.

I was hoping that the lack of Monarchs during their peak migration here might be the result of a warm fall and a delayed movement. But it appears that this will go down as a very poor year for this species. Let’s see what the Mexican overwintering surveys reveal in a few months.

My backyard is now carpeted with white acorns; none have sprouted yet. Screech owls are very vocal in the neighborhood as they announce the bounds of their winter territories. Cricket songs have decreased markedly with the cool nights, but a few are still singing.

I was woken up early Saturday morning by the sound of a car speeding by and a screech of tires. Expecting to find a dead opossum or raccoon, I learned that the victim was one of our resident box turtles, probably en route to its overwintering site in the nearby swamp. This was very unfortunate, as it was the last road it needed to cross until late spring.

Within my small, three square block neighborhood, this marks the second box turtle roadkill this year that I am aware of. They will hopefully survive in the large Nature Conservancy preserve bordering Barnes Hole Road, but those venturing out into Barnes Landing have a slim chance of surviving.

On a brighter note, Eric Salzman reports both mature and young bald eagles near his home in East Quogue. East coast bald eagles are making a comeback following a precipitous population decline stemming from pesticides.

The cool nights of recent have finally pushed water temps into the normal range for late October. Water temperature at my favorite swim spot, Barnes Landing, registered 56°F on Monday, October 28, a drop of some eight degrees in one week!

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