Hey everyone! Cross your fingers we have clear skies on Monday, August 21!!! Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the United States will experience a total solar eclipse from coast to coast for the first time in 99 years. June 8, 1918, was the last time this occurred.
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the sun and Earth, blocking the sunlight and casting a shadow onto Earth. Keep in mind that the next total eclipse through the USA is on April 8, 2024, and crosses 13 states (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine), but will not be seen here on Seabrook Island. We certainly struck it lucky this time, as those of us who will be on Seabrook Island are in the path of almost totality (99%).
Most of us understand what’s going to happen on August 21st, but animals have no idea as they don’t watch the news or read the papers. For animals, the eclipse could be a bewildering experience.
During past eclipses, there have been observations of owls and bats emerging, cows returning to the barn, insects, and frogs chirping as in their night time routines, some songbirds went silent and even some Egrets, Ibis and Geese getting so fooled they stop feeding and go to roost. People have seen bees withdraw to their hives, gray squirrels running into their nests, and mosquitoes and midges starting their evening swarms.
Did you know that during the 1994 solar eclipse in Mexico, observers found that colonial orb-weaving spiders dismantled their webs within one minute of totality and rebuilt them when the sun’s face was revealed? Off the coast of Venezuela during a total eclipse in 2008, Brown Pelicans and Frigatebirds that had been busy foraging over the water before the eclipse left the bay 13 minutes before the totality and didn’t return until 12 minutes after the entire sun was revealed.
Wild Birds Unlimited published these reactions by birds and wildlife that have been reported to occur during previous total eclipses:
Confused Crooners – Songbirds have been noted to decrease their singing as an eclipse progresses, often to a point of total silence during the maximum darkness of totality. Speculations is that the darkening sky triggers the birds’ night-time behaviors.
Out of Sync Singers – Observations show that some birds may also be confused by the re-emergence of the sun and a “dawn chorus” of bird song might be heard just as it would be during a morning sunrise.
Day or Night? – Numerous bird species have been reported to return to their night-time roosting locations as the total eclipse progresses. Starlings have been noted to return in large flocks to their roosts and display agitated behavior until the light returns to normal.
Night or Day? – Nocturnal birds such as owls, whip-poor-wills, and nighthawks have been reported to either become active, take flight or call during total eclipses.
Fowl Rowel – Domestic fowl and pigeons have been observed to quickly return to their roosts or coops as the eclipse darkens the sky.
Savvy Shorebirds – Anecdotal observations seem to imply that in general, shorebirds seem to display very limited reactions to total solar eclipses.
Early Chirpers – Crickets have been widely observed to start “chirping” as the sky darkens and then fall silent upon the re-emergence of the sun. Katydids have also been reported to demonstrate this same behavior.
Silent Cicadas – Cicadas have been noted to end their shrill day-time calling and fall silent as the eclipse progresses.
Moving Mosquitos – During the darkest portions of an eclipse, mosquitos have been noted to emerge in mass.
Hustling Honeybees – Honeybees have been observed to return in swarms to their hives as the eclipse darkens.
Dream Weavers – Orb-weaving spiders, which generally re-weave their webs every night, have been observed to dismantle their old web during the darkness of an eclipse.
Busy Bats – Bats have been noted to emerge from their roost as the sky darkens and then return with the re-emergence of the sun.
Sly Skunks – Skunks, which are largely nocturnal, have been reported to come out and start foraging as it grows darker during an eclipse.
Sleepy Squirrels – Squirrels are reported to retreat to their nests during a total solar eclipse.
The California Academy of Sciences (click here for website) has launched a nationwide citizen scientist project, calling on participants to closely monitor the behavior of birds, animals and plants during the upcoming eclipse and record their observations using an application called iNaturalist. Because total solar eclipses don’t happen very often, there is little historical data. Hopefully this year, many “citizen scientists” will observe their surroundings before, during and after the eclipse and document what they see and hear. Flo Foley and Nancy Brown, trained as Master Naturalists through the Charleston County Parks & Recreation program in 2016, will be volunteering to do just that at Caw Caw Monday afternoon. If you are interested in being a citizen scientist on Monday, visit http://www.iNaturalist.org (make this a hyperlink) to learn how you can document your observations of birds, animals and plants.
Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that we have clear skies on Monday to watch this rare astronomical event and observe how nature reacts!
This diagram shows the Earth-sun-moon geometry of a total solar eclipse. It is not to scale. If drawn to scale, the Moon would be 30 Earth diameters away. The sun would be 400 times that distance. (photo credit: NASA.gov)
-Submitted by Nancy Brown & Flo Foley