It's harvest time in the mountains

Black Mountain News

If you didn’t end summer after Labor Day weekend, the autumn equinox (Sept. 22) puts an official end to the season by the calendar.  Already the nights are beginning to have a fall cool crispness to them. Days and nights for a very brief time are almost equal in daylight and dark.

Oak trees started dropping acorns early this year.  They felt the impact of Mother Nature’s moods of too much rain, too little rain, severe drought, moderate drought, and finally they begin dropping leaves, acorns and nuts early to relieve stress. The acorn is a major food source for many species including bear, deer, turkeys, blue jays and others.

Green acorns on the ground signals that the trees are dropping them prematurely.  Mature acorns are brown or tan and they usually fall in late September and October.  If it cost the trees too much energy output, they may decide to abort all their acorns.

Oak trees don’t produce a large crop of acorns every year.  Usually acorn production is cyclic, producing a good crop every three to four years. Premature acorn dropping has nothing to do with what winter weather we can expect. It is about stressed trees.

Fall migration in WNC has been in progress since August, with September bringing the biggest flow of birds moving south.  Warblers are still coming through the Valley on their way to winter in central and northern South America from Peru to Guyana, and to the Caribbean.   You won’t see them at your feeders, but look up in the tops of trees and shrubbery because wherever they are they are foraging for insects.  All warblers are restless birds that are always on the move.  Some 42 different warblers travel through the WNC mountains every spring and fall.

Most of the warblers have already molted. The males are no longer brightly colored like they were in the spring, but look much like the more drab females and juveniles.  James Poling, a local birding expert and photographer, agrees that fall warblers can be difficult birds to find and identify.  He said he is still thrilled when he spots one and can identify it.  Being the bird lover that he is he travels to Mount Mitchell at dawn to watch the fall warblers land on the ridges after a long night of flying. Ready to feed and rest, they are preparing for another night of flight.

The American Redstart Warbler is one of the warblers that travels the migratory paths through the Western North Carolina mountains.  The male is black with reddish sides, and the female is a tan color with yellow flashing under its tail.  Some of the birding experts in WNC have reported seeing 10-15 warbler species daily.  The birds may wind up in backyards, but they don’t come to feeders because they live on insects.

The Redstart  Warbler in the spring looks like a totally different bird than the fall one.

The Redstart Warbler flits from one tree and shrub to another to catch bugs.  It holds its wings and tail partly spread, showing off its patches of color as it hovers to catch insects.  It feeds like a flycatcher rather than a warbler.  It often darts out from branches to catch insects like a flycatcher. The males feed higher in the trees than the females. Many warblers cling to limbs and flip upside down while foraging to get the bugs. But not the Redstart. It catches large caterpillars and moths and bangs them on a tree branch before eating them.

The male Redstart usually mates with more than one female and may raise two to three broods at the same time.  The Redstarts returns to mangroves, shade coffee plantations, citrus plantations, wet forest and shrubs in South America to winter.

The Yellow Warbler is the most abundant warbler in the US.

The Yellow Warbler are one of the most numerous warblers in North America.  The brown headed Cowbirds lay eggs in the Yellow Warbler’s nest, and the clever, hard-working little bird often deserts its own eggs and builds another nest on top of the cowbird egg.  One nest was found that had six layers. Common predators of the Yellow Warbler’s nest are garter snakes, squirrels, jays, crows, raccoons, weasels, skunks and cats.  This Warbler nests from the Arctic Circle to Mexico.

You will find the Yellow Warbler foraging for insects from low-growing shrubs up to the tops of trees.  The bird forages alone in the tropics in the winter time, and will defend its winter feeding territory.  It hovers to locate insects on the underside of leaves as well as the tops. It winters from Central America to the northern part of South America. Like hummingbirds, some warblers cross the Gulf of Mexico in one flight, while others take the land route around the Gulf of Mexico.

Keep out plenty of fresh water for bathing and drinking.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.