Monday, September 5, 2016

Summer is not over yet!

By Beth Sullivan
Many people mark Labor Day weekend as the end of summer, kids and parents certainly do. But officially we still have a month to go, and Mother Nature usually makes use of every last bit of it.
The marshes are still green, but have subtly begun preparing for fall.

It has been a hard summer. Just looking at the woodlands on the Avalonia Preserves, and elsewhere locally, it is easy to see how stressed the trees have become. A spring of defoliation followed by drought has made it difficult for the trees to re-leaf. And those that did have had their tender foliage burned by the intense sun and heat of this past month. Judging from the number of Gypsy Moth Egg cases on tree trunks in the woods, we are in for another bad year next year. Many trees may not survive.
After several hard years, this tree will not likely survive another.

Our meadows are beautiful and full of flowering perennials of the season: Joe-Pye weed, Iron Weed and Goldenrods. They seem to thrive in the heat and sun. Insect populations are thriving as well, and even Monarchs seem to be present in greater numbers than last year. But the grasses have browned up earlier than usual. Berries and fruits seem to have ripened faster and earlier and I wonder if it will make a difference to those birds that are dependent on them later in fall season.
Mature fields are most attractive to pollinators.

The salt marshes are at their peak now with shades of green, swirls and spikes. The grasses are lush and full sized. The Spartina alterniflora has flower spikes now, and that adds a lightness to the color palate of the marsh. Along the upland edges of the marsh you can begin to detect the changes as the foliage of bordering trees, especially the Tupelo, are beginning to change their colors.
Textures of the salt marsh are most beautiful now.

Sandy Point - still busy

One place where, visually, there does not seem to be much change, is on Sandy Point. The Island has had a good summer. With oversight by USFWS stewards, there was greater protection for our special nesting birds. The Oystercatchers were very successful as they got their young up and out and through the crowds of people. And the visitors to the island responded and respected the roping and appreciated the increased education. Sadly, no amount of education and roping could protect the Piping Plovers from the marauding Gulls and Crows. A few young survived to fledge, but several nests failed. We can only keep trying. We all appreciated the diligence by the USFWS stewards who patrolled the island and kept people informed of efforts to preserve and protect. There are always those who continue to believe the Island is a personal playground for humans and their dogs, while in reality it is a privately owned preserve, dedicated to wildlife primarily, and we are all very lucky to be able to share it.
With the crowds gone, Sandy Point is peaceful.

Beach combing brings rewards.

As the calendar page flips to September, the stewardship will diminish. Roping will be removed, nesting is done. It is still important to remember that the birds, in particular, are heavily dependent on the refuge as a stop over place during their long migration south. The adult shorebirds left their northern nesting areas back in July, leaving their young to follow, by instinct, later in August and through September. We are often pleasantly surprised by some special visitors, somewhat rare shorebirds among the large flocks.

Migrating shorebirds rest and feed on Sandy Point.
There is nothing more lovely than a clear blue September day to paddle around the island, and having a good pair of binoculars is helpful. The water is warm for wading and the crowds have departed. This part of summer is my favorite.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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