A journey into the eyes and mind of a naturalist.

Nature Hike 2: Hints of Fall

Despite being accosted by mosquitoes all the tell-tale signs of season change were more than apparent.  The ash trees had been kissed with color, foreign birds from the north nervously call in every thicket as if they are tourists in a distant land.  The bumble bees lethargically move from one flower to the next, lacking their peppy summer spirit.  Even the hummingbirds seemed to be frantically hording every last drop of nectar.

The birds especially mark the end of summer for me.  I begin to see, and hear, birds that I only hear for several days a year, their trip north and return trip south.  White-throated sparrows, warblers of all shapes and sizes, gnat catchers, flycatchers, and a myriad of others.  The swallows left several weeks ago and the warblers are moving through, following the dwindling supply of caterpillars and insects to feed on.   Finally the winter residents arrive,  the Dark-eyed Juncos and a new troop of Chickadees.

Despite all that is ‘moving through’ there are also other creatures preparing to wait for warmer weather to return.

Plants of all kinds are devoting their energy to seed production.  Here are some Wild Cucumbers, the contain the seeds to the next generation and are fiercely protected.  Also not the vine’s tightly wrapped spindles that allow this unique plant to ‘climb’ it’s host and compete for only the best sunlight.

Insects are also getting ready for the big freeze.  Newly hatched queen ants take to the skies in the millions, each looking for a male to mate with.  From the single mating the male will provide the female with enough sperm to build up a colony of thousands or even millions of new ant next spring.  After mating the queen will find a suitable nesting location away from her birth place, lose her wings and wait out the winter.

The infamous Wooly Bear caterpillar, which actually refers to any number of species of moth is also a tell-tale sign fall is in full swing.  These prickly looking caterpillars have even been said to have predictive powers of how harsh or mild the winter will be.  In actuality they do not predict the weather, but are simply looking for a suitable location to complete their metamorphosis into moths.  They will spend winter as a cocoon in the leaf litter of the forest floor.

Tree Frogs, my favorite, are looking for every last morsel they can catch.  These frogs can do something very few vertebrates can; freeze completely solid.  If you found a hibernating tree frog you would find a little frogsicle dug into leave litter or under the bark of a rotten log.  You could take the frozen frog, bring it inside and let it thaw.  After it is completely thawed the frog would simply hop away!   They do this by turning their blood into antifreeze, a type of sugar, which prevents the water from forming crystals which damage tissue.  So despite being frozen solid the destructive crystals are not there.

Sitting on a yellow leaf, this frog seems to be pointing towards the time of cold.  It leaves behind a changing world that will be brown and dead compared to the world it knows.

Up Next:  Swallowtail Update

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