Posts Tagged ‘fall’

Trees: Turn Red or You’re Dead

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Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
trees Foliage Nature

Fall Foliage © Kent McFarland

Throw Back Thursday Originally Posted 10/18/11 Notes from the Field – Trees: Turn Red or You’re Dead by Kent McFarland

I have often wondered why on one hillside the trees have muted fall colors, while nearby on another they are radiant red. Recent research might be shedding some light.

There are four basic colors in fall leaves and a different pigment produces each. Xanothophylls is responsible for yellow, carotenoids for orange, tannin for brown and anthocyanids create the red and purple tones.

During the growing season green chlorophyll in tree leaves is broken down by sunlight and constantly replenished. As day length decreases the abscission cells, a special layer at the leaf-stem junction, divide rapidly and slowly block transport of materials. As abscission begins, a chlorophyll production wanes and eventually stops.

As the green chlorophyll breaks down without replacement we begin to see the underlying orange carotenoids and yellow xanthophylls. These pigments help capture light energy during the growing season. But unlike yellow and orange pigments, red anthocyanins are made during fall leaf senescence. It is manufactured from sugars found in the leaf. They produce greater amounts during cooler nights and sunny days. When a hard freeze comes along, production ends.

Why would a tree use energy to make a pigment in a leaf that is about to die and fall off? William Hoch, a biologist at Montana State University, found that if he genetically blocked anthocyanin production, the leaves were much more vulnerable to fall sunlight damage, and so sent less nutrients to the plant roots for winter storage before the leaf fell. The tree was not able to recuperate as much energy back from the leaves it grew earlier in the year.

University of North Carolina at Charlotte graduate student Emily Habinck found that in places where the soil was lower in nitrogen and other important elements, red maple trees produced more anthocyanin in the leaves. Apparently trees growing in more stressful environments invest in more anthocyanin, which allow them to recover more nutrients that are stored in the leaves before they fall.

Bright red leaves under a clear blue sky are spectacular to see. But what is beauty to us, is simply survival to a tree.

Finding Fall Warblers

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Friday, September 14th, 2012

Finding Fall Warblers by Drew Weber

Finding warblers in the fall can be much trickier than finding them in the spring. Males are singing less often because they are no longer attempting to attract mates, and most of their vocalizations are difficult-to-identify chips. These chips are actually the best thing to clue in on, as they can often lead you to a feeding flock of warblers. The feeding flocks can vary in size, but when you locate one warbler there is a good chance that several others are nearby.

warblers

Black-throated Blue Warbler adult male, breeding © Arthur Morris/VIREO

The first thing to do is find some suitable habitat. Fall warblers often concentrate along the edges of woods where early morning sun is hitting the trees and warming the air, increasing the activity of insects which the warblers are seeking out. Walk along the forest edge listening carefully for chips. In addition to listening for warbler chips, pay attention to any chickadees. Warblers will often forage in a loose flock with chickadees. Since the birds aren’t vocalizing as much, take your time as you scan the area and walk slowly. Also don’t be afraid to backtrack as a small flock can emerge from the woods and forage along the edge with no warning after you passed it.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee adult, Rocky Mountain © Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO

Another habitat type you should check out for fall warblers are fields of dense goldenrod. Tennessee, Orange-crowned and Wilson’s Warblers can all be found in this type of habitat as they forage in the goldenrod. Successional habitat with a mix of smaller trees and shrubs can also provide ideal habitat for finding warbler feeding flocks.

warblers

Wilson’s Warbler adult female, Eastern © Claude Nadeau/VIREO

Looking for fall warblers can be very rewarding because of the patience it can require. It is very exciting to find a mixed flock of 6 different species of warblers and get great looks at them as they forage at eye level, rather than in the treetops as is typical in the sling. And getting a good look is important.

