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Nov 6, 2017 3:02 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Nature In November

Among our winter visitors that arrive this month from points north are harbor seals and scoters (visible in background). MIKE BOTTINI
Nov 6, 2017 3:46 PM

This past October gave us some beautiful summer-like weather, but ended on a more typical autumn note as the temperature finally dropped below the 40°F mark on the 31st. Although many of our forest trees were still sporting a coat of green leaves on November 1, this month ushers in the end of autumn and the beginning of the winter season. By month’s end, our deciduous trees and shrubs will be completely bare of their foliage and our landscape will take on the dull brown-gray hue of winter.Our native flowering dogwoods had already lost most of their leaves in October, but their brilliant red fruits remained. Those were hit hard and gobbled up last week by flocks of conspicuously dark-colored robins. The darker shade is the trademark of the more northern race of Turdus migratorius that nests in northern Quebec, Labrador and Newfoundland.

Other northern breeders that arrive this month to overwinter here on Long Island include the scoters (white-winged, black and surf), common and king eiders, common and red-throated loons, and juvenile snowy owls. The common loons that are too young to breed will remain here for one or two summers, and their interesting and easily recognizable calls are a pleasant addition to our bay wildlife.

Schools of river herring will move south through the East End bays and sounds later this month, and close on their tails will be northern gannets and harbor seals. Significant numbers of the latter will remain into April before heading north to their pupping areas on the Maine coast. There is evidence that a few harbor seals have given birth to pups here on Long Island and Massachusetts, but the major pupping areas are farther north.

In our estuaries and tidal creeks, there is no sign of the recently ubiquitous fiddler crabs, hermit crabs, grass and sand shrimps, mummichogs and striped killifish. All have either moved into deeper water or burrowed into bottom sediments for the winter.

Last week’s hard blow out of the west enhanced the eastern Peconic’s ebb tides and slowed the flood tides. The cumulative results was a lower than normal low tide that exposed large sand and mud flats in our shallow harbors. The herring gulls took advantage and were busy harvesting medium-sized whelks that they were able to grab with their beaks and fly over to the nearest paved road. There, from a height of 50 or so feet, they would drop their cargo in hopes that the shell would crack on impact and exposed the soft, nutritious meat inside.

There are always several surprising nature events every month that seem a bit out of character with the season, and November is no exception. Our latest flowering plant, witch-hazel, will bloom this month. According to the U.S. Forest Service website, its bright yellow, stringy petals attract moths, which pollinate the flowers.

Another odd event this month involves the marbled salamander. Autumn rains raise water levels in our vernal ponds, flooding areas where the female salamanders laid their eggs just a few weeks ago, and allowing those eggs to develop and hatch into aquatic larvae that will overwinter in these temporary ponds, getting a head start on our other salamanders that mate and lay eggs in late winter (tiger salamanders) or early spring (spotted salamanders).

And while most wildlife species are getting ready for the rigors of winter this month, the great-horned owl is vocalizing to establish its nesting territory and attract a mate. They will lay eggs sometime in January, picking a tough time of year to incubate, but, as with the marbled salamander, giving their young a head start on other species come spring.

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