Late August brings signs of fall

Barbara Hootman

Late August brings easy-to-recognize signs that nature is moving toward fall. A later sunrise greets each day and an earlier sunset puts the day to bed. There is also a shift in the quality of light in late August. The sun’s arc flattens in late August which usually means less intense heat in the afternoon.

Black-throated Green Warblers are migrating through the Valley.

Tiny box turtles crawl in the vegetable and flower gardens, and fledgling birds big as their parents are learning the ways of hunting for their own food. Many of the migratory fledglings will be on the wing south in a couple of weeks with built-in brain maps of where to go, how to get there, and how to recognize the place where they are to spend the winter (which they have never seen previously).

Male hummingbirds have started traveling south, averaging some 20 miles a day.  Females head south later, and many juveniles will stay around until late September.  August through October are peak fall migration months.  Many songbirds migrate at night, dropping down to feed and rest during the day.  Migration is demanding, and birds have to refuel and replenish energy with rest. Wind direction and rain play key roles in when birds move.  Most birds wait until they can get good tail winds to make flying easier.  Watch for unusual birds during late summer and fall.

Most fledging birds look like their mothers.  Usually they have shorter tails because the tail feathers are still growing. Chickadee fledglings follow their parents to bird feeders and watch them select seeds.  They either sit quietly watching, or flutter their wings insisting on being fed.  Birds stop feeding their young after about three weeks.

Black-throated Warblers are migrating through the Valley, following the insects that make up their diets.

Late August belongs to industrious spiders who insist on building new webs every day.  Waterfowl migrations has begun for ducks and geese.

Some second-litter gray squirrels are moving about in the leaves of the nesting tree.  Those that wind up on the ground are usually found by predators. It is a dangerous time for baby squirrels because of free-roaming cats, raccoons and other wild creatures that find them to be a tasty meal.

Cardinals and other year-round birds are resting their territories now.  They leave their home territories for a few weeks after the last clutches are on their own. This is the first time they've been free to roam and since early spring.

Ducks are entering their eclipse period of molting.  The males look like the females for a few weeks.  Ducks molt in a short time period. As the males re-feather, they enjoy a bit of autumn flirting with the females.  Many cannot fly during molting time.  Canada geese are grounded until they grow new feathers.

The first wave of migrating warblers is evident.  It isn’t until early September that the skies are full of numerous kinds of warblers on their way to winter in southern Florida, Mexico, Central America and the West Indies. They literally follow the insects that make up their diets. A few of the Black-throated Green Warblers breed in Western North Carolina’s high mountains.  James Poland has seen one near Mount Mitchell recently and sighted two on the wing two weeks ago. They not only breed in WNC’s higher elevations, but in the mountains from the Appalachians to Canada.  Nesting season is over, and they are on the move to find the best feeding areas.

The warblers are small, energetic birds, that may end up in your backyard looking for insects this fall.  The male Black-throated Warbler sings persistently during breeding season. During nesting season he is too busy catching insects for the babies and feeding himself to sing.

The male and female Black-throated Warblers have several similar plumage characteristics.  They both have a yellow face, an olive-green crown and back, and two white wing-bars.  The male has a black chin, throat and breast with bold streaks down its sides.  The female’s chin and upper throat are white or pale yellow, and the black across the chest may be splotched.

Baby black bears investigate most things in their environment.

While migrating, the Black-throated Warbler includes fruit and non-hairy caterpillars in its diet. 

There are Goldfinch fledglings, and there will be more as August draws to a close.

The hummingbird feeders are busier than ever, with fledglings joining their parents. The migration of hummingbirds has begun.

Some Cardinals may look bald as they molt.

Chickadees begin forming pairs again.

Purple Martins are on their way south; juveniles will follow by the end of the month.

Ospreys are migrating through the Valley on their way to Central and South America.

Continue to take in the bird feeders by late afternoon.  Bear appetites continue to increase daily. Black bear cubs are beginning to mature quickly.

Keep out plenty of water for drinking and bathing.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.