Fall warblers get a bad rap for being hard to identify. They also have the reputation of being less colorful than the spring warblers. There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, spring migration is a quick and hurried affair as birds race northward to stake out territorial claims to some prime breeding habitat. In all the rush, we generally only manage to see the birds that are singing…males with their distinctive bright plumage.

warblers

Cape May Warbler adult male, breeding © Adrian & Jane Binns/VIREO

In the fall, migration is a much more leisurely event. The warblers take their time and stop for days at a time to feed and replenish the reserves they require for their long flights. This gives birders a chance to see females as well as males, adding an additional plumage variation that has to be identified. Also, each successful pair of birds raised maybe 2-5 young, meaning there are now more immature birds than adults. The plumage of immature males and females are often different as well.  Generally young males look similar to adult females, while immature females are even drabber colored.

warblers

Black-throated Green Warbler immature male (1st spring) © Gerard Bailey/VIREO

This means that in the fall, a birder often needs to be familiar with at least three, and sometimes four different plumages of a bird to be able to correctly identify each warbler they see. Adult males are still mostly in their bright breeding plumage, young males and adult females are drabber and sometimes hard to differentiate, and young females are the drabbest.

warblers

Cape May Warbler immature female (1st winter) © Rob & Ann Simpson/VIREO

If you get a chance to study females and immatures closely, you will discover although their colors aren’t as gaudy as the spring males, there is still a lot of color on many of the young warblers. Young Chestnut-sided Warblers, for example, have a beautiful lime-green back.

warblers

Chestnut-sided Warbler immature female, 1st winter © Gerard Bailey/VIREO

So, are fall warblers really harder to identify? The answer is yes, but a species often shares specific characteristics between all the different plumage. Learn these shared characteristics and identification will be much easier. Spend some time getting to know the fall warblers, and I am sure you will enjoy them as much as I do.

Mule Deer Versus Whitetail

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Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Mule Deer
Location: Buffalo, Wyoming

As a new transplant from New England to the Rockies, one of the first animals to greet me while exploring the deeply crevassed foothills near Buffalo, Wyoming was the mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). Appropriately named for their oversized ears, I also immediately noticed their lack of fluffy, broad tail, the most obvious trademark of the ubquitous whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus), the scourge of my vegetable garden at my former home in New Hampshire and the unhelpful grass-trimmers and fairway fertilizers on the golf course outside my new door in Montana. Mule deer have skinny, black-tipped tails.

As I spotted more mule deer nibbling alfalfa in a farmer’s field, I became curious to observe what other differences exist between muleys and whitetails. This time of year, post-rut, when the antlers on buck deer are fully formed, I noticed mature mule deer racks are taller and broader. They are also bifurcated, forking as they grow, rather than branching off a single main beam which whitetail antlers do.

Mule Deer

Driving around Buffalo, Wyoming, I saw some impressive mule deer bucks, bigger than any whitetails bucks I’ve encountered. It stands to reason that it takes a larger body to produce and hold up a larger rack. What’s more, mule deer have to hold up their racks a month longer, typically shedding them in February or March, versus January or February for whitetails. A sizeable mule deer buck can weigh over 300 pounds, with the heftiest trophy-sized males tipping the scales at 450 pounds. By comparison, an impressive whitetail might weigh 200 pounds.

There are a few other difference as well, namely fur color and fawn reproduction. Whitetails turn from red-brown in the spring to gray-brown in the fall, whereas mule deer are gray-brown year round and have a courser coat. Whitetails also have a higher birth rate. Does can often breed their first fall, whereas mule deer does take longer to mature. Muleys seem less comfortable around people too. That’s okay with me. I don’t need another deer species to chase out of my garden next spring.

Turn Red or You’re Dead

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Friday, October 28th, 2011

I have often wondered why on one hillside the trees have muted fall colors, while nearby on another they are radiant red. Recent research might be shedding some light.

There are four basic colors in fall leaves and a different pigment produces each. Xanothophylls is responsible for yellow, carotenoids for orange, tannin for brown and anthocyanids create the red and purple tones.

During the growing season green chlorophyll in tree leaves is broken down by sunlight and constantly replenished. As day length decreases the abscission cells, a special layer at the leaf-stem junction, divide rapidly and slowly block transport of materials. As abscission begins, a chlorophyll production wanes and eventually stops.

As the green chlorophyll breaks down without replacement we begin to see the underlying orange carotenoids and yellow xanthophylls. These pigments help capture light energy during the growing season. But unlike yellow and orange pigments, red anthocyanins are made during fall leaf senescence. It is manufactured from sugars found in the leaf. They produce greater amounts during cooler nights and sunny days. When a hard freeze comes along, production ends.

