Looking ahead to events in nature after another summer marked by climate change
As it was in the summers of both 2016 and 2017, the biggest story of the past three months has been the weather chaos unleashed on planet Earth by climate change. Just in Canada, we saw the worst fire season ever in B.C. as well as 89 heat wave-related deaths in Quebec. In Peterborough, the last four months have all been well above the long-term monthly normals. July and August were a scorching 2.4 C and 3.3 C above the 1971-2000 averages. In fact, 75 of the past 104 months in Peterborough have been warmer than normal.
Since late June, Peterborough has registered 23 days above 30 C. When you compare this to the long-term average of only 6.3 days per summer, you get a sense of how exceptional this summer has been. However, according to the latest projections prepared for the City of Peterborough by ICLEI Canada, 23 days above 30 C will be the norm by the 2030s. In other words, summers just like this one where it’s often uncomfortable to do much of anything outside.
On July 3, Dr. Blair Feltmate of the University of Waterloo wrote in the Globe and Mail that suggesting that Canada’s recent heat wave and climate change are not linked “would be like arguing that no particular home run can be attributed to steroids when a baseball player on a hitting streak is caught doping”- an apt metaphor to use when explaining to friends and family how climate change and extreme weather events are linked.
On a more positive note, a heartening story this summer has been the abundance of monarch butterflies. For example, on August 30, I counted more than 80 monarchs migrating west along the shore of Lake Ontario – just in the space of 15 minutes. I have also had monarchs in my garden every day now for weeks. According to Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, there is a good prospect that the overwintering population in Mexico will increase from 2.48 hectares last year to 5 hectares this coming winter.
Many people have also commented on the rich, backyard cricket chorus this summer. Most of the voices are courtesy of fall field crickets, ground crickets and both snowy and four-spotted tree crickets. If you haven’t yet taken in the performance, the music should continue for several more weeks.
Looking ahead to the fall, here is a list of events in nature that are typical of autumn in the Kawarthas – an autumn that once again is projected to be warmer than usual.
- On September 8 at 1 pm, the Peterborough Alliance for Climate Action will be hosting a “Rise for Climate” rally at Confederation Park, across from City Hall. There will be a short parade, speakers and information booths. If you care about climate change – and your children’s and grandchildren’s future – please try to attend.
- Fall songbird migration is now in full swing. Migrants such as warblers are often in mixed flocks with chickadees and can be coaxed in for close-up views by using “pishing”. To see a video I made on September 2 using this technique, go to http://bit.ly/2wKE2IH. The response I got was no less than spectacular.
- Spectacular swarms of flying ants are a common September phenomenon. Some are females – the potential future queens – but the majority are males. A given ant species will swarm and mate on the same day over huge areas, sometimes covering hundreds of kilometres. The males soon die, and the mated females disperse to establish a new colony.
- On the evening of September 12, the young waxing crescent moon will appear about “one fist” above Venus in the southwestern sky. A great photo opportunity!
- Although their reproductive purpose is for another season, gray treefrogs and spring peepers sometimes call from woodland trees in late summer and fall. They are most vocal on warm, humid days like this past Labour Day Weekend.
- If we continue to get rain, this should be a good fall for mushrooms. In fields, watch for giant puffballs, which look like an errant soccer ball or a loaf of white bread. This species is edible when young. If you step on an old one, dust-like brown spores will “puff” out.
- Kawartha Land Trust’s Stony Lake Trails are a one of my favourite destinations for mushroom-viewing. Details at http://bit.ly/2h3nYJg
- Peterborough Field Naturalists hold their Sunday Morning Wildlife Walks each Sunday in September and October. Meet at the Riverview Park and Zoo parking lot at 8 am and bring binoculars. Indoor meetings take place on the second Wednesday of each month (7:30 pm) at the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre at 2505 Pioneer Road. On September 12, Scott Blair will speak on “Brook Trout in Harper and Byersville Creek… A Story of Survival”. For more information, go to peterboroughnature.org
- As the goldenrods begin to fade, asters take centre stage. The white flowers of heath, panicled and calico asters, along with the purple and mauve blossoms of New England, purple-stemmed and heart-leaved asters provide much of the show. Visit http://bit.ly/2fhW4sN (Ontario Wildflowers) for tips on identifying these beautiful but under appreciated plants.
