Signs of autumn in the air

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D.S. Pledger
Sunday, August 4, 2013

If you're a fan of warm weather, make the most of this month because August is summer's grand finale.

But while we humans will be spending it doing fun things like fishing, boating and biking, wild creatures have more urgent matters to attend to. August is the year's high-water mark for the availability of food, and bulking up for the winter ahead is foremost on their minds.

Woodchucks are taking advantage of the plentiful grasses and are feeding heavily before heading into their dens for nearly half a year of hibernation. A friend of mine recently reported seeing a big woodchuck that was “rolling in fat,” and there's still a month of binging ahead to build reserves that will have to last until next March.

August is blackberry month. The clear-cut we had done on our property a few years ago has become a four-acre berry patch, and much of the fruit will be eaten by the neighborhood black bears as they make the most of these bountiful times.

Being omnivores, they have a great variety of things to dine on besides berries. Unless you've been in a cornfield that's been visited by bears, it's hard to appreciate just how much damage they can do pulling down stalks and gorging on the ears during their fall feeding frenzy before going into hibernation.

Most birds have gone through two hatches and some are into their third brood. Other species are already getting ready for migration. Purple martins, which will fly all the way to Brazil, will be starting their trip soon. It won't be long until the blackbirds are forming up in big flocks.

Last spring's fawns are putting on weight rapidly. It's amazing how that little spindly legged, spotted waif of only a few months ago is now well on its way to adulthood.

When September's bow hunting opens next month, you can still tell them apart from their mothers, but by November's rifle season, a fawn can be easy to confuse with an adult unless the two are standing side by side. A lot of that bulking up will be the result of their late-summer browsing on the abundant growth in woods and fields.

The hazelnuts and black walnuts that were hardly noticeable last month are quickly maturing. If this year is typical, our hickory tree will start dropping nuts in a week or two, much to the delight of the squirrels.

The high-strung chipmunk is running around in a frenzy stuffing its cheeks with acorns and seeds. Like the groundhog, it turns in for the winter long before the snow flies, but the chipmunk is not a true hibernator. Instead, it goes dormant during the cold months, but when hunger stirs it from time to time it needs to have plenty of groceries in its maze of tunnels.

August mornings can be heavy with dew, setting off the otherwise-invisible spider webs in the fields and wooded edges.

The average temperature this month is slightly higher than that in July, and so is the normal amount of precipitation. Cold snaps can pass through though, and a late August freeze is not unheard of, especially in the northern part of the state.

Before the month is over, the gradual transition from summer to fall will start becoming apparent. Sumac will turn red, crickets will chirp at night and on an occasional crisp morning, you could swear that there's a hint of fall in the air.

Equally disconcerting—for fans of summer, at least—is the fact that early leaf-droppers like the black walnut tree will start marking your lawn with a few of fall's yellow calling cards.

Like it or not, even though summer's wild party is still going full blast, autumn is just outside, peeking in the window.

D.S. Pledger is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at maus16@centurytel.net

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