Why would a tree use energy to make a pigment in a leaf that is about to die and fall off? William Hoch, a biologist at Montana State University, found that if he genetically blocked anthocyanin production, the leaves were much more vulnerable to fall sunlight damage, and so sent less nutrients to the plant roots for winter storage before the leaf fell. The tree was not able to recuperate as much energy back from the leaves it grew earlier in the year.

University of North Carolina at Charlotte graduate student Emily Habinck found that in places where the soil was lower in nitrogen and other important elements, red maple trees produced more anthocyanin in the leaves. Apparently trees growing in more stressful environments invest in more anthocyanin, which allow them to recover more nutrients that are stored in the leaves before they fall.

Bright red leaves under a clear blue sky are spectacular to see. But what is beauty to us, is simply survival to a tree.

Leafing Summer for Fall

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Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

The majority of Midwesterners dream of summer but there are a chosen few that love spring and especially fall. There is no better feeling for me when frost hits and the chill of the morning air makes for enjoyable walks through the crunch of crispy leaves. Beautiful colors sometimes muted by frosty whites create a whole new canvas to enjoy. While many see this as only a short transition to winter, to others it’s a time of rich colors, new smells, and family time at the orchard in search of the best Apples and Pumpkins.

Some of the best trees during fall include the mighty Sugar Maple and the amazing Paper Birch Trees. Rich oranges, reds and yellows paint the landscape and color it in such a way that it feels as if you’re in a whole different place that only exists for a few weeks each year. While the color is breathtaking, there is always the work involved with fall. Raking and bagging leaves are just part of the game but why not invite the neighborhood kids over for a jump in the piles followed by some hot chocolate. Nature has no clicks and never discriminates. Let it be the door into telling others about all the wonderful things outside. Maybe this is your chance at converting a new person to be a Nature Nerd!

As fall slowly fades away, the forest floor turns to color as leaves fall and find their resting place on the ground. Decomposition waits for nothing and colors soon dissolve to a much more boring palette. Leaves begin to vanish just in time for the first snow falls to cover up the now dirty landscape with a fresh new blanket. What were rich greens turned to vibrant color and finally end up in pure whites so bright, to look outside without sunglasses is blinding. As with every time of year, seasons come and go but for the lucky ones, another round is just around the corner.

Shades of Blue

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Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

When you think of fall wildflowers, goldenrods and asters immediately come to mind. Even as those fade in the fields, I set out to look for my favorite late season wildflowers, Fringed Gentians. As noted by the poet William Cullen Bryant in 1832,

Thou waitest late and com’st alone,
When woods are bare and birds are flown,
And frosts and shortening days portend
The aged year is near his end.

-William Cullen Bryant, To the Fringed Gentian

To find Fringed Gentians, you have to go out on the brightest late autumn days, as the flowers only open in direct sun. They grow in damp, open habitats, usually in poor sandy or calcareous soils. This kind of habitat isn’t very common in my urban southeastern Michigan county. While many gentians are perennial, Fringed Gentians are biennial. When I find a spot that has them, the open aspect of the landscape often becomes shaded through rapid succession, handicapping seed germination. The ephemeral nature of their populations just makes discovering these gentians all the more special.

And I admit to being a sucker for the cerulean blue of the flowers that match the crisp October skies under which they bloom. Nearly 20 years ago, I lost one of my brothers on one of these fragile fall days, and often the sight of colorful leaves glowing in a sun hanging low in the sky leaves me feeling pretty bereft. Somehow, finding these rare azure beauties chases away my other blues, reminding me that seasons change, and life moves on.

 

Rocky Mountain Leaf Peep

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Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Until a couple of years ago, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a leaf peeper and a brown creeper. But a fall trip to New England changed all that. Now I know a leaf peeper isn’t a tree with eyeballs or an invasive species. Well, that last part isn’t completely true. Leaf peepers are invasive. Flocking to New England from places like Miami, Los Angeles and elsewhere in the world, they’re not locals. They invade the Northeast with a singular purpose in mind, to view wild lands and rural landscapes when the colors of turning leaves are most varied and vibrant.

