Monday, November 26, 2018

Things are changing

By Beth Sullivan
No one seems to know exactly what is going on with our weather. The very scary report that came out on Black Friday ( maybe appropriately timed as it is a bleak report) continues to point to climate change that is moving at a much faster speed, and with greater consequences, than previously believed. I know I often breathe a sigh of grateful relief that we are not in a wildfire prone state, a mud slide area, or an earthquake zone. Things have changed. If you just think about certain signs, and make observations, it is becoming sadly obvious that our local climate and landscape is changing too. It may be more subtle, but it is dangerous none the less. Many of us who are observers of nature, are taking note.
A shortage of acorns will bring deer to our yards earlier in the season. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Warm to frigid in a day

It was impossible not to notice the wild temperature swing over the Thanksgiving week. The intense cold likely left many animals unprepared. Going from balmy warmth to frigid freezing may not have given them a chance to finish their food storage, nor had they had a chance to add their own layers of fat to keep them warm. When it is that cold, most of my local chipmunks are usually safe and deep in their burrows, snacking on their stash. On that brutally cold Thanksgiving morning, I stood at my kitchen window, and I watched as my little friend in the front yard sat visibly quivering, lifting one paw to her chest, then the other, in what seemed like an attempt to keep warm. I am sure I am not imagining that we locked eyes as she begged, so I went out and placed plenty of seed next to the burrow hole. In a very short time, it had disappeared, and the little one did not re-appear topside for the rest of the day.
Many of us have noticed it was a very poor acorn year. For whatever reason - spring freeze on oak flowers, heavy rain during pollination time washing away the light weight pollen and not allowing dispersal, or previous years of drought and stress from insect damage - there are almost no acorns on the woodland floors. That is bad news for the abundant wildlife born this spring. We seem to have bumper crops of turkeys and squirrels this year. We also know deer and bear populations are increasing, and all of these depend in some way on seeds, berries and nuts, especially acorns, for their fall food source. If they cannot easily find their food in the woods, they begin to venture out into our yards and find whatever resources they can in our yards. I have yet to see a bear in my neighborhood, but I have heard reports from areas not too distant. I know the deer are here every evening and morning as they are already nibbling on my shrubs and remaining perennial plants. It seems to be the turkeys I am enjoying the most as they now, too, have found the bird feeding area and run or fly from the hill across the street to forage at least twice a day. They arrived in perfect time to entertain my Thanksgiving guests. A least my numbers are manageable: usually only seven. They don’t do too much damage to my gardens, yet. But all of these creatures are becoming more used to people, seeking out food sources and exposing themselves to hazards of roads. What will happen to them when snow covers the ground and their wild food sources are not to be found? Many will starve.
Squirrels are abundant now but their numbers may plummet without adequate food resources. 

Turkeys forage in our yards but it brings them closer to roads. Dangerous for the turkeys and drivers.

When the ground is snow covered, this chipmunk will help herself to my feeder.

Puffed up in the cold

Several birds appeared looking quite miserable on the cold Thanksgiving morning, very puffed up. Normally birds are well adapted to cold, their feathers automatically fluff around them to capture warm air close to their body. But they still need layers of fat beneath the skin. In cold weather they burn it very quickly and that’s why they appear to be eating all day and they are. If they have spent a long, colder than normal, night without having adequately fueled the furnace, they will awaken depleted, colder and in danger.
Nature may find a way to balance, but the wild, weird swings make it difficult for wildlife, animals, and plants to adjust, adapt, and thrive. So far we may not have the intense drama of the events out west and in the south, but the long term changes are wearing and insidious and having severe effects as well. To be continued, for sure.
This white-throated sparrow puffs up its feathers to retain warmth.

With the sudden cold snap, this gater snake could have been caught away from a protected den.

With water surfaces frozen, this great blue heron will be unable to find food by wading close to shore. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

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