Nature Journal: 9/11/2010
By Greg C. Greer
Whip-poor-wills (whips) and chuck-wills-widows (chucks) are migrating through the area. You may hear their “iconic” calls as darkness falls on woodlands in the Atlanta area. Chuck’s are often confused with whips as you have to listen carefully to hear the initial “chuck” sound at the beginning of their call. This time of year, soon after calling, some very active feeding may take place and then putting some miles under their wings…..they migrate through the remainder of the night, to hopefully find a nice wooded area by mornings light, in which to land and rest. Bird migration has been studied extensively and yet there is still soooooo much to learn. Of amazing interest is that birds learn and store the data in their little brain as to where, during migration, they need to fly each and every night, to find a suitable resting and feeding site. An individual bird will stop-over in the same exact locations, year after year. The unfortunate thing is that some of those sites are drastically changed or altered, at the hand of man, and as the feathered creature comes in to refuel and rest…….the once desirable natural area is now concrete and steel. Unfortunately, as wooded areas are gradually replaced by homes, office buildings, retail shops and / or parking lots…….the woods that once provided the wonderfully pleasant calls of whip’s and chuck’s during the evening hours as well as the melodious calls of wood thrush during the day……are now silent. At my home, in Marietta, I too have been deprived in hearing these incredible sounds as nearby, a very large office complex now resides where a large tract of forest once stood.
Chipmunks are now “clucking”, a very common behavior during late summer and early fall. Their clucking is always a reminder, for me that summer is over.
Keep watch of the skies overhead as large kettles of broadwing hawks may be observed. These little buteos migrate in huge numbers as they make their way south, eventually finding their way to Central and Northern South America to spend the northern hemispheres winter.
A kettle is the term for birds that may be flying as a group (flock) in a circular motion. The entire flock, moves as one, catching thermals (rising warm air) which they take advantage of to reduce the amount of energy necessary to sustain flight. Thus, when a flock of birds, like broadwing hawks, turkey vultures and black vultures (just to name a few species) are seen flying in a circular motion, they are referred to as a kettle of…… Often, during the fall, mixed flock kettles may also be observed as broadwings, vultures, Mississippi kites, kestrels, osprey and many others may join together to ride thermals on their journey southward.
Watch out: the last of the seasons “saddle-backed” caterpillars are in their last instar and are fairly common in the Atlanta area. The last instar meaning they are maximum size just prior to the miraculous transformation of going from caterpillar, to cocoon to moth. The 1”+ caterpillars are greenish in color with a dark chestnut brown saddle on the middle of the back. Often the saddle is outlined in white. Each end is also brown and has 2 horns that stick up at a slightly forward and to the side angle in the front and slight angle to the back in the rear. Each of the horns is covered in little hairs and there are little bundles of hairs along the sides of the little creature as well. These hairs are “urticating” hairs that produce a burning sting if touched by the sensitive bare-flesh of a human. The hairs often remain on the person’s skin, although very tiny and difficult to see. It is important not to rub the area but rather use a piece of very sticky tape and place it on the sting site, remove, repeat…..this will remove hairs that you may not be able to see. For such gorgeous little caterpillars, they really pack a wallop! (A wallop that may last a day or two) If you come into contact with a stinging caterpillar, any signs of allergic reactions require medical attention as soon as possible.
In addition to stinging caterpillars there is another creature to be aware of and that is the copperhead. Female copperheads have recently dropped their young (they are live bearers) and the babies, although quite small, are venomous. Baby copperheads are only about 10 inches in length and their coloration is similar to an adult, with the exception, they have a sulfur yellow tail. See photo. Copperheads are fairly common, even in the city of Atlanta. Any person bitten by a copperhead should seek medical attention as soon as possible, without endangering your life or others on the highway as you drive to hospital. Only rarely are copperhead bites a serious health concern but their bites do require medical attention to insure the best possible outcome and a speedy recovery for the patient.