September 23, 2011

The Change of Seasons

By Naturalist Eric D’Aleo

Late summer and early fall in New England and New Hampshire bring certain ideas to mind: cool, crisp mornings and warm afternoons. Children getting on the bus or walking to school, red apples ready to pick in the orchards, and the hint of the fall foliage let us anticipate the spectacular show of color to come in the next few weeks.

Songbirds, such as bluebirds and phoebes, are changing their habits as well. They’ve come back into my yard to feed on wild grapes and search for insects in the trees before they begin their migration southward to better food sources over the winter. Other songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors have also begun their migrations or will over the next few weeks. By looking up into the sky and in natural areas near your home you may spot these long distant travelers making their way or stopping to refuel and take a rest only to move on a few days later.

Moose and deer are growing their winter coats of coarse hair that will protect them from the colder weather that is soon to arrive. The males’ velvet on their antlers is beginning to shed and you may see evidence of this as they rub it off on bushes and small saplings. They’ll spend the next few weeks searching for females to breed with while keeping other males away from them. Depending on where you are, stay alert if you are taking an early morning walk during the fall, as this is a time when you are most likely to notice them.

The increase in rainfall and morning dew at this time of year means that more salamanders, frogs, and toads are moving around their environment, which includes crossing roads. I’ll often spot them while I’m walking in the morning and if they’re still alive, I’ll stop to help them cross safely. Occasionally, I’ll hear a few spring peepers calling in the late afternoon as the shorter day length tricks their biological clocks into thinking that it’s March.

The moisture of the season has also brought out the fruiting bodies of mushrooms and other fungi throughout the landscape. You can find them growing on logs and tree stumps, in your lawn, gardens, and even your compost pile. You may even find some wedged up in the crook of tree, placed there to dry by a red squirrel for winter storage. There are many sizes, colors, and shapes of mushrooms and other fungi to look for even if you are not sure which ones are edible and which ones are not. If you’re lucky you may spot some mushrooms arranged in a “fairy ring,” the areas where fairies were once believed to dance on moonlit nights. Even though science can now explain how they form, “fairy rings” are still an exciting discovery when you happen to find one.

Whatever your interest in the natural world, this time of year is fleeting and changes quickly. Take the opportunity to note the changes that are occurring around your home and savor the experiences just as you would savor the last fresh produce from your garden or local orchard. There is a bounty of experiences out there.

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