Nature’s Almanac At The Dawn Of Autumn

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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Forget for a moment the temperature soaring into the 80s all week; today is the first full day of autumn. Summer officially ended at the exact moment the sun crossed the “celestial equator”, and the crossing of that line in space only occurs twice a year.  The September equinox happened at 10:21 EST yesterday.  Get ready to celebrate the season of apples, pumpkins, hayrides, fall festivals and hikes under kaleidoscopes of color.  Oakland County Parks, our Huron-Clinton Metroparks, and dozens of other parks in our towns and cities are ready for outdoor autumn adventure.

Even with our unseasonable warmth, seasonal changes of autumn are easy to see, and sometimes hear, in the parklands, wildlands and trails that span the county. One of the most noticeable signs is the wide array of fantastic fall fungi that is spreading their spores to expand their kingdom. Moist woodlands are spawning the rapid growth of the stunningly beautiful Fly Agaric, better known by its scientific name Amanita muscaria, a toxic species, and The Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), a delectable edible delight.

Poison sumac leaves have turned scarlet, adding splashes of color to wetlands and marshes. Poison ivy is taking on shades of orange and red. Hikers beware; both plants remain potent even after their leaves fall.  Red maples and sassafras trees will explode with their colors in a few weeks.

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Fog laces meadows with moisture at dawn and spider webs glisten in first light. Moments after the early caw of the crows stirs a new day, Chickadees and Goldfinch flit about coneflowers and thistles seeds. Bird feeders stocked with sunflower seeds are another favorite.  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds hover at nectar feeders to fuel up before their great migration begins. It won’t be long before our cell tower nesting Ospreys catch one last fish before flying to Central and South America.

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Sandhill cranes are gathering in their flocks as they do every autumn, and treat early risers across the northern section of the county with deep and delightful trumpeting. These crimson-capped birds that stand almost four feet tall are now noticed foraging in farm fields and at the edges of wetlands.

It won’t be long before the reclusive ‘swamp rattlers’ the eastern Massasauga rattlesnakes,  slither back to moist crayfish burrows, a common hibernation site for our only venomous reptile. You may even see one basking on a sun-warmed trail.

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Chipmunks shifted their energy level to ‘overdrive’ and scamper from dawn to dusk gathering nuts and seeds to store in hidden caches. Trail walkers may spot them motionless on downed logs, waiting for the coast to clear to resume their hunt.  Not to be out done, red squirrels vocally protest the trespass of hikers as they perch on black walnut limbs feasting on meaty nuts. More are stored for the winter in a hollow log, an old barn—or, your attic.

Migration of the monarch continues.  Grasshoppers leap away from our approach. Crickets sing to the night. Bucks are restless. The invasive but tarty and tasty autumn olive berries lure wild turkeys, and me.  By the time of the first frost Gray Treefrogs will be in a state of suspended animation under decaying logs and leaf litter, but today are still topside in foliage and empty wren boxes that give them a bird’s eye view of the dawn of autumn.

Green Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.

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