Most deciduous forests are quite bare by now, but pockets of fall color remain, especially in oak woods. The crunching and aroma of fall leaves make walking in these woods special. Now the marshes look mostly brown from a distance, because cattail plants have turned shades of brown. Tamarack trees — conifers that shed their needles each fall — are glowing a smoky gold in the wetlands. Bittersweet vines have dropped their leaves, leaving bright orange fruit.
This week marks the normal peak of the leaf-raking season. Leaves can be shredded with a power mower and then left on the lawn, or put in flower beds and vegetable gardens, to enrich the soil and help hold moisture. Chrysanthemums will keep blooming and adding color to fall gardens. They can withstand some frost and a temperature as low as 28 degrees for several hours.
Rubs and scrapes made by whitetail deer can be found in the woods because the rut, or mating season, has begun. A few eastern chipmunks remain above ground, but most are hibernating by now. Leopard frogs are moving back to lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams where they, too, will soon hibernate.
On sunny days, expect late sightings of painted turtles on logs in ponds, basking in the warm light. Rafts of American coots on area lakes may contain more than 1,000 individual birds.
Statewide, nearly all soybeans and sugar beets have been harvested. Watch for steam rising from ponds, lakes and rivers on cold mornings.
Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.