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Oct 3, 2017 1:49 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Early October Sightings

Oct 3, 2017 4:41 PM

The classic September weather that so many people look forward to, and some refer to as “Indian Summer,” with clear, warm, sunny days, cool nights and no humidity, did not arrive this year until nearly October. It was worth the wait.Last Friday’s nature paddle in the coves of Sag Harbor happened to fall on one of those classic September days. Schools of small silversides, with fish measuring in the 1.5- to 2-inch range, moved around trying to keep out of harm’s way of the schools of larger (6- to 8-inch) bluefish. By early November the silversides will have doubled in size and moved out of the coves headed for Montauk Point, the Atlantic Ocean and their wintering grounds on the continental shelf, as far as 30 miles offshore. The blues will follow, with some continuing farther south to winter off the Florida coast.

While running on the ocean beach I came upon two interesting sightings. One was a 6-inch-long, very slender, silvery fish that resembled an elongated silverside. This was a sand lance, also known as a sandeel because of its eel-like shape and its habit of swimming as eels do with lateral undulations of their slender bodies.

As with the silversides, this is a favored prey of bluefish and many other piscivores, including striped bass. It’s possible that, in escaping a hungry school of blues or stripers, it swam too close to the shorebreak, was tossed up onto the beach by a wave, and was stranded in the wrack line.

Unlike the very delicate silversides that can expire surprisingly quickly in a seine net, the sand lance is quite hardy and flopped about on the wet sand, and in my hand, until released back into the surf. It lacks a swim bladder, an adaptation that apparently enables it to more easily burrow out of sight into bottom sediments, another habit it shares with eels.

The other interesting find on the beach was a mole crab in the process of molting, or shedding its shell. The front portion of the old shell, with the feathery antennae visible, was loosely encasing the animal but fell off as soon as I picked it up. The new exoskeleton had not yet hardened, and its rubbery appendages were too soft to efficiently dig down into the safety of the wet sand.

This specimen was quite large, 1.25 inches in length, and most likely this would be its final molt. I scooped out some wet sand to create a tiny puddle in the intertidal zone, and placed the fragile crab there, where it was able to slither into the soft substrate and out of sight.

Some readers mentioned that they were able to see quite a few Monarch butterflies last week. Richard Poveromo counted 53 on a beach walk last Friday. Monarch Watch lists the Monarch’s peak fall migration for this latitude (41 degrees north) as extending between September 8 and 20. I’ve been using their “midpoint” date to schedule the annual Monarch watch at Georgica Pond: the Saturday or Sunday closest to September 16.

Those dates don’t seem right for the East End. Most Monarch movement seems to be the last weekend in September and early October when another closely related nature event is peaking: blooming of the seaside goldenrod, an important Monarch nectar source.

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