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Sep 15, 2022

Autumn: A New Beginning for Wildlife

By Lori Draz and Jody Sackett, of the Rumson Environmental Commission

As summer shifts to fall, busy sun worshippers may think things are slowing down, but to Mother Nature, it’s almost like the start of a second year. Wildlife begins an active time. Birds, marine creatures and even insects begin migrations. Animals are creating wintering places, and plants are preparing for a spectacular show of seasonal colors.

Jody Sackett, of the Rumson Environmental Commission, offers great information on the effects of the changing season all around us and offers some tips on how we can help the wildlife in our own backyards. 

It’s Time to Fly 

This month ducks, geese and the shore’s beloved ospreys are taking off for Florida or Central/South America. Sackett shared, “Although monogamous for life, the female osprey leaves the nest first at the end of September, followed by the male about a month later. Both winter in different places but will return to mate in the same northern nest. About 75 percent of North American birds migrate, and we have a front row seat on the coastal Atlantic Flyway. Snap a photo or keep a list of the birds you see around your neighborhood or near waterways. You may even take it more seriously and become a citizen scientist and share your info on iNaturalist or eBird.” Of course, be sure to have your winter birdfeeders ready for the resident birds at stay with us all year.

Another migrator is the beautiful Monarch butterfly, which is officially an endangered species. They grew from fat caterpillars and emerged from their chrysalis in late summer, able to fly 2,500 miles south to central Mexico or California. Late September or October is peak migration season, so look for dozens of them enjoying nectar from the seaside goldenrod and other yellow flowers.

It’s Time to Swim

Leatherback sea turtles and whale pods are legendary for their long ocean migrations, but local anglers know fall is time to fish for those big striped bass or bluefish that are now migrating toward the Chesapeake and Virginia. “Some call it the Migratory Blueway,” Sackett said. “Stripers and bluefish love migrating along the Atlantic Coast, as they can feed on pods of baitfish along the way.”  

It’s Time to Bundle Up 

Sackett suggests, “Create your own fun and easy butterfly farm. Just get an inexpensive two- or three-gallon plastic aquarium with a lid. In September, search for common yellow and black striped Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. They’ll be munching on garden parsley, dill, carrot tops and Queen Anne’s Lace. Put the caterpillars and plenty of the plants they’re eating in your ‘farm,’ along with some longer twigs. Replace the food every other day, and sprinkle a tad of water over it. When the larvae get big, they’ll crawl to a twig and form a J shape, attached by a thin thread; this means they are about to pupate. Watch them make their cocoon, which will change from bright green to twig brown when it’s finished. Inside, the caterpillars basically dissolve into a nutrient soup, and after a few weeks, the butterflies will emerge, ready to fly, and be safely released. If the caterpillars pupate later in the chilly fall, they will go dormant until spring. Put your farm with the dormant cocoons in your cold garage over the winter, so they can safely emerge as butterflies in the warm springtime.”

It’s Time for Color 

Decreased daylight and cooler temperatures trigger local plants to slow their chlorophyll production which bring on autumn hues. It’s also easier to spot pesky poison ivy now as the leaves become a brilliant red in autumn. Leave some dead leaves on the ground for insects to eat. They will attract hungry birds and small mammals too.

It’s Time to Say Goodnight 

Our tilting earth means the sun’s light hits lower on the horizon, resulting in a longer, weaker ray of light. The days grow shorter and the heavens change too, bringing new constellations into view. Download a stargazing app and look for the visiting planets, stars and see zodiac shapes.

Sackett continues by offering three great tips to stay sustainable this autumn. Back to school doesn’t have to mean purchasing new supplies when you have so many household items you can use. If you do buy, look for eco-friendly supplies. Recycle the old stuff with TerraCycle. Reusable water bottles replace endless plastic waste, and bottle-filling stations are popping up everywhere now. Use brown paper bags for lunch, or even use a sustainable, insulated lunch bag, and switch from plastic sandwich bags to reusable containers.

Sackett also shared a habit of Swedish hikers, called “plogging,” which is picking up trash on their travels. Lastly, she recommends shutting off the outdoor lights. Those outdoor lights can cause migration disorientation and collisions. “We don’t need outdoor lights when we’re in bed, so let’s turn them off – or at least use timers or motion detector lights instead,” she said.