SCORES & OUTDOORS: Bird disappearance is phenomenon that exists nationwide

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Two months after writing an article about the lack of song birds in our area, the feedback continues to pour in from all over the country, not to mention from friends and acquaintances whenever the subject surfaces. Everyone has also commented on the extremely large number of crows that have emerged in our area.

Even in my backyard, where we generally have a multitude of bird varieties, it has been quiet. We have completely cleaned out the bird feeders and restocked them, to the point where we have even purchased new ones, and other forms of bird seed dispensers like nets, seed balls and containers.

The problem is universal, it seems.

Mimi replied to me, “My neighbors and I also noticed a very sudden decline in feeder birds since mid-September in the Catskills as well. It is so sad to not have the birds about though there are geese and crows, so hopefully the others will be back.”

Sj says, “Over the last two years we have noticed the decline of spiders on our property in mid-coast Maine. The mosquito decline is possibly due to the second year of a drought. Wild bees, and our bat [population] all seem stressed and in decline. I have kept daily journals for 25 years, making daily notes of weather and wildlife. The odd absence of birds is ‘different’ this year, for us as well, and another alert to change in our environment worth keeping track of.”

Msdarlene writes, “We are in central New Hampshire and have always fed birds with multiple feeders and a varied diet of sunflower seeds, hearts, nuts and suet. We have cleaned out our feeders monthly and replenished the food and still no birds in sight. We normally have to refill our feeders twice a week. Since September 2017, our woods and feeders are silent. No birds, zero, zilch, nada…scary quiet. I hope they return, I sure miss them.”

Rich speculates “that the malathion aerial spraying for zika vectors has done damage to large insect populations.”

Finally, Lyn, of Fairfield, writes, “Wow! This article came up on my Facebook feed. Some friends and I were just talking about how we have no song birds this fall. I said I thought they had been driven away by massive crow populations, just as you observed, too. They are all I see. I am sad to know this is happening all over. I hope the Audubon Society is right that it’s just a normal migration shift, but I am missing the birds very much.”

With the first measurable snowfall this fall, only 12 days before the official winter solstice, we will keep vigil as to the turnover in bird varieties. We’ll see if the cardinals arrive, along with the European starlings that come around in the winter. Also, don’t forget the pigeons and mourning doves. Not to beat a subject to death, but since noticing the large number of crows around, the pigeon population seems to have taken a hit. Since the crow onslaught, I have noticed no pigeons in my yard, which is extremely unusual. There also seem to be more seagulls than normal. Is that another sign of changes in the environment?

It’s probably time we pay attention to what Mother Nature is trying to tell us.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the original six teams of the NHL.

Answer here!

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Doves as a symbol of peace: what is the history?

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

As we enter into the Christmas season, I notice a lot of Christmas cards and greetings with the picture of a dove as a symbol of peace on earth and goodwill to all men. Where did that all start? Why is the dove a symbol of peace?

Actually, there are several cultures that depict the dove as a bearer of peace and goodwill.

But before we get into some of the reasons the bird is viewed in that light, let’s look at some general facts about the bird. Doves belong to the Columbidae family, which is the same family as the pigeons. They have a round and stout body, short neck and beak. They are excellent navigators, which also makes them capable of delivering messages. Apart from these traits, they are extremely popular, and are often associated with strong emotions.

The Egyptians were the first to record doves used in ceremonies to announce, to the people, the rise of a new pharaoh.

Central Asia also has a legend about two kings heading to battle against each other. One of the kings called for his armor and is told a dove has made a nest in his helmet. The king’s mother pleads with him to leave the mother dove, a gentle bird associated with love, innocence, tenderness and purity, undisturbed.

The king agrees, and heads off to battle without his protection. The second king sees the king without armor and calls for a parley. Both kings lay down their weapons and talk. When the second king hears the first king’s story, he figures he has misjudged his enemy, whom he thought to be a tyrant. Both kings agree to peace. And the dove becomes known throughout the lands as a bird of peace.

It also had a place in Greek mythology. Aphrodite is always depicted with a dove because she brought love and beauty and peace. The dove was also the bird of Athena because it represented a renewal of life.

