Nature Detective Notes: early Autumn 2017

A much cooler Summer than in year’s past, following a much wetter March-July.  According to meteorologists, we may moderate a bit as we move into October and November, so what is “cool” for one month will be “warm”, or just right, for the  next.  Oh, how the weather WILL dictate our observations!!

Indian Tobacco or Lobelia inflata

Here is a list (and description) of what I have seen, heard, felt, smelt during September at Moose Hill:

Wildflowers – most Goldenrods are in peak flower at this point in the season and we see a great number a variety of them in our fields and open forests (look for the Blue-stemmed Goldenrod). There are also a few different species of Woodland Asters with Small White Aster, White Wood Aster, and Whorled Wood Aster, being the most common. The tall (up  to 10 feet at times) Joe Pye Weeds, with their pink ball of flowers, have begun to go to seed and a few Lobelia’s can be seen in the open, moist forests such as the Cardinal Flower and Indian Tobacco, a small plant with tiny, blue flowers. At the summit of Moose Hill, you might get a chance to see those purple New England Asters and at the bottom of Moose Hill’s main driveway, you might  notice the fragrant, 4-petaled, white flowers of the vine-like, Virgin’s Bower.

Need help identifying wildflowers? here are a number of websites or books that might be useful to you:

Fall Wildflowers of New England – a fun breakdown of flowers based on a few different factors, including by the flower color you see; good pictures.

Welcome to Wildflowers of New England – may not have all the flowers in our area, but nice pictures and descriptions.

Wildflowers of New England  – a relatively good book regarding New England’s wildflowers but I also recommend having a few other books for additional drawings that can be very helpful in identification such as Peterson’s Field Guide and Newcombe’s Field Guide.

Insect Choristers – Yes, it still seems that I am fanatical about trying  to describe these little creatures and tell you all about them. As a musician of sorts, it all comes naturally to me so here goes, briefly, that is:

1) Daytime choristers (warmer days = singing; cooler/rainy days = quiet, generally speaking)

  • Cicadas – on warmer days (70’s on up) we can still hear the “sawlike” buzzing of those dog days of summer Cicadas, the last species that  seems to emerge from the ground in our area and points northward; a few Lyric Cicadas out there still, with their very noisy rattle heard up in Oaks and other deciduous trees;
  • Ground Crickets – that high-pitched, raspy trill we hear during most mornings, throughout the day, and into the night; very hardy and will sing until the first hard frosts;
  • Sword-tail Crickets, or Trig – the Handsome Trig is the most common species in our area; also produces a raspy, high-pitched trill (almost sounding like a wire “shorting out”), but it is found in our shrub layer, NOT on the ground, like the  previous crickets; a southern species that has made its way northward over the years;
  • Rattler Round Katydids – large, green, and hardly seen, these insects make a lower-pitched rattling and are found in the low vegetation areas of our open forests (think: the “woodlands” along our Vernal Pool Loop;
  • Meadow Katydids – a host of species out there that produce high pitched trills and shuffles, yet the most easily heard is our Lesser Pine Katydid that is found up in….Eastern White/Pitch Pines!;
  • Conehead Katydids – no, not related to Beldar from the old SNL, but a group of katydids that tend to produce “clear, mechanical” songs, most being quite loud; the Sword-bearing Conehead sounds like the “ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ecc…” of a lawn sprinkler (can also be heard during the night time hours); the other one in our area, the Round-tipped Conehead, produces a loud, almost ear-piercing buzz akin to our Cicadas; both species are found in grasses and within fields of goldenrod;
  • Tree Crickets – later in the season, a few species sing into the daytime hours, such as the Narrow-winged Tree Cricket (short, low-pitched trill heard mostly during dawn and dusk), the Two-Spotted Tree Cricket (sounds similar to the  last one, but has raspy breaks in its song), and the Pine Tree Cricket (a lovely, peaceful trill heard high up in  our pine trees). Note that all species produce a “pure tone” liken to an organ versus a “piano keys tinkling” that Ground Crickets seem to make.

