around us are signs that summer is waning and fall is just a cool front
away. Here is my list of clues that our natural world is in a
stage of transition and crisp cooler weather is on the way to replace
the sticky muggy days of summer.
A Cloud of Butterflies: Yellow cloudless sulphur butterflies
are parading through on their annual migration. Soon the sulfurs will
be joined by the Gulf fritillary and monarch butterflies seeking out
nectar from flowering plants. The cloudless sulphur butterfly has a
super long proboscis, or tongue, that allows them to reach the nectar
left behind by other butterflies on deep tubular flowers. It is thought
that the word butterfly was inspired by this buttery colored insect.
The old English word “buturflieg” is a combination of two words that
mean butter and fly. Local folklore indicates that when the numbers of
cloudless sulphur butterflies are at their peak, it is a sign for the
few remaining mullet fishermen to get their boats and nets ready to
harvest the mullet, which brings us to sign number two.
• Field notes on the migration of yellow sulphurs
The Mullet Are Jumping:
Big striped mullet, also called jumping mullet, are already leaping
through the air and slapping the water. Their jumping behavior is
thought to be an evasive maneuver to escape predators and to aid in
breathing while in waters with low oxygen. When a large group of mullet
jump out of the water with speed and purpose, they are racing away from
danger. When you see a lone mullet jump lazily out of the water landing
on its side, it is taking in some oxygen. Research also suggests this
style of jumping may be a way to dislodge parasites from their
silver green fish isn’t well thought of as the centerpiece of a fine
meal because of its oily flesh and because it is a favorite of
fishermen to use as bait for red drum. However, I have enjoyed a fresh
mullet cooked over the grill by someone with enough culinary skills to
make this fish tasty. For generations, this lowly fish has been
harvested by hardy fishermen with hands rough and calloused from
pulling in heavy nets laden with mullet, fat with the prized
orangish-red eggs of the females. This roe is a delicacy in Japan and
other Far East countries. This dying breed of fisherman will bide his
or her time until the strong autumn cold fronts blast winds from the
northeast, known as a “mullet blow,” chilling the water and igniting a
•Watch a video of hundreds of mullets jumping out of the water
Fattening Grapes on the Vine:
The fat muscadine grapes are hanging heavy with tasty pulp which is
causing them to lose their battle with gravity and fall off the vine.
This naturally occurring vine has been cultivated for centuries,
producing many different varieties such as the popular Scuppernong.
What is thought to be one of the oldest grape vines in the world is a
Scuppernong muscadine vine known as the “Mother Vine” on Roanoke
Island. Over the centuries it has survived the howling salt-filled
winds of many hurricanes; however a few years ago, the Mother Vine was
nursed back to health after being mistakenly sprayed with an
grapes contain ellagic acid and resveratrol which show great promise in
their ability to prevent cancer tumor growth. Muscadine grapes have
long been used to make wine, juice and jelly. A coworker of mine once
decided that he would attempt to make a batch of jelly. Without
caution, he went headlong into a shrub thicket covered with the vine
and emerged with a bucket brimming with the thick-skinned dark purple
grape. He created the finest jelly ever to grace a peanut butter. Yet,
he never cooked up another batch, as he also filled his underwear full
of chiggers as he harvested the berries. He is still itching today.
•Growing muscadines at home
The Silence of the Buntings:
The sweet song of our colorful summer visitors has fallen silent as the
male painted buntings have found it unnecessary to sing for a mate.
They have returned to their secretive ways within the dense maritime
shrub thickets, no longer pining from an exposed perch for the
attention of a female. With the breeding season over, the males, pale
green females and fledglings are preparing for the demanding and
hazardous return trip to lower Florida and Cuba. Keep those feeders
full of white millet until October to help these beauties put on a
layer of fat necessary to fuel them on their travels.
•Attracting painted buntings to your yard
The Waning Light:
Although it has been barely perceptible on a daily basis, we will have
lost over two hours and twenty minutes of sunlight between the summer
solstice on June 21 and the fall equinox on Sept. 22. Now, the length
of darkness exceeds the sunlight hours until next spring.
length of daylight and nighttime hours causes physical changes in
plants and animals and is called photoperiodism. The shorter days will
trigger migration and mating behavior in some animals as well as
changes in the color and thickness of fur. Birds will molt new
feathers, some plants will lose their leaves and some will flower.
•Everything you need to know about the fall equinox
The male white-tailed deer are rubbing their antlers on the base of
cedar trees trying to remove the once dark brown velvety covering that
has now dried up and turned pale. The antler velvet is a hairy skin
that supplies blood necessary for the antlers to grow. During growth,
while in velvet, the antler is soft and vulnerable to injury. If the
antler is damaged during this stage it can result in unusual
deformities of the antler. As fall approaches, blood flow to the antler
stops, causing the velvet to split and slough off in bloody dangling
ropes. The antlers will soon shine like a sun bleached bone and the
males will be sparring for dominance to breed with the females.
A Riot of Goldenrod:
Seaside goldenrod plants are just beginning to show a hint of yellow
and will be adding some color to the dunes along the barrier islands.
During their fall migration, monarch butterflies will seek out the
goldenrod as a nectar source to fuel them on their way to Mexico. This
tough plant can tolerate the harshness of the beach environment and is
thus used for dune and wildlife habitat restoration projects.
A Bear in the Night Sky:
The night sky is in transition with the big dipper making its way to
the low northern horizon. This pattern of stars is known as an asterism
and is within the constellation Ursa Major, the Big Bear. The big
dipper forms the tail and rump of the bear image. There are many Native
American legends of the night sky concerning the big dipper. One of
these stories relates that the low position of the big dipper on the
horizon is an indication that the bear is coming back to earth to hibernate with the other animals.
•The Myths of the Great Bear
An American Beauty:
Among the maritime shrubs, American beautyberry has exploded with their
purple berries screaming for attention. This plant lives up to its name
and is a popular landscaping plant. Its leaves and berries are an
important food source for birds, deer, raccoons and foxes. The Native
Americans used all parts of this plant to make teas and other
treatments for a variety of medicinal uses such as dizziness and
stomach aches. Some of the chemicals in this plant are being studied
for their ability to repel mosquitoes, ticks and fire ants.
•Beautyberry Jelly Recipes
If you’re counting, that’s nine natural signs of fall. Go to this story’s posting on the federation’s Facebook page and add a tenth.
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read other
stories about the North Carolina coast at www.nccoast.org.)
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