Countdown to Autumn in Oakland County

Chipmunk

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

I’m often asked how I select Wilder Side of Oakland County nature topics. I’m easily distracted, that’s how. Being distracted as I hike is a very good thing for me. Distractions often lead to noting aspects of nature’s way that I was not searching for as the countdown to autumn accelerates. Distractions increase when I hike with my trail companion. An extra set of eyes notes wonders of nature I might just pass by. “Did you see that?” I’m asked. My answer is often no, and that means it is time for me to stop, observe, discover, and learn.

My plan was to kick off this week’s blog with information about field crickets. Why field crickets? Multiple questions about these hidden songsters of the night have been coming my way, but a lead photo of a cricket might not have lured you in to read. Chipmunks, however, have a ‘cute’ factor, so that’s where I begin with apologies to my entomology friends that know how absolutely cool field crickets really are. And unlike field crickets, chipmunks readily pose for photos.

Chipmunks

Chipmunks are members of the squirrel family that bears the scientific name of Sciuridae. However, they live very different lives than the red squirrels, fox squirrels, and gray squirrels that are so common in Oakland County. Unlike their tree-dwelling squirrel cousins, chipmunks prefer to burrow underground.

However, chipmunks certainly can and will climb trees and bird feeder poles. They are omnivorous creatures with a hearty appetite, and as autumn approaches, their diet expands to include a great variety of seeds, fruits, and insects. One often sits at the edge of the bird bath and provides entertainment for me when I write from the comfort of my arbor. Perhaps I am providing entertainment for it as well?

chimpmunk

Field Crickets

Field crickets are one of the most active insects of September, and as August waned, their sudden symphony of “night music” reminded me that the sizzling hot days of summer are rapidly fading. Hundreds, or perhaps thousands of field crickets inhabit my meadow and also find refuge in an old garage. Although I rarely see them, their quintessential chirping that started in late July tells me of their presence.

Their song rhythm, currently about one chirp a second, slows down as summer wanes and then suddenly falls silent after the first frost. It was a challenge catching one for a photo, a mission finally accomplished by lifting an old board in my garage, a favored location for crickets. The video above captures the chirps of a cricket under shrubs near my door.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbits

Everywhere! That one word describes with accuracy where eastern cottontail rabbits are found. They are highly adaptable creatures and thrive from the rural meadows of northern Oakland County down to the City of Southfield. However, since they are more active at night than day, their abundant presence often goes unnoticed. Everyone seems to love seeing these rabbits, with ‘everyone’ including hungry hawks, owls, coyotes, red foxes and free-roaming cats. A look at their short, cotton-ball-like tail makes it clear how they earned their name. One lives in shrubs near my arbor, and tolerates my presence rather pleasantly.

Eastern Cottontail

Fall Webworms

Fall webworms have appeared in great numbers in some areas of our county, while they are totally absent in others. Every year in late August or early September I receive photos of their enormous webs and are often asked how to get rid of the “tent caterpillars.” Fall webworms are not the same creature as tent caterpillars. The relatively small web of the tent caterpillar is almost always located within the crotch of tree, usually a young black cherry tree, and their feeding is done outside their web. To lessen confusion, keep in mind that fall webworms occur in late summer and fall, whereas eastern tent caterpillars appear in spring. The University of New Hampshire Extension explains other differences:

The fall webworm is frequently confused with the Eastern tent caterpillar. The dirty loosely-woven web of the fall webworm encloses branches; the larvae can be found feeding within this web. The web of the Eastern tent caterpillar, on the other hand, is thickly constructed in the forks and crotches of trees; the larvae do not feed within their webs, but congregate there at night and during rainy weather. Fall webworms occur in summer and fall, whereas eastern tent caterpillars appear in spring.” 

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

“My hummingbirds are gone!” A neighbor shared that news with me. I asked a few questions and learned that only his male hummingbirds (males have a ruby-colored throat) are gone. I reassured him the situation is the same at my hummingbird feeder. Here’s why, according to birders in the know. By leaving earlier than the females and immature hummingbirds, the males won’t be competing for fading fall blossoms, and newly-fledged hummingbirds need more time to gain fat reserves before flying off on their first migration south to warmer climates.

Thistles Flowering

Field thistles are passing peak bloom, but still attract all kinds of nectar-seeking insects, including honey bees and bumblebees. The last of this summer’s butterflies are also jostling for position on the blossoms. In another few weeks, another transition occurs and Goldfinch come to the this common invasive of our fields to feast on their seeds, for that too is part of nature’s way as summer slowly fades.

Jonathan Schechter is the nature education writer for Oakland County Government and blogs about nature’s way on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.


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2 thoughts on “Countdown to Autumn in Oakland County

  1. Thank you Jonathan for teaching me “that fall webworms occur in late summer and fall, whereas eastern tent caterpillars appear in spring.”

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