Thursday, October 23, 2014

Late to Migrate

Yesterday was a blustery day.  Autumn winds have blown many of the brightly colored leaves from the trees, covering the grass and walking paths (and tennis court fences, as seen here).

It was a day for hats and gloves and warm wool socks.
On our walk, we saw groups of ducks, grebes, and coots gathered on the lake, a familiar sight this time of year.  The lakes will ice over soon, so these birds need to fly south to open water.  They seem to do so begrudgingly each year, though, as they are always the last to go.
Well, almost always.
The surprise on yesterday’s walk was this blue heron.
“Shouldn’t he be long gone by now?” we wondered.

Not according to the Windstar Wildlife Institute.  
Apparently, although most blue herons favor warmer climates in the winter (like a lot of retired Minnesotans I know!), a few hearty birds winter as far north as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.  They can survive well in cold weather, especially if there is open water and they have access to fish. Some even stay on after streams freeze over, moving to meadows where they dine on voles and other small mammals.

But Minnesota?
Yesterday’s bird, undoubtedly, will move on soon.  He may outlast the ducks, grebes, and coots, but not for long. Everything will freeze over quite solidly here in the next month or so.  The meadow mice and voles will take shelter in below-the-snow tunnels.  

So he’ll have to go – no question.  We’ll look forward to his return next spring.
He may be late to migrate. Or maybe he’s just like the rest of us - stubbornly clinging to what’s left of the warm weather. 

It’s a familiar quandary for all of us who live this far north – not just yesterday’s heron.

Monday, October 20, 2014

When Fall Colors Pique Your Interest

This past weekend was a fall foliage delight.  The colors were at their peak, the skies were a gorgeous blue, and weekend temperatures were in that perfect “no jacket required” range (although a sweatshirt was recommended).  It was impossible to stay inside.  Long walks through a city neighborhood and a local park yielded these photos.  

The walks also made me wonder why the colors are so vivid this year.  Some years, the colors are so washed out.  But this year, even the oaks whose leaves are generally brown, old, and worn, are wearing red.

The United States National Arboretum provides an excellent explanation of the science of color in Autumn leaves on its website.

Do you have younger readers at your house amazed by this year’s stunning fall colors, too? If so, here’s a great list of “Fall Books for Kids” from the Books Kids Love website (including 2 beautiful ones by the amazing Lois Ehlert and 1 by a favorite Minnesota author, Linda Glaser).

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mum's the word

We haven’t had a hard freeze yet, so it seems a shame to empty out all the pots of annual flowers that graced my front and back decks this summer. It’s time, though.  Daytime temps aren’t even climbing into the 60’s anymore. 
Most of my neighbors have already swapped out their annuals with potted mums of gold, orange, and cranberry red.  Cornstalks and pumpkins adorn other porches.  One neighbor has transformed his front yard into a Halloween “graveyard” with fake headstones, skeletons, spider webs and an honest to goodness hearse. (I don’t want to ask where he got that.)

The sun is lower in the sky. Shadows are longer. The down comforter is back on the bed.  And my basket of hats, gloves, and scarves stands at the ready in my entryway.

It’s time.
So I’ll empty the pots and scrub them clean.  I’ll store them in the garden shed with the patio furniture, hoses, sprinklers, and all the crazy pieces of garden art I’ve collected over the years.  I’ll sweep off the decks; mulch and rake the leaves. I’ll wrap my rhododendrons to protect them from winter hungry rabbits.

This weekend, I promise. I’ll take on all these autumn chores.
But first, I think I’ll go get some mums.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Changing of the guard

I finally took down the hummingbird feeders today.  I suspect the last of those tiny birds migrated through a while ago, but I always worry that one or two may have been waylaid, so the feeders stay up until October.  It wasn't really necessary to flip the calendar over to the new month this week to know that autumn had arrived and settled in.  This weekend's temperatures were almost 30 degrees colder than last weekend and the gray clouds crowding the horizon are the same clouds that will soon deliver snow. 

So I filled the seed feeders with plenty of black oil sunflower seed and hung a suet cake for my cold weather feathered friends: the chickadees and nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, cardinals and juncos. I look forward to the coming months with them. For ours is a reciprocal relationship. I put out a little seed and they, in turn, feed my soul all winter long.