We’ve reached the second half of October. Autumn has been with us for a month now and we are deeply into this cooling season. Temperatures regularly dip below freezing in mornings, rising later.
Though the big freeze up is still about a month away, but we might find a light coating of ice on puddles and small ponds. The amount of daylight continues to shrink and now with sunrise at about 7:30 a.m. and setting near 6:15 p.m., less than 11 hours of sunlight.
The bulk of the bird migration associated with September has moved on, but plenty of others are now are making their move in these shorter cooler days.
Canada geese, swans and various ducks are heading south at this time. Flights of broad-winged hawks of earlier in the fall are gone, but other raptors continue.
This is still a good time to see sharp-shinned hawks, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles; maybe goshawks. Various sparrows may linger in our yards before they move on and along the roads, juncos and snow buntings pause to feed.
Though not in large flocks, thrushes in the woods slowly silently migrate. Related robins and bluebirds flock in our yards and parks.
We now see the four ways that wildlife cope with the coming cold. Migration is one. Others, as seen in many insects, will lay eggs followed by the adults dying.
Hibernation is the route taken by several small mammals, frogs and some butterflies. There are those that use this time now to prepare for the impending cold. They will remain active all winter and in fall they locate food and shelter. And there are several animals that do more than one of these four strategies.
I noticed this a few days ago as I took a walk and saw a large garter snake. Continuing the wandering, I noted another and another.
I realized what was happening. These reptiles were in a migration of their own to find a place to hibernate. It seems like I see more of our two common snakes: garter and red-belly in autumn than any other season.
A similar observation came at about this same time. I received a couple of reports of neighbors seeing salamanders and then one showed up on our driveway.
Salamanders appear to be lizard-like, but with soft, moist skin, no scales and no claws on toes, they are different. They also live quite differently. Lizards are reptiles that thrive in dry conditions, the amphibian salamanders need to be in wet habitats.
Though they are not uncommon, the lives of salamanders are cryptic and nearly always in damp sites, often under leaves and logs, that we seldom see them.
Only a few kinds of salamanders live in the region and I find the two most common: blue-spotted and red-backed. Within the deciduous forests and nearby ponds and swamps, blue-spotted salamanders are the ones usually seen.
They do have light blue spots on their sides, but these four to 5-inch salamanders often appear more black. After breeding in vernal ponds, the tadpoles, which unlike frog tadpoles have four legs and external gills, become adults in late summer and disperse to find shelter in fall and winter.
Most of my sightings of blue-spotted salamanders have been in autumn. Not only are they moving about now in search of a cold weather hibernaculum, we tend to be doing activities such as raking leaves or moving firewood so that we’ll see them more.
They will soon be gone for winter, but in this changing time, we can still find salamanders.