The first avian harbinger of Autumn I usually notice each year is the gathering of Northern flickers along the dirt roads. When they fly at the car’s approach they have very distinctive white rump patches. At the end of summer we start to see them every time we travel the gravel roads into town. Shortly before the official autumnal equinox they will be gone, catching a favorable wind for their journey south.
This year, we had the delight of hosting nesting Sharp-shinned hawks. We witnessed the whole process from dating to mating to roosting to fledging and now leaving. Because Sharpies feed on songbirds, we took down most of our feeders for the summer. The parents raised two offspring. By mid-August, the parents had already flown, but the kids were still around—and they were NOISY. Then, one day the last week of August I didn’t hear them; the kids were gone, following their parents on their migration south.
Hummingbirds delight us each year and by the end of summer we have five feeders out and often need to fill them daily. [Y’all know I’m not much of a cook, but I know many of our readers appreciate good recipes, so I’ll share mine for hummingbird food: Bring eight cups of water to a rolling boil; stir in two cups of sugar until dissolved; turn off the heat and let cool. That’s it. No need for food coloring or those expensive store mixes, but if you’re like us, you will go through many pounds of sugar in a season. The recipe is scalable: just keep the four-to-one ratio of water to sugar.] Sometime in the last week of August almost all the hummers disappear. We’ll go from filling feeders daily to not needing to fill them at all. We’ll still probably host a couple of hummers for another week or ten days. These might be migrants from farther north who have found our feeders along the path of their own migration.
Considering how far birds fly on migrations and, unlike us, they rely on self-propulsion rather than fossil fuels, it’s not surprising how much they eat before they take off for their long trip. I’ve never banded hummingbirds, but I have banded many passerine species. The hollow area in their throat fills to overflowing with yellow fat as they prepare to migrate. After a night’s flying without rest, they land with those energy reserves exhausted. If you are bird watching, they are easy to see after they first land because they do not move much for a while. Soon, however, they’re flitting around, all about the business of restoring their fat reserves so they can make the next leg of the trip.
Asked what they think of when they contemplate Autumn, many people talk about the leaves turning colors. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula the first plants to turn are the ferns. Already some have browned up and within the next couple of weeks all the ferns will turn from their vibrant greens to dull browns and then eventually lay down on the ground to provide sustenance to the next generation. It’s not relevant to this blog (which already has a meandering thread) but if you want to know how ferns reproduce, here is a link http://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/Contexts/Ferns/Sci-Media/Video/Fern-reproduction
Stressed trees start to turn in August. They may be stressed by disease or old age or by not having forest surround them, which is why colors often first appear at the edges of fields or along roads. I tend to notice maple leaves first, perhaps because they turn orange or red. Even though peak color for us is still two or three weeks away, we’re starting to see the stressed trees with branches or tops in full color.
With Autumn comes cooler weather. The lakes stay warm for a while, the nights are cool, and the combination produces fog. Every morning for about a month we’ll have fog. When the night cools significantly the fog will be worthy of the Maine coast, so thick you lose your hand if you stretch your arm to full length. I’ve learned to avoid early morning appointments this time of year. Usually the sun will burn the fog off by midmorning. Usually…
What lets you know that Autumn is in the air?