Thanks apparently to a series of tropical storms far off to our south and east the balmy days of summer continue to linger. Not that I’m in a hurry to see winter’s cold and snow but I’ve had my fill of heat and humidity and am anxious to enjoy those cool, crisp days of autumn that Maine is famous for.
These stalled weather patterns have created some interesting conditions outdoors. While most of my garden has withered there are still buckets full of tomatoes to pick plus apples and pears that are not quite ripe enough to harvest. My morning glories have given up the ghost although a few bright blue blooms greet the sun every morning of late. The majority of the plants, however, have fizzled, reclining now in the compost heap where, sooner or later all things green and leafy end the growing year.
My marigolds are still going strong, which is typical of these hardy, productive bloomers. I have a dozen pots filled with the Durango Outback Mix variety and all are overflowing with bright orange and yellow blossoms. I also planted a row of marigolds around the garden border to keep pests out and they, too, are still tall, lush and colorful. Summer is ending but it is not over!
I have noticed a precipitous decline in the number of birds and animals hanging around the feeders of late. In fact, most days I’m lucky to see the occasional lone wild turkey stop by for a fill-up. A month ago I was inundated with sparrows, chickadees, goldfinches, blackbirds, crows, blue jays and cowbirds, but for more than a week I have not seen or heard from any of these regular backyard visitors.
Normally at this time of year the goldfinches storm the dwarf sunflowers that I have ringing the garden but so far the colorful flowers are maturing on the stalk with no interference from birds of any kind. Most years I’ll leave the sunflowers be until the finches clean them up but it’s beginning to look as though I’ll have to harvest the heads and winnow the seeds myself. That’s a job I’d prefer to leave to the industrious goldfinches but for some reason this year they are showing no interest thus far.
Also noticeably missing are the red and gray squirrels that had come to the feeders all spring and summer in groups of three or four. Not only are they avoiding the back yard but the surrounding ridges and hillsides are silent as well – no early-morning squawking by reds or grays agitated by a meandering house cat or hawk. Generally, it’s noticeably silent all around these days; a peculiar circumstance that I hope is due to the influence of the odd, tropical weather conditions. Rachel Carson’s warning about a silent spring is ominous enough, but a silent fall? I’d hate to see that happen.
Not to complain but I have not even seen the ordinarily pesky chipmunks that, at this time of year, can be seen and heard all over the property. A few days ago I noticed a lone chipmunk calling from a rotting stump far across the pasture and actually stopped to listen because it’s the first one I’ve heard in weeks.
Overhead, the ravens have had nothing to say in some time, not even at dawn and dusk, when they are most vocal, and I’ve heard only one young crow squalling in the distance. There has been a loon making its rounds at sunrise and sunset all summer but for those with an ear for natural sounds it’s been very quiet for a month or more. In fact, Maine’s early goose-hunting season opened Sept. 1 and I have yet to hear the first goose or see any flocks moving about early and late in the day. In years past I’d see them fly right over my house at sunset every day, a sure a sign of day’s end as the hooting of owls in the distance, but this month the geese have stayed put and have had nothing to say. September should not be this quiet, and I have to wonder what it means for the rest of the winter.
One local observer suggested that the critters have bailed out early because we’re in for a hard winter, but considering that all of the recent tropical storms are coming from the South I doubt that they’d want to go that way just yet. Also, from a foraging standpoint September is a time of abundance for the wild things, with fruit, seeds, nuts and plenty of succulents still available to them. There is plenty of food on the ground and in the trees, so that wouldn’t be a reason for them to vacate the region.
Come the first frost I’ll resume taking my daily hikes through the woods. I expect to find plenty of sign of deer, raccoons and other common creatures as well as pockets of forage where, it may be, the birds and animals are spending most of their time. Plus, as dry as it has been it may be that the local wildlife is sheltering close to water sources. I know that I have to refill my bird bath twice each day because the few turkeys that do come in have been draining it right to the bottom.
I would surmise that some hot-weather virus or other may be affecting these populations but I have not seen much evidence of that – no sick or listless birds, no carcasses scattered about. I did see one small flock of turkeys that showed signs of a warty virus that causes them to lose their sight, hearing and ability to feed, but that is a relatively common affliction and not likely to eliminate the entire population – so far.
Noticing changes in wildlife behavior is one thing but pinpointing the cause is not always easy. Weather, water, food, habitat changes, diseases . . . it could be one or all of these things that’s causing the shift in activity. All I know is that it’s been awfully quiet around here lately and I’m anxious to have all my wild visitors come back!