Tom Estill’s Wild Times at Pine Hill Park is hot off the press! You never know what Tom will find in the woods.
Sorry to say, unlike other years, no burs were produced by the Svelte Tiger America Chestnut tree this year due to the Spongy Moth infestation. During my park walk on the last day of Sept., I saw my first loose association of white-breasted nuthatch, hairy woodpecker, tufted titmouse and black-capped chickadee. Migrating yellow-rumped warblers, blue jay, northern flicker and a red-bellied woodpecker were also seen. Very surprised to see a Mourning Cloak butterfly flying about. Those butterflies will spend the winter under loose bark or other places providing protection from predators and the elements, then emerge in early spring as one of the earliest animals to do so.
Oct. 8th found the forest to be very quiet. The forest was at, or very near, to the height of the fall foliage season. At Muddy Pond could be found hundreds of migrating Canada geese along with a hooded merganser. The only birds I saw on my walk to and from Muddy Pond were a hairy woodpecker and migrating pine warbler. The pine warbler seems to be one of the earliest birds to arrive from the south in the spring, and one of the last to leave in the fall. A few plants were still flowering including the blue aster, wild chamomile, and white aster.
In Mid-October I was very lucky to be at the right place at the right time. While sitting at Rocky Pond I saw two merlins chasing one another. I had never seen a merlin at Rocky Pond before. The last time I saw one was over a decade ago, perched on a tree along the shore of the Patuxent River in Maryland. Otherwise the forest was very quiet. Numerous Canada geese were still resting at Muddy Pond, but mallards and green-winged teals were also seen. In the forest could be found a broadwinged hawk, white-breasted nuthatch, a small flock of dark-eyed juncos, red-tailed hawk, hairy woodpecker, and turkey vultures flying overhead.
The first week of November found temperatures in the low 70s, with about 50 Canada geese seen at Muddy Pond, and only a single white-breasted nuthatch.
One Nov. 11th, Muddy Pond was starting to ice over around its perimeter in a few places along the shore. Rocky Pond showed no signs of ice. Birds seen included a pileated woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, and crows.
By the first week of December, both ponds were free of any ice, and there was no snow on the ground. Hundreds of Canadian geese and a pair of Common Mergansers were seen at Muddy Pond. Gray squirrels were running about in high numbers. 3 does were seen near Trail Marker #24, and flying about the trees was a loose association of black-capped chickadees, hairy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, tufted titmouse, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, crows overhead.
By December 10th, both ponds were showing signs of ice along a few places of their shorelines. Still no snow on the ground. In the trees you could find a red-bellied woodpecker, black-capped chickadees, hairy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch and tufted titmouse.
By mid-December, both ponds were finally frozen over. Loose associations of forest birds were now seen almost on a regular basis. The loose association of birds provide extra protection for the birds, and improves their chances of seeing predatory birds nearby.
That’s it for this issue. Please stay on the trails while you enjoy observing the wildlife of Pine Hill Park.