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Sep 26, 2017 11:02 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

September Sightings

This year’s acorn production appears low and many of the nuts are very small. A normal-sized acorn is shown on the left. MIKE BOTTINI
Sep 26, 2017 11:02 AM

We experienced some very unseasonal weather this past week: very warm days and nights; fog and humidity more like July than late September; and some very hot, clear, sunny days typical of early August. In fact, on Sunday, August 24, the closest national weather service station located in Islip recorded a high for the day of 89 degrees, a temperature that was 18 degrees above “normal” for that date and beat the previous record high for that day, set in 2009, by 6 degrees.During my midday nature hike in the walking dunes last Saturday we ran into something I have never experienced in late September: hordes of mosquitoes! Unfortunately, they were not limited to the small freshwater wetland areas but bugged us all through the beach heather and pitch pine forest sections. Many of the cranberries in the local bogs are ripe for picking, but there’s no small price to pay for the free berries: your blood. Clouds of the newly hatched insects descended on the warm-blooded mammals in our group, even those that had covered themselves in mosquito repellent.

Apparently the box turtles are enjoying the warm September weather as a number of people reported seeing them, perhaps getting their last meals before settling into their cool weather hibernacula. Long Island’s box turtles spend more than half the year chilling out in their hibernation sites.

Just after composting and reseeding bare spots in his lawn last June, Walter Cook noticed something digging around and making a small mess of his hard work: a female box turtle excavating a nest to lay her eggs. Knowing that box turtle eggs are predated by a wide variety of animals and very few survive to hatch, Walter assembled a protective screen over the nest.

Box turtle eggs usually hatch sometime in August, but as of last week there was no sign of the hatchlings. It’s not uncommon for the hatchlings to emerge from their eggshells but sit tight in the earthen nest until the following spring, deciding to forego dealing with the dangers of the outside world for a while and using their nest as a hibernation site.

It’s also possible that Walter witnessed a ‘false nest’ and something prompted the female turtle not to lay her eggs at that site.

The seeds of our dominant forest type, the oak-hickory forest, have ripened and there are not many of them this year. Unlike the falls of 2015 and 2016 when it rained acorns and the ground beneath the oaks in particular were carpeted with nuts, this year our nut crop is meager and the acorns are quite small. In my area the white oak nuts are approximately a quarter of the size of a normal acorn, barely protruding from their beret-like caps.

Acorns and hickory nuts are important fall food items for many wildlife species to fatten up on in preparation for winter, or to cache away for a winter snack. Here on Long Island, where snow cover is intermittent and often melts within a few days of falling, deer and turkeys will forage for the highly nutritious nuts along the forest floor well into spring.

It will be slim pickings this winter. Gray squirrels and chipmunks are busy collecting what’s available for their winter larders, an activity that requires many road crossing each day in the more developed areas here, and increases their chances of an encounter with motor vehicles. The roads in Springs are littered with squirrel carcasses this time of year.

My backyard chipmunks are excellent climbers but generally stay on the ground. This past week they have been climbing my largest oak, I assume to harvest some acorns in the canopy as there are very few on the ground.

Bucks have been marking small trees and shrubs with their antlers, and the white-tailed deer’s mating season is about to begin. Keep in mind that this is a time of year when vehicle collisions with deer are most prevalent, so be especially vigilant.

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