Make no doubt about it. For a human possessing even a smidgen of appreciation for the often bold, sometimes subdued tapestry of color and texture of turning leaves, a leaf peep in New England is unforgettable. But although the northern Rocky Mountains don’t draw too many fall tourists who come just to see the leaves, our peep show is nothing to sneeze at. Turning aspens may range in color from fresh-churned butter to fiery orange and even crimson. The large leaves of black cottonwoods take on a bright yellow mantle, the more dramatic for its contrast with their dark, deeply furrowed trunks. Chokecherries line the creek bottoms in colors ranging from orange to ochre. Skunk brush on the hillsides flames brilliant crimson. The leaf show in the West may not rival the sheer scope and drama of that in New England, but I’m still happy to be a peeper, Rocky Mountain style.

Tame Deer – Do Not Harm – The White-tailed Deer

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Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Animal identification can often be quite tricky. Differentiating a Yellow-crested Olive-sided Warbler from an Olive-cheeked Yellow-rumped Warbler can be nearly impossible without a 4-D 300 meter spotting scope, cannon-fired mist net and your own University of Cornell-trained Ornithologist. The larger animals on the other hand should be easily identified. Bears. Moose. Dolphin. How about the White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)?

White-tails are the most wide-ranging members of the deer family in North America and can be found in Canada, most of the United States, Central America and Venezuela, Columbia and Ecuador. Here in Florida they tend to weigh in on the leaner side. Males average 125 lbs and females a bit less than 100 lbs. Key Deer, a subspecies of the white-tail is even smaller with males maxing out at 80 lbs.

Deer are noted as being crepuscular, meaning they are active at dawn and dusk but I often see them in the Everglades and similar habitat during the daylight. My thinking is that the main predator of deer in south Florida is the Florida Panther which is a nocturnal hunter and with few other species to be concerned with, the deer forage in the daylight.

The deer in the top photo were spotted in the Picayune Strand State Forest, east of Naples, FL. They seemed to smell me before they heard me, and heard me before they saw me. As I carefully approached they raised their white tails and began to trot away. This serves as a guide for the fawn to follow as they flee. It also attracts predators and when the deer stops and the tail is dropped, the predator has now lost the white tail it was chasing.

The deer in the bottom photo was clearly aware of my presence. I proceeded no further. Eight tines in a rack of antlers trumps a 300mm zoom lens. The buck eventually sauntered off.

And as for the deer in the central frame? They were tame and quite possibly the ugliest White-tail Deer I have ever seen.

There is a Rhythm to the Seasons

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Friday, September 30th, 2011

There is a rhythm to the seasons. Technically, fall began on September 23 when the sun crossed the equator and the days in the northern hemisphere began to grow shorter. But to me, the first precursor to fall is the arrival of waves of Rufous Hummingbirds winging through Arizona on their way south to Mexico. I’ll know for sure when I hear the first Sandhill Crane calling in the Sulphur Springs Valley. If you are a naturalist or gardener or anyone else with a close attachment to the land you view the passing of the seasons differently than the deskbound city-dweller. Seasons are measured in the plants and animals around us rather than the calendar.

Actually, we have five seasons here in southeastern Arizona and it is the arrival of that fifth season that affects many of us at a very primal level. After months of hot, dry weather the first thunderheads begin to build in late June. When the first rains of our “monsoon season” come in early July, the impulse to go out in the rain and celebrate the season is often too overwhelming to ignore. I imagine that the arrival of the salmon in Alaska is greeted with the same sense of relief and celebration. Like the blooming of fruit trees or a vegetable garden, it is the promise of plenty.

This time of year the afternoon temperatures can still be uncomfortably warm. And, although there is scarce change in the morning temperature and humidity, there is SOMETHING in the early morning air that tells me that fall will soon be here. It arrives earlier on the mountain peaks and I can see the golden yellow aspen groves from miles away. Another hint that change is on the way. For a couple of weeks the newly arriving Sandhill Cranes, some of whom nested in Siberia this summer, will share the fields with the last of our nesting Swainson’s Hawks before the hawks leave for Argentina. It’s the pulse of the planet and you can hear it if you are listening.

Goodbye Summer and Hello Fall …and other posts by Northwestern High Ecology Class

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Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Goodbye summer and Hello Fall

By Sherry M.