European superstition holds that the devil and witches can turn themselves into any bird shape except the dove.

In Japan, the dove with a sword is a symbol to announce the end of war.

Some Native American cultures believe that the deceased spirit takes the form of a dove.

In America, the most well known portrayal of the dove comes from the Bible. In the Old Testament a dove is released by Noah, following the Big Flood, in search of land. It returns with an olive branch to show the flood waters had receded.

The birds have developed into histories of cultures all around the world. The birds have always nested in areas close to developments and show a remarkable fearlessness of humans, possibly believing the humans will not harm them, even to the point of protecting them.

Doves are birds who mate for life and are extremely loyal to their mate. They raise their young with great care and dedication. They are harmless birds and feed on fruits, plants, and seeds.

Many religions associate the dove with peace. Christianity and the Bible describe doves as the symbol of peace and love. It is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, during the baptism of Jesus Christ.

Picasso’s lithograph, La Colombe (The Dove)

For centuries, artists have depicted the dove as a symbol of peace. The lithograph by Picasso-La Colombe, showing a dove with an olive branch in its beak, was chosen as the emblem of peace in 1949, for the World Peace Congress, in Paris. After this, the dove became very popular as a symbol of peace in the modern world.

The dove is truly a bird that has touched the human mind and heart. It has inspired mankind with its innocence and purity. It reminds people of the very basic traits to live a fruitful life-love and peace.

The next time you seem stressed, and you think the world is out to get you, just think of the dove, the symbol of tranquility and peace.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Since 2003, the New England Patriots have won 14 of 15 AFC East division titles. In what year did they not win the division?

Answer here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: With a song bird shortage, there are plenty of crows

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the lack of song and migratory birds at our backyard feeders. Although there seems to be a little improvement, the numbers are still not at the levels of past years. However, there is one thing I have noticed, the abnormal number of crows that have settled in and around my property in Waterville. I have never seen so many hanging around.

Usually, in mid-November, while I’m out raking leaves and pine needles, I witness a great migration of crows when, literally, thousands of crows fly overhead and move on toward the horizon. I see that every year, except this year. Something is amiss in our environment. Not only have I not seen the crow migration, and instead, taking up residents in my yard, especially from my trees where they deposit their calling cards. Speaking of trees, I have a Norway maple near my driveway and the leaves are still clinging to the branches, and haven’t even turned color yet. They are still green! What’s with that?

Anyway, back to the crows.

Crows are common and widespread. Males tend to be larger than females. There are many species of crows but the one we most associate with is the American crow. They are large, distinctive birds with iridescent black feathers. Mature birds are usually 16 – 20 inches in length, with about 40 percent of which is tail. Their wingspan is approximately 33 – 39 inches. The life span of the American crow in the wild is 7 – 8 years, while they have been known to live up to 30 years in captivity.

Crows also resemble the much larger raven. When they are flying at a distance, they are difficult to distinguish from each other. Ravens have a larger head and a lonzenge-shaped tail.

The range of the American crow extends from the Atlantic Ocean in Canada to the Pacific Ocean, and south through the United States into Mexico.

The crow are omnivorous, which explains why they are probably hanging around in the city, especially when my neighbors put their trash out to the curb too early, and the crows gather to sample the fare in the bags by ripping them open. They not only eat all types of carrion, but also human food, seeds, eggs and nestlings, fish on the shore and various grains. They will also prey on mice, frogs, and other small animals. They will scavenge landfills, scattering garbage in the process, which makes them considered a nuisance.

Their only redeeming quality is that they eat insect pests which helps agriculture. They are also carriers of the West Nile virus. However, the direct transmission of the virus from the crows to humans is unheard of and unlikely. I have found dead crows in my backyard, which I suspect was the result of the West Nile virus. The West Nile virus was accidentally introduced in the United States in 1999, apparently by an infested air traveler who was bitten by a mosquito. Since they are susceptible to the virus, the crow population has dropped by up to 45 percent since 1999. You couldn’t prove that by me based on what I mentioned earlier. Despire this decline, the species is considered of least concern.

