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Fall brings thousands of migrating raptors to the area.
September nights are special with the Dipper swinging low in the north. Soon the moon will color like the pumpkins in the field.
Country dogs set up a howl that city dogs don’t recognize. September nights are marked by fox, raccoon, bear, coyote, bobcat and opossums leaving their marks.
There are the small wild grapes climbing in the trees and fawns eating windfall apples that are fermenting in the grass. There is a pond smell with a murky sourness where the cattails stand.
The cricket is a small, black, ambulatory insect that invades homes in the fall. He rubs his worn wings together and “sings” from under the couch or bookcase, just out of reach. Male crickets “sing,” leaving females with better things to do.
Crickets do not survive winter’s cold. They start rubbing their wings together in August and don’t stop until the wings are completely frayed, or they fall victim to a house cat or a human foot. A new crop hatches in the spring.
The deep lush of summer is gone, and the color of fall is illuminated by the moon. It is a mere glimpse of what is to come.
The fall equinox has arrived, showing no partiality to day or night, and now by the calendar summer is just a memory.
There are now only a few days when day and night are equal in hours. The harvest moon arrives on Sept. 27, and it is always spectacular, arriving early and staying late.
Fledgling birds are ready to head south for the first time. Young fox feel their youthful maturity, barking in the early evenings.
Last spring’s fawns find the windfall apples fermenting on the ground and eat their fill. They are jumpy, spooked even by shadows.
Blue Jays are wary watching the restless migrants leaving and arriving. Soon they will own the woods. Waiting for the sun to warm them, bumblebees don’t begin to stir until noon. Then they begin to work the flowers for nectar.
Spiders are busy spinning beautiful webs that shine in the early morning sun, seemingly held together with tiny diamond-like dew drops.
Broad-wing hawks are moving through the Valley. They arrive last in the spring and leave early in the fall. Other raptors are also migrating from Canada and the Eastern Coast along the Appalachian Mountains on their way to Central and South America.
The birds use thermal air columns to gain lift and glide above the peaks toward warmer destinations.
One of more than 275 nationally designated hawk watch sites, Grandfather Mountain is where you can count on seeing lots of raptors pass through the mountains. I
t and places like Chimney Rock State Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway can always assure raptor-lovers of a good show throughout September into early October.
The hawks don’t typically fly in fog and storms. You can get daily counts at HawkCount.org.
Last fall volunteers counted some 4,616 raptors in 158 hours. The majority were broad-wing hawks at Grandfather Mountain. A total of 12 species were spotted.
Fall migration for songbirds, some butterflies and other insects is at its peak from now until the end of the month.
The phenomena is not exact. Many factors influence migration, including wind, temperature changes and land development that alters migratory patterns.
It can be difficult to get the birds’ travel plans. Also, fall migration is more leisurely. Many birds make strategic stopovers to eat and rest, turning the trek south into several weeks.
Of the many insects that migrate, most people are probably most familiar with the Zebra swallowtail and red admiral butterflies, along with the pink spotted hawk moth, mourning cloak, cloudless Sulphur and cabbage white and Monarch butterflies.
The green darners, blue dashers and painted shimmers in the dragonfly family are among other insects making the seasonal move.
Squirrels are in the September lull now. They shed their tails last month, and now are molting and regrowing thick winter coats.
They aren’t too busy until more acorns start to fall, which is soon.
Squirrels, along with robins and bluebirds, enjoy dogwood berries, of which there are lots now.
Bears are eating almost nonstop now, with some putting on more than 100 pounds before they den.
Raccoons also develop insatiable fall appetites, packing on layers of fat to protect them from winter cold.
White tail bucks are rubbing velvet. Box turtles are hatching. Fall mushrooms are plentiful.
Male grouse begin to drum as broods have scattered. Snakes begin to den.
Black gum, bittersweet and dogwood are showing fall colors.
Keep out plenty of fresh water for bathing and drinking, and bring in the bird feeders, including the hummingbird feeder. Keep out the hummingbird feeders daily through early October.
May you always hear the whisper of wings.