The aster is a star in autumn

As I walked to the beach this week, I passed close to shoulder-high, white flat-topped asters growing next to the narrow path. Only an occasional smaller violet aster added color to the scene. When summer is about half over, this aster comes into bloom, and they are with us even into October. Specimens can be found anywhere from 2 to 7 feet high. The word “aster” comes from the Greek word for “star,” and the little blossoms of this family do resemble stars, and for many weeks are scattered along the roadsides and fields for us to enjoy.

On my way across the drier field, I noticed the curious and interesting sandy ant traps appearing in the dry-sandy soil. When I was child and becoming more curious about the world around me, I always found these traps interesting to watch for long periods of time. The small larva digs a pit about 2 inches deep and maybe 3 inches wide at the top edge. The unsuspecting ant comes along and falls down the sides of the pit where the ant lion is waiting to grab its meal with open jaws. Ant lions can kill a variety of insects and arthropods and even small spiders.

Eventually, the larva grows and changes into an adult which is sometimes called an “antlion lacewing.” You might also hear it called “doodlebug” in North America. Various antlions live all over the world in sandy habitats. Take time to watch the action someday in the trap, and try to step around their interesting traps as you hike about.

Out on the beach these days, there are small flocks of migrating shore birds moving along right at the edge of the tide, and you really need your binoculars to help identify them. Bigger waves sent these shore birds scurrying higher up on the beach. This is prime time to see plovers, both the black bellied and the semi-palmated plovers They are just passing through on migration. Occasionally, the rare golden plover is seen here. This bird makes an amazing flight from its northern nesting grounds in the high Arctic to its wintering grounds on the coast of South America and its extremities.

Migrating birds in the fall are often difficult to recognize for they have lost their beautiful breeding plumages and look vastly different. There are many heated arguments among the birding experts as to what a bird is in the fall.

My Mother was a good birder, and when I was still living at home in Connecticut, we spent the afternoon at a beach on Long Island Sound one day and saw several black-necked stilts. These wading birds are very distinctive large, slim waders, black above and white below with extremely long red legs. We had binoculars and excellent views of them for a long time. Some prominent members of the birding community in the New Canaan/Westport area at that time said “It couldn’t be.” We were very pleased then when Alan Cruikshank, the famous ornithologist and bird photographer at that time, verified our report for he had seen them as well. No one doubted us after that! This was before digital photography was discovered, for a photograph would have settled the problem right away. Always take a photo of what you see if you want an identification. Even a bad photo is helpful, and do try to get several views. Also note what the creature was doing and where you saw it. I get many emails with photos asking for my help in identification. Sometimes I know right away, and other times, I reach out to a team of experts I know for help. Their help is much appreciated, and I learn in the process.

A small flock of eight wild turkeys crossed the Stanley Brook Road this past week in front of some neighbors of mine. In recent years, the turkey population on this island has gradually increased, and birds now appear all over the island, some even at feeders. Wild turkeys were successfully reintroduced here several years ago, so you are apt to encounter them anywhere on and off island. Some flocks are quite large. Although wild turkeys feed on the ground, they roost in the trees at night.

The mother turkey alone takes care of the nest and young turkeys. She actually has to protect the young and nest from the male and carefully guard it, for he would destroy the nest and young if he had a chance to do so. Female turkeys have their young ones with them through the following winter after the eggs hatch. After that, the young birds are on their own.

We are now into autumn officially according to the calendar. The migration season has come, and it’s time to head to your favorite mountain top and watch the migrants heading south. Monarch butterflies are moving, and they have a long flight ahead of them. Flickers fly up from the road everywhere as they feed and prepare for their migration. Every time I enter my driveway, I see them fly up with their white tail patches very visible. These birds are feeding on the abundant ants available in the soft sand at the edges of the roads. Cranberries are ripe and ready for picking. Red squirrels enjoy the abundance of mushrooms everywhere.

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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