The American crow is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, but despite the attempt by humans to drive the birds away, BirdLife International estimates the crow population to be at 31 million birds. The large number of birds and its wide range is the reason they are not considered threatened.

Maybe that explains the large number of birds in and around my backyard. There are so many of them, they may not have any place to go.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: A whale of a project for a Unity College senior

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Every summer, my wife and I head out to Boothbay Harbor, catch the boat and head out to Cabbage Island for one of their famous, old-fashioned, New England clam and lobster bakes. While waiting to board the ship, in the center of the village, we see all kinds of advertisements for whale watching excursions.

“I wonder what that would be like,” I think, and then my attention goes towards those whales and why do people spend the time – and the money – to watch them? Do the tides affect their travels? This is what I found out.

baleen whale

According to a study made by Laurel Sullivan, a member of the class of 2018 at Unity College, in a press release from Micky Bedell, Associate Director, Media Relations, whale watching, for some, may bring to mind school field trips or coastal vacations. Fanny packs and binoculars. Long stretches of ocean and searching eyes, with the hope that maybe, just maybe, one of the largest animals on earth will appear in the waters below.

But for Sullivan whale watching is both all of these things and none of these things at once. Whale watching isn’t just a pastime for Laurel — it’s conservation. Science.

“There’s nothing like it. It’s why I do what I do,” she says emphatically, describing the inherent awe in the arch of a whale’s massive body, stretching as high as a building into the sky, before it crashes gracefully back down into the water. “I’m at my happiest when I’m watching whales and when I’m on a boat in the middle of the ocean.”

During an internship with the New England Aquarium the summer between her sophomore and junior year, Laurel witnessed breaches, flipper slapping and lob tailing day after day on whale watching boats. She used these graceful, sometimes playful activities to educate visitors on the beautiful marine mammals in front of them, while also collecting and transcribing data of their identification, location and behavior. Laurel spent hours on whale watching boats. She loved every minute of it.

So, with support from advisors Dean Pieter deHart and Associate Professor Tom Mullin, Laurel has spent the last few months comparing eight years of baleen whale sighting data in the Bay of Fundy with the underwater depth of the bay at different points in the tide cycle. Using GIS, Laurel overlaid these datasets onto bathymetric maps that will eventually allow her to make conclusions on whether whale location in the Bay of Fundy is related to the tides.

Besides the standard scientific paper on her findings, those conclusions will lead Laurel to a unique end goal: suggested guidelines and interpretive materials for local whale watching companies in the Bay of Fundy. Inspired by her time educating whale watchers, Laurel wanted to be able to communicate her findings to a variety of audiences. Maps, she says, are just more visual. They allow people to understand concepts without necessarily understanding the complex math behind them. And making solid, helpful, scientific suggestions for whale watching companies in the Bay of Fundy could have “a real effect on those businesses,” according to Dr. deHart.

Whale watching is not just a fun pastime — the tourism it brings presents an economic opportunity for many communities around the world. And there’s no better opportunity than in the midst of wonder in seeing a whale to bring the value of their existence to the forefront, according to Laurel.

“People may see whales and think it’s cool, but the guides have to make that important for them. Why are the whales here? Why are they important?” Laurel says. “The Bay of Fundy is a feeding ground, so it’s especially important in this area to help people understand and care about conservation.”

This past summer, she spent three days whale watching with companies on the Bay of Fundy in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, Lubec, Maine, and Campobello Island, New Brunswick with funding from Unity College’s Student Academic Engagement Fund and Holt Scholarship.

“Going into the field to collect data is an important part of the process. It lets you connect with nature; connect with the whales and local companies; and get out of the lab and out from behind a computer screen. It’s important that Laurel had that experience,” Dr. deHart said.

“I have more pictures of whales on my phone than I have pictures of me,” she says with a laugh. “All my friends give me a hard time because I’m definitely the whale kid on campus. I’m always like, ‘So with the whales…’ and they’re like, ‘Please stop.’

