Meet the cast: characters from Autumnwatch New England
MOOSE AND TICKS
Moose are susceptible to parasitic ticks, yet they are unable to groom them off. Until recently the ungulates could rely on cold winters to kill off the pests, but as winters warm due to climate change they have resorted to rubbing their backs vigorously against trees to rid themselves of their unwanted guests. Sadly, huge numbers of ‘ghost moose’, their hides rubbed raw and hairless from attempts to shift ticks, die from blood loss and the effects of cold.
SEALS AND GREAT WHITE SHARKS
Once hunted close to extinction, the seal population around coastal New England has rebounded dramatically: as many as 50,000 grey seals are
“New England has charismatic fauna that delivers just as much screen gold as its renowned flora.”
thought to live on Cape Cod alone – and they’re attracting unwanted attention. In the early 2000s, only one or two great white sharks were spotted each year in the area; in 2016, there were 147. We spoke to shark scientist Greg Skomal, who
acknowledges that these are probably among the least studied white sharks in the world.
BEARS AND ORCHARDS
When farmers moved away from New England in the 19th century, they left behind small orchards, remnants of which still linger in the forests today. During autumns when natural food is in short supply, these orchards act as a magnet for wildlife, especially black bears desperate to feed up before the long winter hibernation.
Each September, many of northern North America’s hawks, eagles and falcons head south for the winter, migrating in astonishing numbers. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of birds can be seen in New England in a single day, with broad-winged and redtailed hawks generally in the largest numbers; peregrines, kestrels and bald eagles often reach double digits, too.
Almost every autumn evening, thousands of tree swallows flock to the Connecticut River to roost on uninhabited islands in the middle of the waterway. Like starlings, they will swoop and sway above the river in mesmerising displays before descending to the safety of their roost for the night.
Clockwise from right: tree swallows flocking to roost on Connecticut River islands; a black bear enjoys the fruit in an abandoned orchard; moose use trees to
scratch off ticks; the red-tailed hawk is one of many migrating raptors; great white sharks patrol the Cape Cod shores to predate the grey seals that thrive there.