Plenty of deer ticks, but not many nuts

IT'S ANOTHER autumn in the natural world. Raptors are on the move. So are deer ticks. Oak and hickory tree nuts are not as plentiful as they are in some years, so nut-loving wildlife may have a tough winter.

Deer ticks abound

Beware of the dreaded deer tick; they seem to be in high concentrations right now. Deer ticks transmit serious diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain spotted fever if the ticks come in contact with a deer or rodent vector sometime during their development.

The females lay eggs in the spring and then die. The very tiny larvae emerge in August and begin feeding, as they need a blood meal to develop into a nymph. The nymphs then feed and develop into adults by mid- to late October. Adult deer ticks remain active throughout winter as long as conditions are favorable. If wintry conditions develop, the tick finds a sheltered area and waits for circumstances to improve.

Deer ticks feed by injecting their mouthpart under the skin and extracting blood from the host. This is how the diseases are transmitted. Most experts agree it takes 24 to 48 hours of attachment to transmit Lyme disease, so it is important to check yourself, children and pets after they have been in areas that would harbor ticks. It is more likely to come in contact with a deer tick in the late fall and winter than in summer.

Not many acorns or hickory nuts

There is a below-normal acorn and hickory nut production this year throughout much of the county. There are a smattering of hickory nuts and a few acorns arising from pin oaks, otherwise not much of anything. This is likely due to the strong storms in April and May that could have blown the male and female flowers off before fertilization took place. The oaks and hickories may have come out of dormancy in a weakened state due to last year's drought or gypsy moth defoliation. Also, both oaks and hickories are rather sporadic in their seed production, so it might not have been their year to produce.

The end result of this poor crop is that wildlife that depends on acorns and hickory nuts as a winter food source will be stressed, especially deer and wild turkeys. Fortunately, the beech had a pretty good seed crop this year, so this may help these animals get through the winter.

Squirrels can open walnuts, and there was a very abundant crop of walnuts this year.

Place unwanted walnuts in the forest for squirrels to feed on.

Hawk migration

If you have noticed large groups of hawks or other birds of prey flying over mountain ridges, you might be witnessing the annual hawk migration. Many hawks, eagles, ospreys and falcons migrate from their northern breeding grounds to southern wintering areas during autumn.

Some species of raptors travel as far south as South America. Others, like Cooper's hawks, are full-time residents. Raptors tend to travel well-defined routes to take advantage of updrafts that make it easier to stay aloft. These routes often follow coastlines, rivers and mountain ridges.

Hawks begin their migration in mid-September, with the most activity occurring from mid-October through November in our area. There are a number of hawk watching hot spots throughout the region. A good local observation area is the monument at Washington Monument State Park, on Alt. U.S. 40 near Boonsboro.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 11/30/2008