September 2014

September 2014

The Autumn

Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them —
The summer flowers depart —
Sit still — as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart.

— Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1883

Summer in Kent fades. Autumn’s subtle signs ratchet up to a riot of color and change.

9/1     A great spangled fritillary has been feeding on the sedum in my garden for the past several days and finally allowed me to get close enough to take this shot before flying away.  — Lou Tartaro

Great Spangled Fritillary on flowering sedum
A welcome garden guest. Photo: Lou Tartaro

We counted nine migrating raptors at the Chestnut Ridge Hawk Watch today, including two broad-winged hawks and seven ospreys. Also counted were ten ruby-throated hummingbirds, 21 barn swallows, and one monarch.  — Dan Schniedewind, Tait Johansson

9/2     Grandson Jack proudly displaying 2 giant puffballs, Calvatia gigantea, harvested on North Horsepound Road. Typically they are found right in the open on lawns – as was the case with these which have been fruiting on the same spot for the past 3 years. I suspect there is a buried stump or wood pile underground. My guess is that mushroom Parmesan will be appearing on the dinner menu soon!  — Lou Tartaro

Photo of boy holding two very large puffball mushrooms
Jack the Giant Harvester. Photo: Lou Tartaro

Four days ago I picked some dill for my salad. As I was about to place it in my container I noticed something black on the dill, an early stage black swallowtail caterpillar, an eighth of an inch long, that had hatched a few days earlier. The host plants of black swallowtail caterpillars are parsley, dill, carrots, and Queen Anne’s lace. It is important to sacrifice the small amount that they feed on. If you want butterflies around your home, put in some host plants for the butterflies to lay their eggs on. I put the sprig of dill in a small jar with some water and placed it near a window. Today I had a truly a beautiful half-inch-long caterpillar, with white stripes and yellow and black spots. When it gets to be two inches long, it will turn into a chrysalis.  — Jim Steck

Photo of a green, black and yellow caterpillar on a celery plant
“Who are YOU?” said the caterpillar. Photo: Kim Smith

August is over, yet the three H’s have just arrived: hazy, hot and humid days. Phew! Temps almost reached 90° today. It was steamy and uncomfortable. Mold is growing in the garden and in the basement, but it’s perfect weather for ripening tomatoes in the garden.

Photo of closely packed red ripe tomatoes
Tomato season! Photo: Beth Herr

9/3     The Wilderness Act is 50 years old today. Over 110 million acres of forests, canyons, rivers, wetlands and mountains have been saved for all people and wildlife. A gift for us today, absolutely essential to the future of humans, these wild lands are money in the bank. In Kent we have an abundance of wild land, protected by the Gypsy Trail Club, New York State, New York City and the Putnam County Land Trust. We don’t have to go far to enjoy the benefits of open space; rejuvenating and restorative, nature awaits us.

9/4     While doing the backstroke in the cool, sparkling water of White Pond, I spied a bird circling high in the sky. As I watched it careening in and out of cumulus clouds, I realized there was more than one bird. Then soon a high riding swirl of birds moved lower so that I could see: at least 30 nightjars were riding the thermals and heading south.

The night chorus is robust. The sounds of some crickets rivals the spring peeper cacophony. Listening carefully one can tease out the sounds of at least eight species of tree crickets including snowy- and black-horned, four ground crickets including the tinkling cricket, two bush crickets, 16 possible bush- and tree-katydids and coneheads including the rattler and the gladiator.

Photo of green northern bush katydid (Scudderia septentrionalis) on a red zinnia
Hiding in plain sight. Photo: Beth Herr

Storms rumbled through Kent all evening long after a scorching day in the 90s. We’re getting our August in September. Several cloudbursts passed over with much lightning and cracking thunder, leaving a half-inch of rain and keeping leaves well watered. Kent will have an extended fall foliage season. Given the recent cool summer, perhaps there will actually be a frost this year to brighten the yellows, oranges and reds of autumn.

9/6     A strong thunderstorm at day’s end cooled the hot pavement and air. A minor heat wave, overdue from August, ends, and autumn returns.

In nearby Wappinger it was mid-morning when they began to glide in, silently at first, waves of common grackles, males and females, alighting in the forest. We had to estimate their number, and once it reached 100, we realized it was a lost cause. The woods soon echoed with their chatter as their numbers increased. After a twenty-minute respite, they were off, leaving in waves as they arrived, heading southwest toward the Hudson River.  — Tom and Phyllis Lake

9/8     The full Harvest Moon, the one closest to the autumnal equinox, shone brightly. The Wappinger people probably called this the Hunter’s Moon as they were intent on procuring their protein for the long winter.

9/10     Since I needed to make a longish phone call I decided to use my cell phone and make it in the back garden on this spectacularly beautiful September day. The butterfly bushes around our patio were busy with bees, butterflies and other six-legged visitors. But one of them stood out from all the others, giving me something to follow around as I talked. Though I was quite close, I didn’t recognize it. When my call was over I snapped a photo and did a little research. It seems the visitor was a great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele). Common enough, but new to me!  — Dave Ehnebuske

Photo of a great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele) on a butterfly bush bloom
It must be fritillary season in Kent. Photo: Dave Ehnebuske

Ed note: There have been several sightings of this and the meadow fritillaries, not so much the other varieties. The preferred food plant for the caterpillar of the fritillaries is the common violet and it is preferred by deer, too. Leave some in your garden if you find violets creeping in, they are an important weed.

