Autumn is a wonderful season to spend more time in nature
If you’re anything like me, you probably welcome the arrival of fall. It’s a season that represents a fresh start, perhaps from long-held associations of going back to school. It makes us feel more motivated and in many ways signals the true New Year. We enjoy the comfort of resuming our everyday routines after the less predictable schedules of summer. The cooler temperatures and vibrant foliage also encourage us to spend more time in nature which, as research demonstrates, is connected to improved happiness, well-being and even relationships.
Looking back, you’ve no doubt noticed the abundance of cottontail rabbits this summer. Although a full explanation behind this population explosion remains unclear, it may be linked to a decline in fox and coyote numbers, possibly as a result of mange and even Avian Influenza. Many people have commented on the relative scarcity of both these predators.
According to AccuWeather’s annual autumn forecast, a drier and warmer fall is expected once again this year in central Ontario. Warm falls have been the norm in recent years. Looking ahead, the Climate Atlas of Canada is predicting a warming of almost 2 C in fall temperatures by just 2030. Already, October 2021 was a whopping 5 C warmer than average.
Looking ahead to the coming weeks, here is a list of events in nature that are typical of fall in the Kawarthas. Get outdoors and enjoy the show. Remember, too, to vote for Peterborough’s official bird at https://www.connectptbo.ca/climate The deadline is September 5.
- Fall songbird migration is now at its peak. Watch especially for warblers and vireos – often in the company of chickadees – as they feed silently in loose groups. Pishing will bring them in closer. See https://tinyurl.com/4969fuht One of my favourite spots to see migrant songbirds and late summer wildflowers is Trent University’s South Drumlin Nature Area, both in the forest and along the canal.
- Most birds moult after the breeding season, shedding old feathers and growing new ones. Watch for feathers on the ground.
- Fall webworm activity is conspicuous. Watch for the large silk webs spun by the larvae that encompass the tips of tree branches. They are not to be confused with tent caterpillar nests which appear only in spring.
- In damp, sunny areas, the orange, red-spotted flowers of jewelweed (touch-me-not) catch the eye. Look for a fat seed pod, pinch it, and feel it explode between your fingers, scattering seeds up to a metre away.
- The first fall colours are already evident. They come courtesy of Virginia creeper, staghorn sumac, chokecherry, dogwoods, and poison ivy.
- On roads and trails, keep an eye out for newly-hatched snapping turtles. Look for the “egg tooth” on the end of the snout which helped it break out of its shell.
- When walking in the woods on a warm day, listen for the high-pitched call of a lone spring peeper. Light conditions similar to spring may inspire these vocalizations. In fall, I like to assign peepers a different name: autumn pipers!
- Take time to appreciate the beauty of New England asters, especially where they grow alongside goldenrods. As Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote in Braiding Sweetgrass, “Purple and gold, the heraldic colors of the king and queen of the meadow, a regal procession in complementary colors.”
- The fall equinox occurs on September 23, marking the beginning of autumn. The moon and sun rise due east and set due west.
- Starting in late summer, deciduous trees form a corky abscission (cutting off) layer where the leaf stems meet the twigs. It stops water and nutrients moving to and from the leaves. This causes them to change colour and fall.
- Red and sugar maples usually reach peak colour around Thanksgiving Weekend. Tragically, the stunning wine-purple fall foliage of white ash is now mostly absent from the landscape, a victim of the emerald ash borer.
- This is a great month to see fungi such as pear-shaped puffballs (Apioperdon pyriforme), turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) and orange jelly (Dacrymyces chrysospermus). All can be found on dead logs and stumps.
- White pines are shedding some of their needles. Notice how about a third of the needles furthest from the branch tips are now yellow-brown.
- Sparrow migration takes centre stage, making October one of the busiest months for backyard feeders. I always scatter millet or finch mix on the ground.
- A tide of yellow spreads across the landscape in mid- through late October. It comes courtesy of aspens, balsam poplar, silver maple, white birch and, at month’s end, tamarack.
- Migrating diving ducks such as goldeneyes, buffleheads, scaups, and mergansers stop over on our larger lakes. Some of the best viewing is at Pengelly Landing on Rice Lake and at the Lakefield Sewage Lagoons on County Road 33.
- At least some species of northern finches like redpolls and siskins usually turn up in late fall. To learn which birds to expect this year, Google “winter finch forecast 2022-2023.” It should be available by late September.
- Non-native trees and shrubs like lilac and buckthorn, along with our native oaks, tamaracks, and silver maples are about the only species that still retain foliage in early November.
- Beavers are active cutting and storing large piles of branches – their winter food – on pond bottoms near the lodge. The piles are usually visible. The section of rail-trail east of Ackison Road is one place to see these.
- Standard Time returns on Sunday, November 6 at 2:00 am.
- The antlers of buck white-tailed deer have now matured and hardened. The deer are “in rut” – at the peak of their sexual readiness. Drive carefully, because accidents involving deer are common this month.
- Bird nests are now quite visible. Hanging below a branch fork in an understory tree, you might find a beautiful, cup-shaped red-eyed vireo nest. It typically contains birch bark strips, wasp-nest paper, and plant material glued together with spider-web adhesive.
- This is a great time of year to focus on evergreen plants of the forest floor and rock outcrops. Look for mosses, liverworts, lichens like British soldiers, wood fern, rock polypody fern, and club-mosses. iNaturalist is the go-to identification app.
- Ball-like swellings known as galls are easy to see on the stems of goldenrods. If you open the gall with a knife, you will find the small, white larva of the goldenrod gall fly inside.
CLIMATE BREAKDOWN UPDATE
Hope: California has moved to require all new vehicles sold in the state to be electric, plug-in electric hybrids, or hydrogen fuel cell by 2035. By 2026, 35% of new cars sold must meet this requirement. In just 13 years, there will be 9.5 million fewer conventional vehicle sales in the state. However, the move will require 15 times more chargers, a more robust energy grid and a choice of vehicles for all income levels. Up to 17 other states are expected to adopt these same measures. See https://tinyurl.com/3zd894zm
Upcoming events: On September 12 at 7 pm, Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma will be the guest speaker at 4RG Meets. Puneeta is a food and sustainability author and guide for anyone seeking low-waste, planet-friendly and delicious solutions for everyday cooking and eating. Her “Eating with Benefits” approach is inspired by the scientific evidence around food and its connection to climate change. Register for this Zoom event at https://tinyurl.com/25by6esu
Carbon dioxide: The atmospheric CO2 reading for the week ending August 27 was 416.06 parts per million (ppm), compared to 414.29 ppm a year ago. Rising CO2 means more climate catastrophe ahead like the disastrous fires, heat, and drought this summer in Europe.