Wild Times

Autumn, 2023 Summary

By Tom Estill

The first day of fall found numerous birds flying throughout the forest including, cardinals, robins, broad-winged hawk, white-breasted nuthatch, blue jay, tufted titmouse, yellow-throated vireo, black-capped chickadee, hairy and pileated woodpeckers, yellow rumped warbler, and a few wood ducks and Canada geese at Muddy Pond. A dead short-tailed shrew was seen on the Carriage trail near Muddy Pond. First time I’ve seen that small mammal in the park. No obvious injuries, so was very curious about what might have happened to bring about its death. Sticktight, New England aster, flat-topped white aster and snakeroot were all in flower. Many chipmunks out and about.

On Sept. 25th, more species of birds were seen including red-eyed vireo, turkey vulture, blue jays, ravens, black-throated green warbler and Eastern Phoebe. Green frogs were a common sight at Rocky Pond, and a doe and 2 fawns were seen on Crusher Rd.

A few days later, many robins were seen migrating through the forest, which they always do this time of year.

This fall I was not surprised at the lack of acorns on the forest floor. We had a MAST two years ago, so we should have much more acorns next fall.

On the last day of Sept., I noticed numerous small chipmunks about the park. No doubt they were offspring of a second brood, something not unusual for chipmunks this time of year. Also saw both a chipmunk and solitary vireo feeding on red-osier dogwood berries near the trailhead.

Had a beautiful fall evening walk during the first week of October, seeing a white-throated sparrow and 2 young deer near trail marker 16A, an area of the park where I commonly see deer for reasons unknown to me.

By Oct. 8th, the forest was now very quiet with most migrants having passed through the area  by now on their way south. Temperatures were noticeably cooler. The only bird I saw on my way to Muddy Pond was a white-breasted nuthatch. About 100 Canada geese were seen at Muddy Pond, along with 2 small flocks of Mallards and Wood ducks.                                                                                             

Park was at the height of fall foliage, but this year’s foliage season paled in comparison with most other years. Couldn’t help but wonder if this year’s spring hard frost and higher than normal precipitation had something to do with the lackluster foliage season.

During the third week of October, increasing numbers of robins were seen migrating through the forest and hundreds of Canada geese were seen resting at Muddy Pond.

Oct. 28th was a day of unusually warm temperatures, so I wasn’t too surprised when I saw a garter snake slithering among the leaves on the Carriage Trail. At the trailhead, robins could be

seen feeding on red-osier dogwood berries. Hadn’t realized so many different animals enjoyed eating those berries.

The first week of November found Muddy Pond covered with hundreds of migrating Canada geese and a lone Bald Eagle perched in a tree near the empty Osprey nest. I was able to collect hundreds of Button Bush seeds for planting along the shores of Rocky Pond next spring. Button Bush seeds are readily eaten by many waterfowl species. It’s hoped that by growing more Button Bush along the shores of Rocky Pond, more waterfowl may be enticed to spend more time at that pond.

On Nov. 11th, I had an interesting encounter with a small flock of black-capped chickadees. I was playing a recording of a barred owl when after a minute or two, a small flock of

black-capped chickadees that was flying about 20 ft. away, slowly made its way within just a few feet of where I was sitting. On Muddy Pond about 20 Canada geese, a pair of hooded mergansers, one common merganser, and a few mallards were observed. And at Trail Marker 16, another doe was seen.

A week later, a beautiful, healthy looking coyote was seen along the shore of Rocky Pond, and about 500 Canada geese were seen at Muddy Pond. A winter wren, dark-eyed juncos, and yellow-crowned kinglet were also seen.

During the third week of November, deer were again seen around Trail Marker 16, flocks of Canada geese were flying south overhead and Rocky Pond was finally completely frozen over. Most of Muddy Pond was also covered in ice, with the exception of a small area of open water around the large eastside beaver den. I was also surprised to see a few moths flying about.

During the first week of December, loose associations of birds could be seen, typically composed of black-capped chickadees, hairy woodpeckers, brown creepers, tufted titmouse, and white-breasted nuthatches. During a 3 hr. Walk, I observed such an association, one lone hairy woodpecker, and heard one crow, and that was all!

During the second week of December, it was still warm enough for water to be flowing into and out of Rocky Pond. Muddy Pond was frozen over except a small area in its center where you could see about 50 geese resting. On Rocky Pond, I found a pile of goose feathers spread about a small area. Some type of predator had captured and carried away a Canada goose.

In mid-December, I saw a barred owl, and a small herd of 6 deer near Trail Marker 16.

Both ponds were completely frozen over, a Cooper’s hawk was seen near the trailhead, and numerous does and a large 6 point buck were caught on my Trail Camera set up near Trail Marker 16.

On Dec.17th, a major storm was approaching the area and I saw only one animal, a crow, on my 2 hr. Hike.

On Dec. 19th, that same small herd of 6 deer was once again seen near Trail Marker 16. Near the trailhead I heard a gray squirrel making its continuous alarm call, and when I looked up, I saw a Cooper’s hawk perched in a nearby tree.

On the last day of fall, one-third of Rocky Pond was open water, and the rest of the pond was covered in a layer of ice thin enough to easily break through with my boot. The only animal I saw on my hike to Rocky Pond was a single white-breasted nuthatch.

That’s it for this report. Enjoy your time observing the natural wonders at Pine Hill Park, and please remember to stay on the trail and keep your pets leashed.

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