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Sep 19, 2017 10:36 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

September Sightings

Southampton High School science teachers paddled Sebonac Creek estuary. JEN KELLER
Sep 19, 2017 10:36 AM

Last week brought some classic September weather, sunny and warm but not too hot—perfect for all sorts of outdoor activities: paddling, cycling, hiking and relaxing at the beach to name just a few. Both bay and ocean waters were crystal clear and temperatures are still comfortable for swimming, while the surf kicked up enough to produce fun waves.The humidity and relatively warm nights were unusual for mid-September. I suspect both were related to the tropical storm system lingering far offshore. Saturday morning’s nature paddle on Georgica Pond started off in foggy and overcast conditions, but by the time we reached the ocean beach to look for Monarch butterflies it was beginning to clear. The trip was timed to coincide with the peak of the Monarch’s southerly migration to Mexico, where the third generation of Monarchs, hatched on Long Island in late August and early September of this year, would be headed.

Although overcast, it was a warm morning with a light southeasterly breeze, and conditions seemed reasonable for observing these beautiful insects on their flight path along the ocean beach. However, Monarchs mainly rely on the position of the sun, adjusted with the aid of their internal “clock” to set their southwesterly course to Mexico where they overwinter, and they may have sat tight on their previous night’s roosting spots until the sun burned through the fog and cloud cover.

We did manage to glimpse a single Monarch flying southwesterly across the south end of the pond as we paddled back to the launch area on Montauk Highway. The population of Monarch butterflies has declined by 90 percent over the past 20 years, and that decline seems to have leveled off. There are a number of things contributing to their overall decline: conditions and damaging storms at their overwintering sites in Mexico, availability of their host plant (milkweed) for egg laying and larval development on their northerly migration in spring, and availability of nectar from flowering plants during their southward migration in fall.

Some researchers have pointed out that Monarchs have the ability to rebuild their population quite quickly over the three generations hatched in spring en route north from Mexico and the three generations hatched in summer at their northern ranges.

Georgica Pond’s salinity levels follow a gradient from just inside the ocean beach where it is most saline north to the area closest to the highway where groundwater seeps keep it completely freshwater. That upper portion of the pond is bordered by freshwater vegetation, including willows, red maples and tupelo trees. The latter two were ablaze in fall colors: the tupelos sporting burgundy-colored leaves and the maples an assortment of red, orange and yellow foliage.

On Monday afternoon I set off to paddle a portion of the Sebonac Creek estuary with teachers from Southampton High School’s science department. It was another overcast day with an easterly wind but warm and pleasant for a paddle. The estuary was quiet, with very few shorebirds sighted. A few great egrets and great blue herons stalked the marsh edges for fish prey, and an osprey circled overhead, while the most numerous piscivore that late afternoon, eight double-crested cormorants, lined up on the gunwales of a tender to dry their water-saturated feathers.

Hurricanes and tropical storms aside, this is the best time of year to get out and paddle our tidal creeks and marshes ... enjoy!

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