Few would argue that autumn’s arrival carries a stronger emotional charge than any other change of season. From the vibrant colour and smell of the fall leaves to the cooler temperatures and misty mornings, fall resonates with sentimentality. I suppose it partly stems from the nostalgia of summer’s more relaxed lifestyle being over, the return to our often hectic schedules, saying goodbye to people you might not see for another year, and witnessing nature’s preparations for winter. Fall, too, is a season of time-honoured traditions and celebrations. Be it raking leaves, closing the cottage, getting together with family for Thanksgiving or going on the deer hunt, an element of wistfulness and reminiscence never seems to be far away.
For many, September brings a surge of energy. The generally cooler temperatures seem to compel us to shake our summer lethargy and get out and do something – start a project we put off all summer, clean out the garden, stack wood, or go for a walk in the woods. As school reconvenes and myriad community activities begin again, this is the true New Year.
The following is an overview of events in our flora, fauna, weather, and night sky that represent a typical September in the Kawarthas. Many events, however, occur over the entire month and into October.
| 1 Fall songbird migration is at its peak. Watch and listen for warblers and vireos in city backyards, most often in the company of chickadees. The migrants are usually hidden by foliage, however, and need some “pishing” on your part to be coaxed out into the open.
| 2 Depending on the year, the wild fruit crop, along with all manner of berries and seeds – is often abundant by now. Oaks, maples, elderberries, dogwoods and mountain-ash are but a few of the species offering up an extra big serving of food to hungry birds and mammals.
| 3 Robins begin to flock up and a dozen or more can often be seen feeding together on suburban lawns. Young birds with speckled breasts are usually quite conspicuous in these gatherings.
| 4 Spectacular swarms of flying ants are a common September phenomenon. Some are females – the potential future queens – but the majority are males. A given ant species will swarm and mate on the same day over huge areas, sometimes covering hundreds of kilometres. The males soon die, and the mated females disperse to try to start up a new colony.
| 5 Usually the most typical bird sound of September is the raucous call of the blue jay. Most of Ontario’s blue jay population actually migrates to the U.S. in the winter
| 6 Canada goldenrod transforms fields into a sea of yellow. The Kawarthas boast at least 15 goldenrod species including blue-stemmed and zigzag goldenrod which grow in open woodlands.
| 7 Fringed and bottle gentians are in bloom. Other September wildflowers to watch for include false dragon-head, grass-of-Parnassus, turtlehead, and ladies’-tresses orchids.
| 8 Monarchs are now heading south to the mountains of Mexico where they will spend the winter. Most will go to the El Rosario Sanctuary near the town of Angangueo, west of Mexico City. The number of monarch butterflies wintering in western Mexico plummeted last winter despite a remarkable decline in illegal logging in the area where they congregate. It appears that far fewer butterflies than usual arrived in the sanctuaries. Climate change, droughts and other extreme weather, and pesticide use north of the border are all being cited as probable reasons for the decline. But, thanks to the hot, sunny weather, monarch numbers in the Kawarthas have appeared close to normal this summer.
| 9 Migrant warblers and vireos often join up with mixed flocks of chickadees and nuthatches in the fall and will come in remarkably close in response to “pishing.” Simply take a deep breath and softly but quickly repeat the word “pish” in one, drawn-out exhale. Keep it up for at least a minute or two.
| 10 Keep an eye out for the beautiful yellow and black golden garden spider. It often builds its big web of sticky spiral threads in a clump of goldenrod and hangs conspicuously right in the hub.
| 11 It’s already beginning to look and feel like fall. Daylight and darkness are now almost equal in duration. On cool mornings, heavy mists dance and curl over rivers, lakes, and valleys.
| 12 Part of the green darner dragonfly population actually migrates south in the fall, while the others overwinter in the Kawarthas in the nymph stage of the life cycle. Migratory green darners are capable of flying up to 137 km in a day, most likely to the southern U.S. It is thought that the same individuals return north in the spring.