“I’m having a blast. This is not what I ever expected to be doing. This is so much better than just writing a paper.”

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Proliferation of stink bugs

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

They seem to have invaded our environment and taken up permanent residence in the state of Maine. We are seeing more and more of them in and around our homes. More so this time of year when the critters are attempting to come indoors where its warm. They are commonly known as stink bugs.

The brown marmorated stink bugs are an invasive species and are considered a serious crop pest. They are notorious at attacking especially corn and potatoes. They were accidentally introduced in the United States from Asia. It is believed to have hitched a ride as a stow-away in packing crates or on various types of machinery. The first documented specimen was collected in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1996. It is now found in the eastern half of the U.S. as well as California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Since arriving from Asia, the stink bug spread quickly from state to state, and is now listed as a top invasive species of interest by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) since 2013. They spread quickly due to their ability to lay more than 100 eggs each spring and summer. The USDA now reports the stink bug can be found in 44 states.

marmorated stink bug

It is easily identifiable by its brown color, six legs, shield-like pattern on its shell, white segments on its antennas and the cilantro-like smell it emits when scared or crushed.

The stink bug gets its name because it releases an odor when disturbed or when crushed. They will emit a foul-smelling chemical when they are injured, startled or attacked.

Generally, adult stink bugs feed on fruits, while nymphs will dine on leaves, stems and fruit. Stink bugs eat peaches, apples, peppers, soybeans, tomatoes, grapes and others. According to USDA records, the stink bug caused farmers to lose $31 million in 2010, which is the most up-to-date figures available. Their ability to possibly spread throughout the country has the agricultural community nervous.

In the fall, they search for sites to avoid the winter weather. They re-emerge in early spring and become active. During the warmer summer months, they can be found congregating en masse on the sides of buildings. Stink bugs have a life expectancy of nine to 10 months.

They enter homes through windows, cracked foundations, dryer vents and door jambs. Once inside, they seek refuge in warm places, like insulated walls. It is not uncommon to find thousands of them inside a house.

Stink bugs are not poisonous to humans and do not normally bite. Although native stink bug species exist in the U.S., none have caused damage to crops and invaded homes in numbers like the brown marmorated stink bug. However, some people are allergic to the marmorated stink bug, with reactions that include eye watering, congestion and coughing.

Stink bugs present no known danger of damaging the home, however, large amounts of dead stink bugs in the walls of the home can attract carpet beetles, which eat wool. That may explain why, all of a sudden, some of your clothes hanging in closets have developed holes.

To prevent stink bugs from entering homes and buildings, seal cracks around windows, doors, siding, utility pipes, behind chimneys and underneath the wood fascia and other openings. Use a good quality silicone or silicone-latex caulk. If you need to remove stink bugs already established in the home, a vacuum cleaner can aid in the removal. However, make sure to empty the vacuum cleaner outdoors after using to avoid the odor that will probably permeate throughout the house from disturbing the bugs.

Although studies are being conducted on how to handle the growing problem, farmers don’t currently have too many options. Pesticides that are used for other bugs can work, however, unless the pesticide hits the bug directly, it won’t make much of a difference in the stink bug population.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry asks anyone who finds a stink bug to take a picture and fill out an online survey. That could be a cumbersome project.

I have not seen any marmorated stink bugs in my home, but I have seen many around homes of family and friends, especially those residing in rural areas. Most merely dismiss it as nothing more than a nuisance and simply deal with them one at a time, as they appear.

What else can you do?

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Update on birds

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

As an update to my column of two weeks ago about the disappearance of birds from our backyard feeders, I have done some more research, and received some feedback from readers.

Through the dog days of August, it is not unusual to see and hear fewer birds. The nesting season has ended. So, young birds and their parents have dispersed and left their nesting territories (your yard). If natural food is plentiful, they are less likely to supplement their diet with your feeders. Migration has also started. Backyard birds with long migration routes will start leaving early in more northern areas of the country as insect populations start to fall off. Midday heat will make birds more inactive. Summer temperatures will often cause birds to be less active during the middle of the day. So, it’s possible that the warm fall we are experiencing has something to do with it. So, they won’t come to feeders as much.

