Natural events, October 2015

October was warm and dry, continuing in the pattern of September. The first two-thirds of the month brought 0.11″ of rain, and given the last rainfall of > 0.5″ had been all the way back on September 12, things were getting pretty crackly. Thankfully, the last nine days of the month gave us about an inch and a third with a gentle, soaking delivery. We technically saw the first frost crystals on October 3, but a killing frost was slower to come. The morning of October 15th brought the first crop-damaging frost (on a night that had been forecast above 45 until a few hours before dark). The next two nights, which had been forecast as clear and in the 30s, didn’t yield a single ice crystal, and instead we woke to dense cloud cover. Such is weather.

oct_natural_sumacSumac is about as reliable as it gets in offering a nice show of fall color. Fragrant Sumac on the right. Some of our maples put on nice shows of color, as well.

oct_natural_landscapeHowever, leaf color was overall relatively subdued, as these photos suggest. In the upper photo, the tall grasses are Big Bluestem and Indian Grass that we planted in an attempt to re-establish some stands of native, warm-season grass. They’ve been slow to take hold on this badly eroded upland site which had significant zones of bare soil when we moved here, but each year shows improvement.

oct_natural_baby_turtleCuteness in a nutshell, or rather next to one. Remember that Three-toed Box Turtle nest from the June natural events post? Well, apparently they hatched. In preparation for cover cropping, I (Joanna) was gently removing some weeds with a scuffle hoe in the vicinity of the nest, the corn long gone from the site, and I noticed a depression in about the right spot. So, I dug down about an inch with my finger and found this little cutie. There was at least one more below that, but I didn’t want to disturb the nest further, so I didn’t go any deeper. I had read that they may continue to use the nest for some time after hatching. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this area. We love the fact that this nest could co-exist, and succeed, in the same location as a patch of corn, that evil mono-crop of industrial agriculture. Of course, in our case, we grew the corn without tillage or chemicals, in an ecologically minded way.  A nice example that agriculture and wildlife need not be mutually exclusive.

oct_natural_fishDry weather is sometimes the best time to explore aquatic life, as they become captives in small pools. In spite of having authored reports on fish habitat, fish ID is still mysterious to me. Any readers have a suggestion?

oct_natural_geol

Stream walking also yielded some other finds. Left: Our stream bed contains some large chunks of fossilized plant trunks, though some of the bigger pieces–such as this one–are submerged anytime the stream is flowing. Center: A gastropod in one of the carbonate layers of bedrock; this is a large one, a bit bigger than a quarter. Right: Though we have found artifacts in the stream bed, this broken point came out of the sweet potato beds. Harvest time for potatoes or sweet potatoes is one of the best times to find artifacts in our fields, which is where most of our discoveries happen.

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We’ve had a surprising number of years in which we haven’t checked off “Wild Turkey” on our October bird list, and we would’ve missed them this year, too, if our trail cam hadn’t gotten this photo. Deer also fit into the we-know-you’re-there-even-if-we-haven’t-seen-you-lately category. We often don’t see many through the summer months, but then the pesky creatures tend to become visible sometime in October. This year, it wasn’t until October 30 that we chanced to see one in person, but the trail cam confirmed that they’re around and active, with the majority of photos documenting activity at night. Only very late in the month did we begin to see signs of scrapes in the woods.

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Some plants of note, from left to right:

  • The blue of a late-blooming Common Chicory flower looked out-of-place against the otherwise autumnal color palette of a late October day.
  • Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus) has pretty fruits at this time of year.
  • The appropriately named Seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia) has seed pods of an interestingly box-y shape. The seed pods caught my attention years ago in an open, upland site, but the last few years I’ve looked for flowers/seeds and not seen them. The plant seems to be a moisture lover, and so perhaps these only bloom on this site in years that are wet in early-to-mid summer; this year sure qualifies.
  • Autumn Olive, an annoying & aggressive invasive, puts on berries in the fall that can be a tasty snack on a walk, a sort of consolation prize for having to put up with this otherwise annoying shrub/tree. The berry yield wasn’t particularly high this year, which is great, since we don’t need more seeds and more plants popping up all over the place. Although Autumn Olive fits on our short list of most-hated invasives, this plant also has the most side benefits of any plant on that list: nitrogen fixation, blossoms that smell heavenly in spring, and tasty fall fruits.

