Creatures' Fall Behaviors


Fall Migration


September and October signal the end of warm weather and the threat of frost. The growing season ends, and water and food supplies dwindle. Fall brings less daylight and cooler temperatures, resulting in fewer food sources, both on land and in the water. Subsequently, some creatures migrate to different locales during the season.

Migration, moving in order to find suitable habitat to survive seasonal challenges, includes finding food and/or evading exposure to winter conditions. It may take hundreds of miles or just a short distance to find suitable conditions. Let’s take a closer look at three migratory animals found in your county parks during autumn - the teal cousins, majestic monarchs and spotted salamanders.
A spotted salamander
Spotted Salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, nose to the ground, searches for soft soil to dig deep down for winter den.
In general, October is peak waterfowl migration. Naturally, many birds migrate through our woodlands and fields, but the waterfowl at Chamber’s Lake in Hibernia County Park are quite the sight. The Blue-winged teal, Anas discors, is one of the 1st waterfowl species to migrate in late summer and early fall. The Green-winged teal, Anas crecca, also in the dabbler/ puddle duck family, uses Chamber’s Lake on their migration route as well. Both teals prefer to feed on, or close to, the surface by feeding with their tails in the air. The teals display colorful speculums (wing patches) and, wow, can they fly fast!

Our 2nd migratory critter is truly one-of-a kind! The monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, is an insect who, among our featured creatures, usually travels the greatest distance.
One of the monarch’s great natural abilities is creating a unique generation that can migrateover a 1,000 miles from Canada and the United States to take cover in the mountain peaks of Mexico. As autumn approaches, a very special generation is born. Unlike their parents and four generations of grandparents, all of whom had brief adult lives, these migratory butterflies survive seven or eight months. Given a human’s average life span of 75 years, this would be like having children who are 525 years old.

By closing down roads, the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, attracts newsworthy attention during the spring migration. Don’t they go the opposite direction in the fall? During the spring, it’s a mass migration, and most arrive at the breeding site on the same night. In the fall, it’s a more sporadic migration. In October, you may observe a few salamanders crossing the roads and traveling through the parks’ woodlands. If the ground is thawed, a rainy night over 45°F usually triggers the breeding migration. Nature’s spring rush insures that spotted salamanders compete for the vernal pool in order to stay in the genetic pool!
A green-winged teal duck swimming in water
Green-winged teal, Anas crecca, the smallest dabbling duck in our parks, is strongly migratory and often seen resting on Chambers Lake. Identify him by the green face patch sweeping through his eye.
It seems that both seasonal migrations are triggered by sunlight and micro-climate conditions such as ground conditions (thawed or frozen), air temperatures, humidity and rainfall. Autumn’s longer nights and cooler temperatures prompt the salamanders to head back to their wintering areas. This makes sense as spotted salamanders are "mole" salamanders that spend winter 10 feet underground. Since they’re looking for loose soil rather than a few breeding vernal pools, fall migration is not as urgent.
Sources:
Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, Pennsylvania Amphibians & Reptiles, Larry L. Shaffer
Pennsylvania Game Commission, www.pgc.state.pa.us and Wildlife Note: Puddle Ducks
World Wildlife Fund, Monarch Butterflies, The Monarch Migration, www.worldwildlife.org


Fall Walk Checklist
Enjoy watching creatures migrating this fall during your park walks

Teal Cousins
September 1 - December 1, watch migrating waterfowl on Chamber’s Lake at Hibernia County Park from the observation deck and viewing areas. (October is typically the peak waterfowl month.)

Monarchs
In September, watch for them migrating through all the county park meadows. Find milkweed along the meadow and field edges for best sighting possibilities. Best bets are the serpentine barrens at Nottingham County Park, and meadows at Warwick County Park and Springton Manor Farm.

Spotted Salamanders
"Spotting" this critter is tough due to being nocturnal and out mostly after the parks close for the day. However, a very overcast and rainy day may bring a few "spotties" up from the ground to travel across the woodlands to better wintering areas. Best bet is to walk in the Warwick woods early in the morning or late afternoon on a rainy October day.

As with all watchable wildlife, respect the animal from a distance and maintain your own safety.