| 13 Two vines are very much in evidence right now, especially along rail-trails and woodland edges where they sprawl over fences, shrubs and trees. They are wild cucumber, which has cucumber-like seed pods covered in soft bristles, and Virgin’s bower, identified by its distinctive, fluffy seedheads of gray, silky plumes.
| 14 If there’s sufficient moisture, mushrooms are at their most plentiful and diverse in September. The giant puffball is sometimes found in fields and looks like an errant soccer ball or loaf of white bread. It is edible when young. If you step on an old one, brown, dust-like spores will puff out.
| 15 Ruby-throated hummingbirds abandon our feeders and surrender to the urge to migrate. Most ruby-throats winter in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and in Central America. The southward flight includes a remarkable non-stop crossing of the Gulf of Mexico, taking 18-20 hours.
| 16 Virginia creeper and poison ivy turn a fiery red as well as some sumacs and an increasing number of maples.
| 17 In mid-September, the first sub-freezing temperatures were traditionally recorded, along with the first frost. Climate change, however, has now made this a rare September occurrence.
| 18 Brown and black woolly bear caterpillars are a common sight, especially on paths and sidewalks. People used to believe that the length of the middle brown band could foretell the severity of the coming winter. The longer the band, the shorter and milder the winter would be. In reality, the caterpillar simply becomes increasingly brown as it ages.
| 19 Be sure to put your bird feeders up if you haven’t already done so. Among other birds, white-throated sparrows are migrating through and are easy to attract if you scatter black oil sunflower seed on the ground.
| 20 Oaks are now shedding their acorns. They are gobbled up by all manner of animals including deer, bear, squirrels and blue jays.
| 21 Although bird song is generally absent in the fall, some species will utter a half-hearted, tentative song on bright September and October mornings. Listen especially for American robins and white-throated sparrows.
|22 The fall equinox takes place today, marking the beginning of autumn. Day and night are now almost equal in length, hence the word equinox. Today, both the moon and sun rise due east and set due west. Take note of where the sun rises and sets right now as seen from an east and west window in your house and then watch as these locations move increasingly southward over the course of the fall.
|23 Heavy morning mists dance and curl over rivers, lakes, and valleys. Cool morning temperatures cause water vapour in the air to condense and become visible. The combination of mist, scintillating leaves, and the rising sun give September dawns a beauty unequalled at any other time of year.
| 24 The myriad grasses that bloomed in the summer are actually easiest to identify in the fall. This is because seeds, rather than flowers, are the most important features for identification.
| 25 Large migratory flights of thrushes often pass over about this time. Their loud, plaintive call notes are surprisingly easy to hear in the night sky, even over the city. Migration is usually at its best just after the passage of a cold front when northwesterly breezes provide tail winds.
| 26 The signature constellation of fall is Pegasus. Most people are more familiar with its asterism, the Great Square. In September, this huge constellation can be seen in the eastern sky. Using the Great Square as a guide, you can easily locate the Andromeda constellation and the adjacent Andromeda Galaxy.
|27 The purples, mauves, and whites of asters now reign supreme in fields and along roadsides. The Kawarthas have about 15 species of these late bloomers that represent the year’s last offering of wildflowers. The more common species include New England, heath and panicled asters.
| 28 The webs of the fall webworm stand out noticeably. The large, loose structures encase the ends of branches of broad-leaved trees and shrubs and house colonies of small, beige caterpillars covered with long hairs.
| 29 Most years, white ash, pin cherry, and staghorn sumac reach their colour peak about now. Some ash trees turn a stunning purple-bronze that literally glows in the September sun.
| 30 Ospreys leave the Kawarthas for their wintering grounds in the West Indies and Central and South America. Mangroves, rainforests, and coastal estuaries will be their home until next spring.
October 1 – Be sure to take in the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the fall equinox. For several evenings in a row, the moon rises at almost the same time and climbs more slowly than usual up into the sky.