Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

October 31, 2013

ENJOYING NATURE: Fall nature notes

By Don Hazel
Sun contributor

CROSSVILLE — It is already the end of another October, and nature is getting ready for winter. It is a beautiful time to get out and see what is happening. Here are some of my recent observations – they might give you some ideas of what to watch for when you get outside.

There are still a lot of green leaves, but the trees are turning fast. Weeks ago, the first color showed up as dark red leaves on the dogwoods, blackgums (Tupelos), and sourwood trees. In most cases, the yellow trees that you see are hickories. The oaks are usually red, rarely orange or yellow, but many often go straight from green to brown. Maples vary. On a single red maple tree I have seen bright orange, red, bright yellow and green leaves, all at the same time.

I am always interested in how prolific the nut crop, called hard mast, is each year.The health and survival of many animals depends on a good hard mast crop. If female bears don't get enough fall food to store up lots of fat, they may not bear cubs over the winter. Lots of winter fat usually equates to twins or even triplets for the bear mothers. Locally, I have seen lots of hickory nuts, and a pretty good acorn crop. Hopefully, that will mean a good winter for the deer, bear and turkey.

When you find hickory nuts opened by squirrels, you can usually tell which species ate the nuts. Gray squirrels usually crack the nut in half, while flying squirrels only make a hole, like the top of a jack-o-lantern. You would be surprised at how many flying squirrels are around our area. They only come out at night so you rarely see them, but open hickory nuts will give them away. Check under a hickory tree near your yard for evidence of flying squirrels living nearby.

I have seen a regular occurrence of small shallow holes in my yard lately, just an inch or two deep and smaller around than a golf ball. This is the tell tale sign that a skunk was eating grubs in my lawn. I rarely see the skunks because they come out after dark, but I appreciate the organic insect control. About the only time you will smell a skunk is if one had an encounter with a dog or a great horned owl. I have walked within 10 feet of a skunk at least four times (only once on purpose) without any chemical mishaps.

The bucks seem to have broken away from their summer bachelor groups and I only see them by themselves lately. They are busy chasing girlfriends and don't want any help. Drive carefully because they are on the move and not thinking too clearly this time of year.

Which brings me to my annual warning. Every year, knuckleheads attempt to shoot tame deer from their vehicle on some of our roads around Fairfield Glade. Last year someone shot a deer right in front of the Good Samaritan Campus where a miss could have hit a building ... or a person. These people aren't hunters, they are lawbreaking criminals. They shoot from their vehicles, and if the deer doesn't drop right over, they drive away, because they can't risk getting caught while they follow the deer. I saw remains of at least four dead deer in Fairfield Glade last winter that were shot and left. Keep your eyes open for vehicles driving slowly and looking into the woods, or vehicles on unused grassy roads, especially late in the day. Get a license plate number if you can and then call Public Safety at 484-3785, or Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) at 800-241-0767 ... TWRA answers 7 a.m. until midnight. You could save a dangerous situation and possibly get a $1,000 reward from TWRA.

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