As I write this column, it is the last day of October, and another “gem” in terms of the weather, with a forecast for frost to usher in the first of November.October can be summed up as yet another in a long string of months that have been relatively dry (total rainfall was short of the long-term average for October) and warm (3.5 degrees above average, and one day hitting a high of 84 degrees). It was also a fairly windy month: Wind speeds exceeding 30 mph were recorded on 11 days.
Plants and animals have had to rely on the predictable and steady decrease in the amount of daylight as their cue to get ready for winter. Despite the warm air and water temps, deer have shed their reddish-brown summer coats for dull grayish-brown winter fur, and bass and blues have followed schools of bunker out of the bays and into the ocean.
In my neighborhood, there is still quite of bit of greenery in the landscape, and peak fall colors will not happen until sometime in November. The tupelos and red maples have turned, and many have lost a majority of their leaves, but many of the oaks, black cherries and American beech trees here still have lots of green leaves.
The change in day-length cue has prompted many of our small creatures to get busy preparing for winter. Eastern chipmunks are scurrying about collecting acorns and other seeds, stuffing astonishing numbers of them in their expandable cheeks, and depositing them in their underground winter dens.
Unlike the chipmunk, the white-footed mouse is nocturnal and does not burrow, although it will use the burrows of moles and voles. It generally nests above the ground, often retrofitting a bird’s nest with a roof. These are like snow-less igloos in form and also serve as winter quarters with the roof insulating and trapping body warmth.
This species is distinguished from the vole by its more slender appearance, large eyes and ears, and longer tail. It is an excellent climber, and is considered the most widely distributed mammal on Long Island, found in every forest type as well as abandoned fields, shrub habitat and coastal areas, including sand dunes. As with the vole, it reproduces year-round and is very prolific, and its population fluctuates widely from year to year such that, periodically, some areas seem to be completely devoid of this species.
Down at the bay, our fall flowering goldenrods and asters have gone to seed, and bayberry has turned a dark burgundy. The large woody shrubs bordering the upland edge of the salt marsh that are easily overlooked—groundsel bushes—are quite distinctively adorned in their white, cottony seeds.
Among the piscivores chasing bunker along the ocean beaches this past week were bass, blues, seals and northern gannets. The latter are solid-looking, white, albatross-like visitors from the Far North that perform spectacular headfirst plunge dives into the water in pursuit of their fish prey.
Another airborne fish-eater, the bald eagle, was sighted a bit landward of the bunker schools several times last week. Mark Gutzmer reported two juveniles in the Long Pond Greenbelt in eastern Southampton Town, and two adults and one juvenile in Amagansett. As they are known to scavenge a meal as often as dining on fresh meat, the plethora of recently killed deer along our roadsides must look tempting.
Drivers take note: The mating season, or rut, is on for the white-tailed deer; males have one thing on their minds right now, and it does not involve looking both ways for motor vehicles. Females get caught up in the frenzy and have also lost their normal wariness and caution when about to leave the woods and cross a stretch of asphalt.