A time of radiant leaves

But in October what a feast to the eye our woods and groves present! The whole body of the air seems enriched by their calm, slow radiance. They are giving back the light they have been absorbing from the sun all summer.
~John Burroughs, “The Falling Leaves,” Under the Maples

It’s hard to know where to begin when describing all that’s wonderful about October. Blazing colour, of course, comes to mind first. There is a beautiful Native American legend that talks of hunters in the north sky who killed the Great Bear – represented by the constellation bearing the same name – in autumn, and its blood dripped down over forests coloring the maples red. Later, as they cooked the meat, fat dripped from the heavens turning the leaves of the aspens and birch yellow. Quite clearly, the fall colours have never ceased to amaze human beings and to make us wonder why they appear. Together with the cooler air and the dreamy quality of fall sunlight, so different from the light of summer, there’s something about fall colours that lifts the spirits and provides a new-found energy.

But October offers much more than just the wonderful colours. Blue skies, dreamy light, cool but comfortable temperature, busy birdfeeders, the scent of the fallen leaves, crisp nights, family get-togethers at Thanksgiving, and children’s wonder at the magic of Halloween are but a sampling.

Hopefully, by observing some of the plants, animals and other events in nature listed in this October almanac, your enjoyment of the month will be all the greater.

Leaf colour east of Apsley - October 1, 2012

Leaf colour east of Apsley – October 1, 2012

Early October

  •  According to David Phillips of Environment Canada, we should see extra bright colours this fall, thanks to a relatively wet summer that was not too hot. On an average year, fall colours in the Kawarthas reach their height by the second week of October. More northern areas such as Algonquin Park are at peak colour right now. Go to ontariotravel.net for the latest “Fall Colour Report.” For a great colour drive in the Peterborough area, go east from Apsley along County Road 504 to Lasswade and on to County Road 620. Turn west to Glen Alda and back to Highway 28.
  • Sparrow migration takes centre stage this month making early October one of the busiest times of the year for backyard feeders. By spreading black oil sunflower seed or niger seed on the ground, you should be able to attract White-throated and White-crowned sparrows along with Dark-eyed Juncos.
  • As the goldenrods quickly fade away, asters dominate (and conclude!) the wildflower show this month. The generally white flowers of Heath and Calico asters, along with the purple or mauve blossoms of New England and Purple-stemmed asters are. Go to ontariowildflowers.com for excellent tips on identifying asters. Click on “Season” and then “Fall.”
  • The signature constellation of fall is Pegasus and its asterism, the Great Square. Adjacent to the square is the Andromeda constellation and the Andromeda galaxy. Our closest galactic neighbour, it appears through binoculars like a faint oval of fuzzy light – light that left the galaxy two million years ago! Go to Wikihow.com and type “Andromeda” in the search box for detailed steps on finding this galaxy.
  • If you’re an early riser and would like a preview of the winter constellations, you can now see Orion looming above the southern horizon.
  • On balmy October days, Ruffed Grouse can sometimes be heard drumming. It is thought that these birds are mostly young males attempting to establish their own territories. Early fall is also the grouse’s “crazy season.” Young birds disperse from their parent’s territory and often end up colliding with all manner of objects.
  • If you are in the forest on a warm, damp fall day, listen for the weak, intermittent calls of Spring Peepers. Most often, only one or two lonely individuals are heard.


  • Watch and listen for mixed flocks of Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets, Brown creepers, Dark-eyed juncos, White-throated sparrows, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Our local rail-trails are a great place to see these birds.
  • Flocks of giant Canada geese (the subspecies that nests in the Kawarthas), Ring-billed gulls, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Crows, and American Robins are widespread.
  • Using its antlers, the buck White-tailed Deer makes scrapes in the leaf litter on the forest floor in preparation for the upcoming rut. It then urinates on its hind legs in such a way that the urine runs over special “hock” glands and carries the scent down to the scrape. Female deer visit these scrapes.
  • Mid- through late October is very much a time of yellows. Most of the colour is supplied courtesy of Trembling Aspen, Bigtooth Aspen, Balsam Poplar, Silver Maple, White Birch and, at month’s end, Tamarack.
  • On warm days in mid-fall, watch for strands of spider silk floating through the air or caught up in branches. A baby spider is attached to each strand. This special period of the year is sometimes called “gossamer days.”
  • The evening of October 18 is the Hunter’s Moon, namely the first full moon after the Harvest Moon. In the fall, the moon rises only about 30 minutes later from one night to the next – instead of the yearly average of about 50 minutes. This means that when the moon is full, or nearly full, there is no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise. This allowed Native American hunters to hunt by autumn moonlight.

Late October

  • You can get a real sense right now of just how many of our city trees and shrubs are non-native and, therefore, still stubbornly green. Species such as Norway maple, Lilac, Weeping Willow, and European Buckthorn are still genetically tied to the day-length patterns of their native Eurasian bioregions.
  • Given the excellent cone, seed and berry crops on nearly all tree and shrub species across Ontario this year, we should not expect to see much in the way of winter finches moving south and showing up in our yards and at our feeders. Birds such as Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings are likely to remain in the north because of the abundant food available. However, we will likely see high Blue Jay numbers all fall and winter since the huge crop of acorns, beechnuts and hazelnuts means most jays will find all the food they require and therefore not need to migrate south.
  • Migrating diving ducks stop over on our larger lakes such as Pigeon and Rice. Goldeneye, scaup and mergansers are most common.
  • The “fall turn-over” begins to re-oxygenate lakes this month. As the surface waters cool, they begin to mix with the uniformly-cold lower layers. This brings oxygen to the depths and nutrients to the shallows.
  • Red Squirrels in the fall spend a lot of time nipping off cone-bearing twigs on evergreens such as pines, spruces, hemlocks, and even cedar. These “nip twigs” are scattered all over the ground. The cones are removed and stored as winter food.

If you find a Halloween bat in your house, it is probably a Big Brown, a species that often overwinters in buildings. Little Browns, on the other hand, choose caves and abandoned mines as winter quarters. Their population is plummeting, however, as a result of White Nose Syndrome. The Little Brown Bat, formerly our most abundant bat species, is now listed as endangered under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. In other words, it is facing imminent extinction or total disappearance from the province.

Drew Monkman

I am a retired teacher, naturalist and writer with a love for all aspects of the natural world, especially as they relate to seasonal change.