October is a transitional month into winter in nature
The end of October is the sundown of the year. The month closes with lingering sunshine and often mild breezes by midday, after mornings with bite. The sounds of dusk are subdued as night approaches.
Just before the katydids went silent, Kay Carter in the Shope Creek area had a once-in-a-lifetime experience with nature. She spotted a pink katydid on the side of her house. She was lucky to get a photo of the unusual insect.
Katydids come in the familiar green color, and then there are yellow, orange, bright pink and even red ones. One researcher laughingly said you are as likely to see a unicorn as you are a pink katydid. Carter is waiting for the unicorn to appear.
For the pasts five years, researchers at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans have bred pink katydids. They say the results are challenging everything they knew about the genetics of katydid coloring.
The pink ones were first seen in nature in 1874 and have inspired more than a century of discussion. It was originally thought that their color change was seasonal, like the changing leaves. More research proved that incorrect.
Researchers accept now that rainbow-colored katydids occur as a result of erythrism - a genetic mutation controlled by recessive genes that causes a prevalence of red pigmentation.
Kate Shawgo noted when she heard the first katydid song this summer. It was eight weeks to the day of the first frost of fall. The katydid may be as good a weather predictor as are forecasters.
Robins are on the move. They have one of the most erratic migrations of any bird. Wanderers, they move in flocks as most birds do, because wandering gives them more protection from predators, especially hawks. The flocks can be as few a 20-30 birds or as many as several hundred. They avoid areas with deep snow, not due to the cold, but because the earthworms that they depend on have migrated deep into the ground and are no longer available. When earthworms seek the warmth of the earth, robins change their diets to fruit.
Robin migration is far more complicated than just a move south. There is a lot of individual variation of how far they go and where they spend the winter. They have a huge fall and winter range. Some robins migrate thousands of miles, and others don’t migrate at all. Far more than females, males are likely to not migrate and to stay farther north during winter. Females move to where they are assured of good food supplies for winter.
When the males staying north for the winter run low on berries, they start to wander looking for food. If the robins have found a reliable food source, they stay close to it until it is depleted and then move on in their wandering fall and winter pattern. They also roost in thick coniferous trees to stay dry, warm and protected from rain, snow and wind.
Robins have to drink and keep their feathers clean in the winter. Backyard water sources are a great boost to winter robins. Dirty feathers lose a lot of their insulating factors. When they are on a mainly berry diet, robins also eat suet in the fall and winter to get the protein they need.
In the fall, robins begin preparing for winter by putting on several layers of insulating body feathers. Nomadic robins may winter in Texas one year, and then the next winter some of the same birds may be found in Florida or southern Georgia. Food supply determines where they remain for the winter. Researchers have found that only about 25 percent of juvenile robins survive until November, and many experienced adults die during migration.
Unlike some of the neotropical birds migrating, juvenile robins travel with adults, learning the migratory patterns from them.
It is time to start watching for unusual hummingbirds that may stop by for a sip of nectar. In 1999, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences began investigating occurrences of unusual and unexpected hummingbirds in the state during October to March. Report a vagrant hummingbird sighting on line at naturalsciences.org/hummingbird-sighting-report.
Daylight savings time ends at 2 a.m. Nov. 1, but birds are on their own time. It is the humans that watch and feed them that have to adjust the clocks back an hour.
Keep out plenty of water for bathing and drinking, and if you have sighted an unusual hummingbird, you may want to keep out a feeder. Otherwise you can clean and store your hummingbird feeder until next April. Bring in the seed feeders at night.
May you always hear the whisper of wings.