“Things are going wrong with our environment,” writes John Terborgh, a James B. Duke Profesor of Environmental Science at Duke University. “Even the parts of it that are nominally protected. If we wait until all the answers are in, we may find ourselves in a much worse predicament than if we had taken notice of the problem earlier. By waiting, one risks being too late; on the other hand, there can be no such thing as being too early.”

For some interesting insight, read Terborgh’s book, Where Have All the Birds Gone?: Essays on the Biology and Conservation of Birds that Migrate to the American Tropics.

Is this talk about national bird declines just hot air? No. As well as all these apparent disappearances of birds, there has been a serious, countrywide, decline in the numbers of many birds, including many well known and loved species. This decline has been slow and gradual, rather than sudden. Extensive research has shown that these declines are caused primarily by changes in agriculture.

According to ArkWildlife, a respected online trading bird food and wildlife habitats company, and 24 years of history with a passion for garden wildlife, “don’t panic, nothing’s gone wrong. The birds are simply following the natural seasons, food availability and their natural behaviour. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, birds can suffer real food shortages during the summer months at a time most vital to them – the breeding season. Wet weather or a late spring can all mean a lack of insects to forage for when the trees and hedgerows have long since been stripped of berries and seeds. So birds turn to our gardens in huge numbers to supplement their diet and even bring fledglings directly from the nest to the feeder.”

Although we don’t see it very often, there is a year-round cycle within the bird world. As we transition into fall, birds go into different feeding patterns.

Don’t worry, according to many bird research sources, they will come back. So don’t take down those feeders yet. Keep them filled, the birds will love you for it.

Here are a few responses we received on our website:

Janie says: It appears the loss of birds is quite widespread…not just in Maine. I live in upstate New York… Catskill Mountains region; and we haven’t had any birds, at all, for over a month. We went for about a 45 minute drive to admire the autumn foliage, and we did not see even one bird spotted flying during the drive… and we were specifically watching to see if another area had birds. My relatives and I feed them year round… and usually have to refill the feeders on a daily basis. There have always been lots of birds year round… this has not happened before in over the 25 years I have lived here. On a positive note, we noticed this weekend a few birds have started to return from wherever they had gone! It is so nice to hear and see them again!

JHM says: I have had a feeder in Waterville, Maine, for many years. The first few days in September the hummingbird sat at the nectar feeder almost all day and evidently left that night on his southern journey. Until about that date my seed feeder had many daily bird visits from tufted titmice, several male and female cardinals, many chickadees, gold finches and house finches, and others. But right about that time in early to mid-September I realized my feeder was staying full and there were no birds, only an occasional squirrel. I cleaned the feeder and bought new seeds, but still no luck. I kept a look out for predators and did see a cat several times. But, that is not unusual. I have seen an occasional titmouse and cardinal but that is it. I have seen some birds in the trees, but not as many as I have seen in the past. I hope they will come back as the birds are a bright spot by my kitchen window during the long winter.

Caroline says: I was just googling “where are the birds” and this article was high in the search. I live in Southport, North Carolina. Usually my feeders are covered with many types of birds, especially House finches. But for the last month or two, I have a couple of chickadees, cardinals and nuthatches. This area is rich in bird life, especially water birds (egrets, herons, etc) and those birds seem to be about the same. But I am very shocked at the decrease in feeder birds. We have a lot of insects here. I have noticed no decrease in them. I am very concerned to find an article from Maine that describes a similar situation.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Where have all the birds gone?

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Where have all the birds gone? That is a question that has been asked of me many times over the last several weeks. My wife first brought it to my attention when we first moved back to town from camp in early October. So, like a good husband, I ignored it. I said that I had seen birds at the feeders. Then, someone called a couple of weeks ago, and asked the same question. Many friends have also brought the situation to my attention.

So, thinking back, I realized the birds I had seen at home did not amount to the same number that have frequented our feeders in the past. Namely, one nuthatch, one chickadee and one house finch. The feeders are usually covered with gold finches, woodpeckers along with many other species. So, where did they go?

