Autumn’s voice is as subtle as an owl
The screech owls are beginning to trill in the September evenings, joining voices with the other night time serenaders - crickets and katydids. Their voice echoes across the Valley, announcing the approach of another season. The green world is still green, but is accented with red dogwood berries turned scarlet, tiny white asters and large, fluffy plumes of goldenrod. There is no denying - fall is announcing itself, and a bit early as some predicted.
September is ripeness at its best with warm mid-days, chilling dusks and cool, damp dawns announcing another day. Add the owl’s voice to September and you have fall at summer’s gate.
The changes of late summer are more than just shorter days and longer nights. They are the rhythms of the season, the rest and resurgence of all growing things.
The wave of the great rhythm that started back in March has peaked and now begins to ebb. As crickets sing, screech owls hoot, and katydids soften their fiddling, you can hear fall marching down the mountains.
September is full of sound, but unless man listens closely, the silence of fall will subtly replace it. Gradual change is the natural rhythm of the seasons.
Less than another week and summer will be officially a memory by man’s calendar. No season simply vanishes. Summer roots itself in late spring, and fall is the completion of summer before winter begins.
Even before the avalanche of falling leaves starts, the buds of next spring are already on the trees.
The fall screech owl trills to signal its hunting territory. Mating doesn’t happen until the following March. The owls are establishing hunting territories for fall and winter. Any woods close to bird feeders are choice territories.
Songbirds are a delicacy in the screech owl’s diet of insects, worms and small mammals. The fall diet is made up mostly of mice and an occasional chipmunk when hunting is good.
Many screech owls live short, fast lives, often becoming prey for larger raptors. Being mostly nocturnal, screech owls avoid some of their predators such as hawks during the day and other raptors when the sun goes down.
Listen to the songbirds. If bird locates an owl or hawk, an alarm goes out and other birds join in mobbing the little raptor, driving it out of the area.
The screech owls have learned to pick off songbirds at feeders and to reside in human-created crannies. Still the owl remains secretive.
Fall migration for songbirds, butterflies and other insects is at its peak from now until the end of September. The phenomena is not exact. Many factors influence migration, including wind, temperature changes and land development altering migratory patterns. It can be difficult to get the birds’ travel plans.
Also, fall migration is more leisurely travel for many birds that make strategic stopovers to eat and rest, turning the trek south into several weeks.
There is plenty of food left in nature now, so the birds wander, exploring food sources. What one birds knows, the rest will know soon. If you plan to attract winter birds to your feeders, keep the feeders full now to temp the prospectors. The busier the feeders, the safer the area appears to birds, and more birds will be attracted to your feeders.
Black bears are into fall “food lust.” They have eaten their fair share of the summer berries. Research shows they can consume up to 30,000 berries in one feeding.
Berries may be one reason that cancer has not been found in wild bears. It may be attributed to the high antioxidants in the berries. There isn’t much in nature to eat between now and acorn-falling time. Apples will help tide them over. At lower elevations, there are some acorns on the ground.
Acorn drop is a rite of fall, but many people are so used to it that they aren’t aware when it happens. Mike Carraway, head biologist for the Western North Carolina Wildlife Commission, says it will be another two weeks before he knows how the hard mast crop is for the year.
If there are a lot of acorns like last year, which was the best crop in the past 30 years, bears and other wildlife will get fat and have lots of babies the following spring. If it is not a good acorn year, there won’t be many black bear cubs next spring.
Forest life is tightly interconnected and has an intricate food web. The impact of a good or bad acorn crop is reflected in the health of wildlife the following year.
To support fall wildlife, keep out plenty of fresh water for drinking and bathing.
Keep the bird baths clean and the surrounding feeding areas clean.
May you always hear the whisper of wings.