Early Fall Delights on Naked Mountain

The weather for the past several days has been spectacular!  Low humidity, warm days in the 70’s with bright, clear blue skies and cool evenings drenched with golden red sunsets.  

Yesterday morning, as I sipped coffee on my deck at 8:00 a.m., I heard a commotion in the trees nearby.  I kept seeing flashes of yellow and olive green as several birds worked the undersides of the leaves for insects and called gently to each other in high-pitched sounds.  I grabbed my binoculars and was able to get one of the birds in focus:  Black-throated Green Warblers.  They must have been migrating, on their way from summer nesting grounds in conifer forests further north to the tip of Florida, or Mexico for their winter stay.  I am used to seeing and hearing Black-throated Green Warblers pass through Naked Mountain in the spring on their way North, but this is the first time I saw a group on their way South in early fall.   You can see photos of these small, colorful birds here.

This is the time, if you live in or near the Appalachian mountains, to watch for migrating birds.  Millions of birds, from large birds of prey like Eagles to tiny warblers, follow the long ridge of the Appalachians that begins as far North as Mount Katahdin in Maine and ends in the hills of Northern Alabama.  The ridges of the mountains provide updrafts of air when western prevailing winds hit the mass of the mountains.  Birds that soar and glide especially benefit, saving the energy it takes to flap their wings.  You will often see hawks use this updraft to “kettle” their way up to thinner air and easier travel lanes.  Dozens, even hundreds, will circle around in each other in a stirred bowl effect, hence the rubric “kettling,” going higher and higher.  One September my husband and I witnessed Broad-winged Hawks kettling right over our heads on our deck.  The hawks circled higher and higher.  Suddenly, a rainbow appeared and they literally disappeared into the rainbow!  What a magical moment!   

An excellent book to read that captures the wonder of migrating birds is Scott Weidensaul’s Living on the Wind.   But be warned;  reading it will inspire you to climb up on the roof of your house at nighttime in October, as I did, and scan the face of the full moon with your binoculars to see thousands of silhouetted birds crossing its silvery face. 

There is a new sound in the early fall forest.  Added to the now fading cicada songs and crickets in crescendo is a crashing sound through the leaves every minute or so.  Naked Mountain has an abundance of Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus) trees and this is a banner year for acorn

Chestnut Oak tree on Naked Mountain loaded with acorns – photo by author

production.  Usually Chestnut Oak acorns on Naked Mountain are about 3/4 inch in diameter.  This year, probably because we have had ample rainfall, they are a full inch in diameter and the trees are loaded.  Many of the forest creatures eat acorns including everyone from mice to bears, so this mast crop is a boon for Naked Mountain denizens. 

I could not resist taking a photo of a late summer Naked Mountain flower:  False Foxglove  (Gerardia laevigata).  This flower is parasitic on oak tree roots and Naked Mountain supports a variety of oak trees.  Consequently, False Foxglove blooms in sunny spots all over the mountain.  It reminds me of tiny golden trumpets.  I wonder what it would sound like if a little chipmunk blew on one?

False Foxgove (Gerardia laevigata) Blooming on Naked Mountain — photo by author

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