2) Night time Choristers (warmer nights = MORE species sing, and at faster rates; cooler nights = less species that sing, and at slower rates)

  • Tree Crickets – the daytime choristers written about above will also sing during the night time hours, along with a few others such as the common, Snowy Tree Cricket, whose song sounds like a more “musical” beeping of a car alarm (“beep, beep, beep, beep,” over and over and over and…, slowing down when the temps get into the 50’s); If you too, are musical, think: 2/4 time during warm nights
  • Field Crickets – that familiar chirping we know well; occasionally, sing during the  daytime hours in low vegetation
  • Jumping Bush Crickets – an odd species that is rarely ever seen, but certainly can be heard with each individual making short trills on a different (yet lower) pitch; sounds like an “orchestra warming up;” found in shrub layer and around housing developments
  • Trigs – often will sing through the night later in the growing season
  • True Katydids – the unmistakable, slow paced and deliberate, “CH-CH, CH-CH-CH” (“ka-ty, ka-ty-did”, ecc) heard high up in deciduous trees and produced by an amazing “file and scraper” located on both their hind wings and dorsal, stridulatory shield; in our area they will sing till early-mid November at times
  • Oblong-winged Katydid – a very similar song to the True Katydid, but weaker sounding, higher-pitched, and given at a faster rate; found in shrub layer along roadsides or within fields of goldenrod
  • Bush Katydids – these guys produce of series of “tsips” and “clicks”, and are sometimes seen more than heard; most live high up in the trees
  • Angle-winged Katydids – the familiar, loud, “tick, tick, tick, tick, ecc.” Heard on the tops of small trees during early Autumn is produced by this species; not commonly seen, it blends in well with the green foliage like its cousins  another species that has migrated northward over the years

Here is a good website regarding our chorusing insects, and is put together by Elliot Lang and Will J Hershberger who wrote the book, Songs of Insects.

Other late Summer-early Autumn Insects: loads of Bumblebees gathering pollen/nectar, various wasps doing the same (those like Paper Wasp, metallic Halictic Bees, etc. Are especially fond of goldenrod), Hornets hunting for an insect meal and adding both girth, and dimension, to their large, paper hives; Syrphid Flies (a “bee mimic” of sorts) becoming more common on those wildflowers mentioned after the first frost; yellow-brown Ambush Bugs are still active on goldenroads, carefully staking out a meal to pounce on; dragonflies such as Meadow Hawks and Darners searching for an insect meal over meadows before they either take a permanent nap, or migrate south.

Frogs!: Gray-tree Frogs call occasionally and can be heard trilling (short duration and on different pitches, much sweeter sounding than those Jumping Bush Crickets) during daytime hours when the temps rise above 70 degrees and humidity in the air increases;  the “autumn chirps” of our tiny Spring Peepers can also be heard in most forests, especially near wetlands;  while the Gray Tree Frogs, True Frogs, Toads, and our reptilian friends start to hunker down for the cold months ahead (the garter snake is one exception I would make), these little Peepers will keep doing their thing until we get at least a hard frost, OR extended period of cold;  I’ve heard them in January, even up in VT, so a tough species.

Resident Birds and Long-Distance Migrants: Blue Jays and Crows have been very active staking out food sources/defending feeding territories, as have Black-capped Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches, Cardinals, and other resident birds; Our woodpeckers have been at work too looking for insect meals, and the Pileated woodpecker individuals at Moose Hill have been seen more frequently this year, as has evidence of their excavation; their cousin, the Yellow-shafted Flicker, will soon fly to more southern climes in North America, along with the Gray Catbird (still “meowwwing” out there), the Eastern Phoebe and Wood Pewee (two Flycatchers still singing throughout), Pine Warblers (great to hear their lovely little song), Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles, Bluebirds, a few American Robins, a select few Blue Jays, and a few other species; Interestingly, I have seen/heard more Cedar Waxwings over the last few weeks, moving gregariously from one spot to the next in search of fruit to consume; onsite during cloudy days, or even the sunniest of days, you might hear a Barred Owl exercising its voice.

Fall Foliage Preview: starting MUCH sooner than in year’s past, here in southeastern MA and up in VT, where my family lives; our Flowering Dogwoods have been turning that purple-pink-maroon color since mid August, Red Maples are just starting to turn red-orange-yellow, Sugar Maples onsite tend to turn an “orange-brown” and are beginning to turn (and lose leaves), White Ashes are starting to turn their purple-orange-maroon, Black Gum leaves are beginning to turn scarlet red, and both Poison Ivy/Poison Sumac and Virginia Creeper are ablaze with scarlet-fluorescent reds, oranges, yellows……with the decreasing daylight each day, and each week, “it won’t be long (till we see the  hillsides in full color…and till the snow comes, apologies to my wife about that one)!!”

So, until we meet again in a couple of weeks, keep those eyes-ears-noses-tactile senses to the skies and world around you!! Try closing your eyes to enhance the experience!

And…PLEASE let me know what you all have observed as well!!

Michael Scutari Acciavatti

Nature Detective Notes by Michael, Moose Hill’s full-time teacher naturalist who often heads out on the trails to stretch his legs and observe what is happening. His enthusiasm and knowledge make for wonderful updates about the nature of Moose Hill. We hope that you will be inspired to head out on our trails as well and enjoy the changes that each season, or better yet, each month brings to Moose Hill. We look forward to seeing you here!

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