Even at camp, we noticed a shortage of birds this season. We did not see any grosbeaks, orioles or cardinals. And the hummingbirds left two weeks earlier than usual. So, where did the bird go?

Research showed me there is no definite answer. One of the reasons could be the loss of insects. Birds are highly dependent on them. When was the last time you had to clean your windshield of insects in the summer as we once did? Even at camp this summer, we noticed a shortage of insects. I haven’t seen a June bug in two years. There were hardly any hickory tussock caterpillars this fall, and definitely a decline in the number of harvestman spiders.

The loss of bird populations in the Western Mountains of Maine includes three major causes. First, there has been a coincidental drop in insect life. No one completely understands how or why this has happened. Another reason is loss of habitat.

Has anyone seen a wooly bear caterpillar this fall? They usually begin to appear in mid-September. I have seen zero, nil, zilch this fall.

Lepidoptera – Arctiidae – Pyrrharctia isabella caterpillar (woolly bear caterpillar)

Birds are the warning lights that tell us our natural systems are stressed out. Seen as indicator species for the health of America’s natural landscape, they are declining in numbers at an alarming rate.

I think it was in July when we first noticed there weren’t as many birds around as usual. We kept the feeders filled, but the time lapse between fill-ups was getting longer.

Was the summer too cold for baby birds to survive? Also, organized spraying campaigns can kill birds as well as the massive caterpillar population. Or, did the birds just go somewhere else. I guess we shouldn’t take it personally because birds do move from place to place in search of food. Birds migrate, so did they leave to head south a little earlier than normal. Did the violent hurricane activity this year have an affect on the bird migration? Did the storms mess up the birds’ timing and navigation? I guess the questions are endless on the possibilities.

The best reason I was able to find was from the Audubon Society, along with other bird information sources, insisting that nothing is wrong. That because of the warmer than usual fall weather and the unusually abundant sources of natural food, the birds are still finding plenty to eat in the wild. Also, another explanation was that bird populations naturally fluctuate from year to year and that a feeder that is really “busy” one year may have fewer birds the next.

It is apparently a universal question in our area right now, and one that seems to have fewer answers.

Read the follow-up, Update on Birds

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Gathering winter’s fare

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

During one of the final weekends of camp, my wife and I, one day, were sitting on the deck, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather and watched nature as we made our plans for closing up camp for the summer. It was a warm, sunny day with a slight breeze coming out of the northwest. During that time I was able to watch this one particular chipmunk, which I would have to describe as resilient and determined.

Right in front of our storage sheds, he had dug one of his many entry holes. As we later went about our business of closing things up, the chipmunk’s hole kept getting filled in. Over the next few days, we would wake up in the morning and the hole had been re-opened.

On the fourth day I noticed his hole had not been re-opened from the day before.

Suddenly, out of the brush he came, and right there in front of us, began to dig as if we were not there. I know he knew we were there, but I couldn’t figure out whether he wanted to show us that we were not going to discourage him, or maybe he was just being plain defiant.

They are cute little buggers and very industrious. We watch them at our camp all the time, and they become braver as the summer turns to fall.

The common name of the chipmunk comes from the native Ottawan word jidmoonh, meaning “red squirrel.” The earliest form of “chipmunk” appeared in the Oxford Dictionary of 1842, although it appears in several books from the 1820s. They are also referred to as striped squirrels, chippers, munks and timber tigers.

They are omnivorous, primarily feeding on nuts and other fruits, buds, grass, shoots and many other forms of plant matter, as well as fungi, insects and other arthropods, small frogs, worms and bird eggs. Oh, and did I mention bird seed.

They forage basically on the ground but will climb trees for hazelnuts and acorns. They begin to stockpile food in early fall. They stash their food in their burrows and remain underground until spring, unlike some other species which make multiple small caches of food, such as the gray squirrel.

As small as they are, they fulfill several important functions in forest ecosystems. Their activities harvesting and hoarding tree seeds play a crucial role in seedling establishment. They consume many different kinds of fungi, including those involved with trees, and are an important vehicle in the dispersal of the spores of truffles which have co-evolved with these and other mammals, and thus lost the ability to disperse their spores through the air.