9/11     Cool, cloudy, and misting most of the afternoon. Rainfall total only a quarter inch. Most folks in the Kent Recycling Center are wearing sweaters and hoodies. Time to put the summer clothes away?

9/12     Winds from the north swept the clouds away and brought clear blue skies. At dusk, along the defunct Maybrook railroad tracks by Ice Pond, we counted over 300 wood ducks coming in for the night, whistling and chortling to their mates and friends. What a ruckus they made before quieting down for the night. Fall migration is in full swing for songbirds, raptors, water fowl and hummingbirds. Even the green darner dragonflies are gathering in warm meadows.

9/14     I spotted a young fox loping along lawns on the north side of Route 6 in Brewster near the Middle Branch Reservoir! A friend who lives on Nimham Mountain Road counted 23 snapping turtle hatchlings on September 13. This included observing hatching! Isn’t that amazingly late?  — Diana Lee

Ed note: Every fall, roughly 3 months after they’re laid, snapping turtle eggs hatch. The hatchlings’ gender is determined by the temperature at which they were incubated during the summer. Eggs at the top of the nest are often significantly warmer than those at the bottom, resulting in all females from the top eggs, and all male from the bottom eggs. In some locations, the hatchlings emerge from the nest in hours or days, and in others, primarily in locations warmer than northern New England, they remain in the nest through the winter. When they emerge above ground, the hatchlings, without any adult guidance, make their way to the nearest body of water, which can be up to a quarter of a mile away. Once there, they seek shallow water. From Naturally Curious by Mary Holland.

Nights have been surprisingly cool for early September. One morning it was only 42°, silencing most insect sound. Evenings are different – a cacophony of jingles and chirps, scraping and trills. The songs of more than twenty kinds of crickets and trigs rival the early spring chorus of peepers. It almost sounds like jingle bells, and sometimes mimics tinnitus!

9/14     This was a breakout day at the Chestnut Ridge Hawk Watch for migrating raptors. We counted 2,311 broad-winged hawks including kettles of up to 450 birds. Also counted were 11 monarchs, more than 320 tree swallows, 15 northern rough-winged swallows, 55 cedar waxwings, and 6 ruby-throated hummingbirds.  — Dan Schniedewind, Allen Kurtz, Chet Friedman, Christina Lupoli, Ed Williams, Tait Johansson

“Kettle” is a birding term that describes an aggregation of birds, usually raptors or vultures, often circling overhead in warm, rising thermals. It is the circular movement of the group that appears like a cauldron of birds being stirred by the wind, thus a kettle. While kettles can occur almost any time of the year, they are particularly common during fall migration.  — Tom Lake

9/19     It was another day with a fair numbers of broad-winged hawks at the Chestnut Ridge Hawk Watch, but in smaller kettles of less than 100 birds rather than the larger aggregations we had been seeing. We also spotted a good number of osprey and sharp-shinned hawks. Other species included brant (3), tree swallows (57), cedar waxwings (28), and one monarch butterfly. Current selected season totals were 5,847 broad-winged hawks and 374 sharp-shinned hawks.  — Dan Schniedewind, Allen Kurtz, Chet Friedman, Christina Lupoli, Tait Johansson

9/20     Many of today’s migrants at the Chestnut Ridge Hawk Watch were visibly struggling against the southerly winds whenever they tried to gain altitude, sharp-shinned hawks most of all. Also counted were a dozen monarchs (blown around by the wind even more than the hawks) and 9 ruby-throated hummingbirds. Current selected season totals were 5,852 broad-winged hawks and 406 sharp-shinned hawks  — Dan Heldridge, Chet Friedman, Christina Lupoli, Tait Johansson, Walt Fowler

9/23     The autumnal equinox occurs today, with equal hours of night and daylight, and marking the beginning of our fall season.

9/25     Heavy rain into the night, marbled salamanders must be on the move. Unlike most amphibians that respond to warm spring rains, marbled salamanders migrate in the autumn looking for mates and water-filled depressions to lay their eggs.

9/26     Look what hatched today!  — John Foley

Photo of a newly hatched wood turtle having a first look around

Photo of ten baby wood turtles
Each day the world is born anew for him who takes it rightly. (James Russell Lowell) Photo: John Foley

The Friends of the Great Swamp volunteers have been tracking populations of wood turtles for a number of years. From late May to early June on warm humid days, volunteers watch for female wood turtles to nest. Once the turtle finishes laying her eggs, they are carefully removed, then placed in a nesting exclosure to keep out raccoons, skunks, coyotes, shrews – who will dig underground to seek a reward.

9/28     Katydid and cricket song is at high crescendo.

In October watch for:

  • The full moon and total lunar eclipse on October 8.
  • Autumn colors beginning with the maples and birches. By month’s end only the oaks and beeches will hold their leaves.
  • Berries of all sorts. Maple-leaved viburnum, winterberry, juniper, dogwood fruit will be plentiful.
  • The return of the slate-colored juncos from their nesting grounds up north. Catbirds fatten up.
  • The Orionid meteor shower the night of October 20-21. See EarthSky article for details.
  • Asian lady beetles. They’ll bombard sunny walls and windows looking for a warm wintering spot.
  • Witch hazel blooms.

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