Today, Sept. 22, at 3:02 p.m. is the autumnal equinox, marking the beginning of astronomical fall in the Northern Hemisphere.

“Equinox” means equal night and occurs on Sept. 22 or 23 each year. Then, the sun is in position so that every place on earth receives exactly 12 hours of sunshine and 12 hours of night. In the Northern Hemisphere we will notice that the sun shines for a shorter time each day as the nights get longer, until the winter solstice.

But the astronomical first day of fall, the autumnal equinox, does not coincide with our biological fall. Signs of fall have been with us in Minnesota since July, and those signs come on strong about the first of September. In southern Minnesota, butternuts were falling, monarch butterflies were heading south, and some yellow fall color was seen on basswood and eastern cottonwood trees.

Now, in the third week of September, Virginia creeper vines are mostly bright red foliage, and many sumac shrubs are beautiful tones of deep red. Wild grape leaves are a sunny yellow.

Fall colors are starting to peak from Lake of the Woods through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In southern Minnesota, ruby-throated hummingbirds continue to visit feeding stations. Still, their numbers are decreasing as the migrating instinct takes over.

Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.