The eastern chipmunk hibernates during the winter.

Chipmunks also play an important role as prey for various predatory mammals and birds, but are also opportunistic predators themselves, particularly in regards to bird eggs and nestlings.

Chipmunks, on average, live about three years, but have been known to live up to nine years in captivity. In captivity, they sleep an average of 15 hours a day. It is thought that mammals which can sleep in hiding, such as rodents and bats, tend to sleep longer than those that must remain on alert.

Well, when we left our little friend on Sunday afternoon, his hole was open and he was seen scurrying around in the leaves, gathering the acorns that were falling from the trees …as if we weren’t even there.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: It takes many generations of Monarchs to complete migration

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

A little while ago, while watching the National Geographic’s channel on television, I saw an episode of a series called Great Migrations, and became very interested in the Monarch butterflies, who are among the most intriguing of the migrating species.

The monarch, Danaus plexippus, is probably the best known of all North American butterflies. Its wings feature an easily recognizable orange and black pattern, with a wingspan of 3-1/2 – 4 inches.

It takes four generations of Monarch butterflies to complete southern and northern migrations.

The monarch is most famous for its southward migration and northward return in summer in the Americas which spans the lifetime of three to four generations of the butterfly.

The upper side of the wings is tawny-orange, the veins and margins are black, and in the margins are two series of small white spots. The fore wings also have a few orange spots near the tip. The underside is similar but the tip of the fore wing and hind wing are yellow-brown instead of tawny-orange and the white spots are larger.

In North America, the monarch ranges from southern Canada to northern South America.

Monarchs are especially noted for their lengthy annual migration. In North America they make massive southward migrations starting in August until the first frost. A northward migration takes place in the spring. The monarch is the only butterfly that migrates both north and south as the birds do on a regular basis. But no single individual makes the entire round trip. Female monarchs deposit eggs for the next generation during these migrations.

By the end of October, the population east of the Rocky Mountains migrates to the sanctuaries of the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve within the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt pine-oak forests in the Mexican states of Michoacán and México. The western population overwinters in various sites in central coastal and southern California, United States, notably in Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz.

The length of these journeys exceeds the normal lifespan of most monarchs, which is less than two months for butterflies born in early summer. The last generation — also known as the super generation — of the summer enters into a non-reproductive phase and may live seven months or more. These butterflies fly to one of many overwintering sites. The generation that overwinters generally does not reproduce until it leaves the overwintering site sometime in February and March.

It is the second, third and fourth generations that return to their northern locations in the United States and Canada in the spring. How the species manages to return to the same overwintering spots over a gap of several generations is still a subject of research; the flight patterns appear to be inherited, based on a combination of the position of the sun in the sky and a time-compensated sun compass that depends upon a circadian (repeating in a 24-hour cycle) clock that is based in their antennae.

Monarch butterflies are one of the few insects capable of making trans-Atlantic crossings. They are becoming more common in Bermuda due to increased usage of milkweed as an ornamental plant in flower gardens.

Because they feed mainly on milkweed, monarch butterflies are poisonous or distasteful to birds and mammals because of the presence of cardiac glycosides that are contained in milkweed consumed by the larva. It is thought that the bright colors of larva and adults function as warning colors. During hibernation monarch butterflies sometimes suffer losses because hungry birds pick through them looking for the butterflies with the least amount of poison, but in the process killing those that they reject. Some birds, such as orioles and jays have learned to eat only the thoracic muscles and abdominal contents because they contain less poison. In Mexico, about 14 percent of the overwintering monarchs are eaten by birds and mice.

Many people like to attract monarchs by growing a butterfly garden with a specific milkweed species. Many schools also enjoy growing and attending to monarch butterflies, starting with the caterpillar form. When the butterflies reach adulthood they are released into the wild.

A problem in North America is the black swallow-wort plant. Monarchs lay their eggs on these plants since they produce stimuli similar to milkweed. Once the eggs hatch, the caterpillars are poisoned by the toxicity of this invasive plant.