- Don’t miss the spectacular Harvest Moon, which occurs this year on September 24, rising at 7:21 pm. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the fall equinox (September 22). For several nights before and after this date, the moon rises at almost the same time. This allowed farmers to work into the evening under bright moonlight. Moonrise times for Peterborough can be found at http://bit.ly/2M1QOHr
- Cuddly brown and black woolly bear caterpillars are a common fall sight as they look for a sheltered location to overwinter. Watch also for yellow bear and American dagger moth caterpillars, which are similar in size and also have a hairy appearance.
- Fall colours in the Kawarthas usually peak early in the month. As long as September is not too hot and dry, the sugar maples will provide most of the colour. County Roads 620 and 504 around Chandos Lake east of Apsley makes for a great colour drive.
- Sparrow migration takes centre stage this month, making October one of the busiest times of the year for backyard feeders. Scatter millet or finch mix on the ground to attract dark-eyed juncos and both white-throated and white-crowned sparrows.
- Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Ecology Park on Ashburnham Drive has a wide selection of native species.
- Salamander hunting is a fun fall activity for the entire family. The red-backed, which is almost worm-like in appearance, is usually the most common. Look carefully under flat rocks, old boards, and logs in damp wooded areas and around cottages.
- Flocks of “giant” Canada geese (the subspecies that nests in the Kawarthas), rIng-billed gulls, red-winged blackbirds, American crows, and American robins are widespread.
- A tide of yellow spreads across the landscape in mid- through late October. The colour is supplied courtesy of trembling and bigtooth aspens, balsam poplar, silver maple, white birch and, at month’s end, tamarack.
- As ducks move southward, consider a visit to the Lakefield sewage lagoon. It is located on the south side of County Road 33, just south of Lakefield. Be careful to avoid blocking the gate when you park. Goldeneye, buffleheads, scaup and mergansers are often present in large numbers. If you have a spotting scope, be sure to take it along. The sewage lagoon is one of the best birding locations in the Kawarthas.
- The first northern finches usually start turning up in late October. To learn which species to expect this fall and winter, Google “winter finch forecast 2018-2019”. The forecast, compiled by Ron Pittaway, is usually available online by early October.
- On October 24, the Peterborough Horticultural Society will present a talk on bees featuring Joe & Hazel Cook of Blossom Hill Nursery. The meeting, which is open to all, takes place at the Peterborough Lions Centre at 347 Burnham Street starting at 7 pm.
- Oaks, tamaracks and silver maples are about the only native deciduous trees that still retain foliage in early November. The brownish-orange to burgundy leaves of red oaks stand out with particular prominence. At a glance, you can see just how common oaks are in many areas of the Kawarthas.
- We return to Standard Time on Sunday, November 4, and turn our clocks back one hour. Sunrise on the 4th is at 6:54 am and sunset at 4:58 pm for a total of only 10 hours and 4 minutes of daylight. Compare this to the 15 1/2 hours we enjoyed back in June!
- The red berries of wetland species like winterberry holly and high-bush cranberry provide some much needed November colour.
- Most of our loons and robins head south this month. However, small numbers of robins regularly overwinter in the Kawarthas.
- Ball-like swellings known as galls are easy to see on the stems of goldenrods. If you open the gall with a knife, you will find the small, white larva of the goldenrod gall fly inside. In the spring, it will emerge as an adult fly.
- Damp, decomposing leaves on the forest floor scent the November air.
I would like to thank Tim Dyson, Annamarie Beckel, Jo Hayward-Haines and Gordon Harrison for having done such an admirable job filling in for me this summer. We are fortunate in the Kawarthas to have so many people with extensive knowledge of nature and the importance of the natural world in our lives.