Jeff Green | Nov 02, 2006
Back toHomeNature Reflections - November 2, 2006
Signs of Autumn
by Jean Griffin
It is not just cooler weather, or falling leaves, or earlier sunsets that are signs of autumn’s farewell and the coming of winter. It seems that almost everything in nature has its own way of showing us that seasons are changing.
Summer had brought us busy chipmunks who mated and had families, and as the summer waned it was common to see a half-grown chipmunk scampering across the road with its tail a banner pointing toward the sky. There are less of these now, though still one or two trying to find either food or an unoccupied territory where it will spend the winter underground. The squirrels have also been busy preparing for winter, building leaf nests in the trees, harvesting the nuts and seeds that will be the mainstay of their winter diet, and hiding them, sometimes in tree cavities, and sometimes burying them - where they may or may not find them again, and thus give that unfound nut or seed an opportunity to grow.
Each of the mammals has its own way of adapting to the coming winter. Some change the colour or thickness of their fur coats and meet winter head-on. The white coat of the Snowshoe Hare may help it evade its predators, while the white mantle of the Short-tailed Weasel may give it the advantage of disguise. The denser coat of the White-tailed Deer will help protect it from the chilly winds, though the shelter they seek in cedar swamps will help.
Other mammals hibernate, and now is the time for the Black Bears to seek out a place to den for the winter. It was obvious in the pile left on the road by one of these animals that it had been enjoying the supply of apples and other fruit and was probably now well-insulated with a layer of fat on which to survive.
It is easy to observe how the birds react to the coming of winter. Almost all the songbirds of the summer have headed for warmer climes where there are still insects to be found, and life is easier. Those that remain have put on their winter coats - an extra layer of down. Like the squirrels some of them have also hidden away seeds, while others have spied out the bird feeders that will be a place of plenty. From more northern areas we are starting to see our winter visitors. This week I saw a small flock of Snow Buntings (only about 6) busily feeding on the weed seeds on the side of the road. They and the redpolls, Snowy Owls, Rough-legged Hawks and others leave the barren tundra for areas where winter food is more available.
Now not so readily visible are the insects who have had to adapt to season change possibly by cocooning, burrowing into the ground, or (for a few) heading south. Many insects have finished the entire span of their life, and it is the eggs they leave behind that will be overwintering and be the insects we see next year. The Woolly Bear caterpillar crossing the road the other day will have to find shelter - this one was almost totally black with only a hint of the coloured mid-stripe circling its body - what does that tell us about the coming winter?
By now most of the frogs are buried in the mud at the bottom of a pond, and the toads also buried but in the ground. The snakes have been gathering in their underground retreats - except for the young Eastern Garter, only about 8 inches long, that was slithering over my basement floor a couple of weeks ago. It must have found a small chink in the basement wall while looking for a place to shelter. I placed it out in my flower garden in the hope it could find some other safe hideaway.
So autumn wanes and winter looms ahead, and we humans also find various ways of coping - blazing fires in wood stoves, storm windows, mittens and hats, vacations in southern places, snow tires, and so forth. And like the animals, wait for the coming of spring!