The common name “Monarch” was first published in 1874 by Samuel H. Scudder because “it is one of the largest of our butterflies, and rules a vast domain.”

Monarchs are beautiful to watch during the summer, but the next time you see one, think of what that particular butterfly may have gone through to be with us.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Talk always turns to weather

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Isn’t it amazing how when you begin a conversation with someone, inevitably, it always leads to the weather. What would we do if we didn’t have the weather to talk about. Maybe some of us would never speak.

Whether you’re at the supermarket, church, or just bumping into a friend on the street, the conversation always goes something like, “What a nice day” or “boy, it sure is hot enough.” Get the idea?

Well, the other day, a colleague and I started talking about whether this recent stretch of weather constituted an “Indian Summer.” Which prompted me to think, “what really is an Indian summer and what determines whether we have one or not?”

An Indian summer is unseasonably warm, dry and calm weather, usually following a period of colder weather or frost in the late autumn, in September, October or early November. The Old Farmers Almanac describes it as taking place between November 11 and 20. It states, “During true Indian summer, the atmosphere looks hazy or smokey, and the weather is calm and dry.”

Modern ideas on what an Indian summer constitutes vary, but the most widely accepted value for determining whether an Indian summer is occurring is that the weather must be above 70 degrees for seven days after the autumnal equinox. The autumn equinox occured last week, and we have had a stretch of seven days where we are experiencing unseasonally warm weather. We also had a period of cold weather earlier in September.

The term Indian summer has been used for more than two centuries. The origin of other “Indian”phrases are well-known as referring to North American Indians, who prefer to be called Native Americans, or, in Canada, First Nations. The term Indian summer reached England in the 19th century, during the heyday of the British Raj in India. This led to the mistaken belief that the term referred to the Indian subcontinent. In fact, the Indians in question were the Native Americans, and the term began use there in the late 18th century.

Indian summer is first recorded in Letters From an American Farmer, a 1778 work by the French-American soldier-turned-farmer J. H. St. John de Crevecoeur: “Then a severe frost succeeds which prepares it to receive the voluminous coat of snow which is soon to follow; though it is often preceded by a short interval of smoke and mildness, called the Indian Summer.”

There are many references to the term in American literature in the following hundred years or so. In the 1830s Indian summer began to be used figuratively, to refer to any late flowering following a period of decline. It was well enough established as a phrase by 1834 for John Greenleaf Whittier to use the term that way, when in his poem Memories,” he wrote of “The Indian Summer of the heart!.”

Or, Thomas DeQuincey, in a republishing of Bentley’s Works of Thomas DeQuincey, 1855, wrote: “An Indian summer crept stealthily over his closing days.”

Also, in his story The Guardian Angel, Oliver Wendell Holmes mentions “an Indian summer of serene widowhood.”

As a climatic event it is known throughout the world and is most frequently associated with the eastern and central states of the U.S., which have a suitable climate to generate the weather pattern. For example, a wide variation of temperature and wind strength from summer to winter.

Why Indian? Well, no one knows but, as is commonplace when no one knows, many people have guessed.

Some say it was from the prairie fires deliberately set by Indian tribes; from raids on European settlements by Indian war parties, which usually ended in autumn; or, in parallel with other Indian terms, it implied a belief in Indian falsity and untrustworthiness and that an Indian summer was a substitute copy of the real thing.

But my grandfather, who could spin a yarn with the best of them, had the best I’ve ever heard.

It seems an Indian chief was concerned about a hunting party that was delayed in returning from a late summer gathering of meat for the winter. The year had been an extremely difficult one and the tribe needed the buffalo, deer and turkey meat for their winter consumption, and the hides for clothing and shelters. Fearing the crops in the fields would go to waste before the braves returned to harvest, the chief sat at his campfire and began to feverishly smoke a pipe, until the air was filled with smokey, hot air. Once the hunting party made its return, the air was still warm enough to gather the crops that had not been damaged by frost, that the chief feared would be destroyed by the impending cold weather.

Makes sense to me.