Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Onset of Autumn

The other morning I smelled autumn in the air.

The ambient odor changed from new-mown hay to the sweetish smell of dry leaves slowly decaying. Autumn's arrival can be a somber time, especially if you dwell on everything that is leaving (birds), ending (long summer days), or dying (insects, garden plants).

So I prefer to focus on what interesting sights, sounds, and experiences come our way during these autumnal changes. The hummingbird feeders are hosting their peak activity. The adult males will leave soon, but right now we've got a huge posse of nectar drinkers buzzing all around the super-sized feeders.

The red-eyed vireos are everywhere, singing, chasing, foraging. This is our most pugnacious fall migrant. Red-eyes spook more birds into view when they get the urge to chase another bird: tanagers, orioles, and especially warblers garner the vireos' ire. The ornithologists tell us it's a rush of hormones that makes the red-eyed vireo so rambunctious in the fall—a precursor to the rigorous migration ahead.
The milkweed I mowed over in the meadow in June is now perfect for the monarch caterpillars. They vastly prefer younger, more tender leaves of milkweed to the tough old milkweed trees that have been growing all summer. Julie and Phoebe discovered this a few summers ago, so now we try to manage our milkweed patches to please the monarchs. And who does not want to please the monarch?

Autumn is copperhead time on our farm. We watch where we place our hands and bare feet. We step carefully through the garage door, lest we surprise a snoozing viper. Julie has captured and relocated two large adults already in late August. All hail the inventor of the snake tongs!

Now that we're on the downhill side of Labor Day, there's no denying that the wheel of seasons is turning. Hope you can find small wonders in your part of the world this fall. Happy autumn everybody!

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