Sugar Maple

I will miss swimming and fishing. The hot dry days have been unbearable. The last two days it has been raining a lot. But I will love to go jump in the leaves. I have to rake the leaves. I love to watch squirrels eat nuts and hedge balls.

Summer is the most fun time. I went to a friend’s birthday party this summer. The things I did at my friend’s birthday are hiding seek, singing, and dancing. I had to haul hay this summer. The people I hauled hay with are my sisters, mom, dad and brother. I had to help out my mom this summer. The things I helped her out with is taking out the trash, picking up trash.

Fall is the time of year that you can hunt. The people I hunt with are my dad, sisters and my brother. I love to watch the leaves turn colors in the fall.


The Two Headed Cow

By Sarah Jo B.

“Daddy, Daddy, my cow is having her calf! I went out to feed it and I think she’s in labor.”

“Alright, calm down Sally.”

So on that Sunday afternoon Sally and her father went out to the barn where the cow was having her baby.

“Push! Push!” As sally’s dad was talking to the cow he reached into the cow and tied a rope onto the calves legs. Then he pulled it out.

“It’s a boy Sally. Wait, does that cow have two heads?”

“Yes!” Screamed Sally.

This story is made up, but it becomes true to a lot of farmers. The two heads form because they were going to be twins and they just joined together. They share a body, but have their own eyes, ears, and mouths. I bet I know what you’re thinking. Can a real cow with two heads live? Well, yes they can. A cow gave birth to a two headed calf in Colombia. The cow that had the calf had already had several calves, and the owner had never seen this before. The calf lived, but the weight of its head was so heavy that the calf couldn’t hold it by itself. The owner built a hammock to support her.


Mallards

By Cory C.

In the fall many ducks migrate south, such as the mallard the most common of the puddler duck family and my most favorite to hunt. They have many names such as greenhead because of their emerald green heads that put on an eye catching display in the morning.

mallard

I think that the best way to see these magnificent animals is to get up early in the morning and set up a blind on a river bank, lake side, by a pond or just in a corn or bean field while warming up with a nice warm cup of hot chocolate and wait or call them in with a duck call. My favorite thing to do is hunt them but I often get side tracked watching because of their gracefulness while falling from the sky or just watching the way they act around each other.

I try to hunt in an area with an abundant food supply like a flooded forest full of oak trees, seeing how acorns are some of their favorite foods.

But don’t forget to just take some time to watch them.


Doves

By: Skyler R.
Mourning Dove
Doves are a very popular bird; they are found in 48 different states. Doves are found in every county in Missouri.

Doves in Missouri migrate in two different directions. Doves in Eastern Missouri go southwest. Doves in the western part of Missouri go to states like Texas, Mexico, and Central America.

The diet of doves consists of a variety of seeds, acorns, peas, beans, and insects. Out of all the plants doves prefer millet and sunflower.

You can hunt doves from September 1 through November 9. The shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset. The limit for a day is 12 doves.

I have only been dove hunting once but it was a blast but you have to be careful because they can be anywhere! We spooked quite a lot of them because we didn’t know they were sitting on top of the hill. We saw most of the doves in bean fields and sitting on power lines. When you go dove hunting you want to wear camouflage because if you don’t the doves will most likely see you. Then you probably won’t get a good shot at them.

This is some very interesting facts about doves. If you hunt doves be careful and be safe o yeah I almost forgot have fun!!


Chickadee- Fun to See, More Fun to Say

By: Mikeal T.

The chickadee is a very interesting little bird. This blog is going to be about the Black-capped chickadee. The bird has a solid black cap or top of head, with white cheeks, an off gray back, white stomach, dark gray wings, and a long tail. The males and females look alike except males are a little longer and bigger.

Black-capped Chickadee

An interesting fact about the chickadee is that in the cold it lowers its temperature 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit to save energy. Also in general the bird does not migrate.

The chickadee is a very curious little bird too. They will not stick around to eat though, they take their food elsewhere. They also fly in flocks with a bouncy up and down flight. The bird can be found anywhere that there is a tree or shrub, and nest in mostly birch or alder trees. The chickadee has to be one of my favorite little birds because they are simply awesome.