oct_natural_moths

A couple of moths, thus far unidentified. The warm weather mean butterflies and moths continued to be active through the month.

oct_natural_chrysanthemum_insects

A stand of chrysanthemums near our house hosts an impressive insect extravaganza. They bloom beginning in mid-October, and on warm days during their bloom period they are often swarming with insects. One warm afternoon in late October, I took about half an hour to watch and photograph; the diversity was impressive. The photos above show arthropods that were large enough and still enough for me to photograph, but many more were too small or fast to capture by camera. A number of these seem to be bee-mimicking flies. The lower right photo is of an ambush bug with prey.

In bird news, October was exceptionally birdy. The species count wasn’t out of the ordinary, but the landscape seemed full of birds for much of the month. Large flocks of grackles showed up on a few occasions in early October, and later in the month, large numbers of sparrows and robins kept up the activity. We also had one interesting new arrival: Red-headed Woodpeckers. We had technically seen one fly over the farm some time in the past, but we’ve never seen them interacting with the farm. Until now. A group of juveniles (with gray, not red heads) showed up and started caching acorns in various places, suggesting, it would seem, that they’re thinking of settling in to stay. Since our first sighting of them on October 14, they’ve been a regular feature of our local bird-scape. It’s pretty exciting to have them; we only hope they don’t like tomatoes and apples.

6 thoughts on “Natural events, October 2015

  1. I’m going to guess from my moth ID book that the moth on the left is a rosy maple moth. Other one may be a walnut sphinx?

    I erroneously talked about red-headeds in another post of yours where you were discussing red-bellied woodpeckers eating your crops. This is my first year to see red-headeds in decades. I was very excited to get a nesting pair and now have a ton of the immatures, with their grey heads (that are starting to get red tinges) and grey and white plumage.

    I have found that the red-headeds are aggressively territorial. They are a constant chatter and movement. I haven’t actually seen or heard any red-bellies in the near vicinity since the red-headeds staged their invasion. Have you? I do still see my downies and nutchatches. I have heard the pileated but more down in the valley; not close.

    • Yes, our Red-Bellies are still around and vigorous, though they do seem to be having a bit of a turf war with the Red-Headeds. We haven’t observed the RHs going after any other birds. Yesterday Eric observed a Pileated using a nesting cavity without incident even though there were four RHs in the near vicinity. Maybe here there’s enough dead trees and nuts for all, right now.

      • A follow up on my October post. I do still have red bellies and do also still hear Pileateds in the valley. I too have a pretty large number of dead trees. There has been a huge bumper crop of Downy’s this year and I’m also already seeing Hairy woodpeckers at the feeders.

        And I am seeing red-bellies. But what I am not doing is hearing them. Where they used to be the loud-mouth in the neighborhood, now I see them sneaking into the feeders on the quiet. But it sure is nice to still see them.

  2. Thanks for the ID suggestions! Here’s an update:

    I did a little searching and submitted sightings to the Butterflies & Moths of North America (BAMONA) website, http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/, and here’s what I have so far:

    Dawn is correct that the yellow & pink moth is a Chickweed Geometer:
    http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Haematopis-grataria
    It’s certainly interesting that a number of moths share that similar yellow/pink color scheme, including the Rosy Maple Moth that Robin mentioned.

    The one on the right is a Straight-toothed Sallow Moth:
    http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Eupsilia-vinulenta
    I came up with the ID for this one on my own, and BAMONA confirmed. I flipped through the butterfly & moth book that I have (which happens to be for Arkansas) and thought it was holding its wings most like a few specimens in the family Noctuidae. I then went to BAMONA and spent some time looking through the photos from that family, which took a while, since it is a big family, but this was the only one I came across that reasonably matched to my eye.

    There are two moths in the panel of chrysanthemum photos.
    I don’t yet know what the one in the corner is. I submitted it to BAMONA but without an ID guess.

    The black one to its right is a Yellow-collared Scape Moth:
    http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Cisseps-fulvicollis