Fall is the perfect time to reconnect with nature.
Peterborough Examiner – September 8, 2023 – by Drew Monkman
As I do at the beginning of each season, I want to look ahead this week to the many events in nature that are typical of fall in the Kawarthas. A big part of “seeing” is knowing what to expect, so get outdoors and enjoy the show!
All our senses detect a change this month. Our ears notice the absence of bird song; our eyes discern the dreamy quality of September sunshine and how fields are overtaken by a yellow surf of goldenrod; and our noses can’t miss the musky-sweet smell of decomposing vegetation. More than anything, however, September marks the beginning of fall, a season of melancholy joy, new beginnings and wistful endings. Here are some highlights:
- 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. Making “pishing” sounds will bring them in closer. One of the most common species is the aptly-named yellow-rumped warbler. To see a video I made on the effectiveness of pishing, go to https://tinyurl.com/4969fuht.
- One of the most common and iconic sounds of September is the squawking of blue jays as they move about in small flocks. It’s as if they’re making up for having been silent during the summer nesting season.
- The webs of the fall webworm moth are very conspicuous this year. They are spun by the caterpillars and encompass the ends of tree branches. Even severe infestations have little impact on a tree’s health. The webs are not to be confused with tent caterpillar nests which appear only in spring.
- Monarch butterflies are migrating and are seen more often than in summer. These butterflies will travel an astonishing 4,500 kilometres to the mountains of central Mexico.
- The first fall colours are already evident. Among the most beautiful is the bright red or purple Virginia creeper vine, especially where it grows on tree trunks or cedar-rail fences and stands out conspicuously against the bark or wood.
- 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 known as the “fall echo”.
- Take time to appreciate the beauty of New England asters, especially where they grow alongside goldenrods. As Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote in Braiding Sweetgrass, “That September pairing of purple and gold is lived reciprocity; its wisdom is that the beauty of one is illuminated by the radiance of the other.”
- The fall equinox occurs on September 23, marking the beginning of autumn. Day and night are the same length in all parts of the world.
October is a deceptive month. It’s ushered in by flaming leaves and sunshine that radiate a warm benevolence. But this beauty is temporary and fragile. Soon, the trees lose their radiant garb and wind and rain scatter the fallen leaves. Thankfully, there is a payoff. The spicy smell of autumn leaves transports us back to our childhoods, evoking an instant flood of autumns past.
- Red and sugar maples – two stalwarts of fall foliage – usually reach peak colour around Thanksgiving Weekend. Why do leaves change colour? The simple answer is that in late summer and fall, photosynthesis ceases, as does the production of chlorophyll which is green. Previously hidden pigments like xanthophylls (yellows) and carotenoids (oranges) are revealed. Sunny days and cool nights also produce anthocyanins which give us reds and purples.
- If there is sufficient rain, September and October are great months for finding fungi. This includes edible species like giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea), shaggy mane (Coprinus comatus), oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) and chicken of the woods (Laetiporum sulphureus).
- Sparrow migration takes centre stage, making October one of the busiest months for backyard feeders. Because these are ground-feeding birds, I always scatter millet on the grass under my feeders. Watch for both white-throated and white-crowned sparrows.
- 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.
- In the weeks leading up to the November rut, the antlers of white-tailed deer harden and the velvet skin covering them dries up. Bucks proceed to rub it off by scraping their antlers against small trees. Watch for portions of bark that have been removed.
- In late October and November, 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.
In November, a hush settles upon the land. Other than the occasional call of a chickadee or the rustling of squirrels, it’s a month nearly devoid of animal sounds. Although a walk on a late November day can seem uneventful, there is a special beauty. With the veil of foliage now lifted and snow cover yet to arrive, what stands out are nature’s fundamentals – sky, water, rock and landscapes that seem to extend forever.
- 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 2023-2024.” It should be available by late September.
- Most of our robins head south. However, given the abundance of wild grapes this year, large numbers of these birds will probably remain for some or all of the winter.
- Non-native trees and shrubs like lilac and buckthorn, along with our native oaks and tamaracks, are about the only species that still retain foliage in early November.
- Beavers are active all day long cutting and storing large piles of branches – their winter food – on pond bottoms near the lodge. The piles are usually visible.
- Standard Time returns on Sunday, November 5 at 2:00 am.
- This is a great time of year to focus on evergreen plants of the forest floor and rock outcrops. Look for mosses, liverworts, wood ferns, and club-mosses. Use iNaturalist to identify the species.
- 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.
A more detailed account of what’s happening each month can be found in my book “Nature’s Year in the Kawarthas” and on my website at https://www.drewmonkman.com/. Click on Monthly Almanacs.
CLIMATE CHAOS UPDATE
Alarm: With choking smoke filling our skies, no region of Canada – including the Kawarthas – has gone untouched by 2023’s devastating wildfire season. More than 15 million hectares have already burned – and it’s not over yet. The fires have shattered the previous record of 7.6 million hectares burned in 1989 as well as the 10-year average of 2.5 million hectares. This wildfire season has already pumped more CO2 into the atmosphere than all other emission sources in Canada combined, thereby intensifying climate change. For more details, listen to a CBC report at rb.gy/z4w0r
Upcoming events: On Monday, September 11 at 7 pm, For Our Grandchildren presents “Catchacoma Old Growth: Climate, Biodiversity and Conservation”. Katie Krelove and Dr. Peter Quinby will share their passion for this old growth hemlock forest as well as its role in maintaining biodiversity and mitigating climate change. They will also discuss the struggles to preserve the forest’s integrity. Register for this Zoom event at https://rb.gy/9u8d6
Carbon dioxide: The average atmospheric CO2 reading for the week ending Sept. 2 was 419.27 parts per million (ppm), compared to 416.42 ppm a year ago. CO2 levels are higher now than at any time in the past three million years and increasing more than a hundred times faster than in pre-human times.