There will be illuminated trees and at least pockets with fall foliage colors throughout Minnesota and the Upper Midwest during the first full week of October.

Some sumacs and Virginia creeper vines display beautiful reds, and many sugar maples glow in burnt-oranges, reds and golden-yellows.Eastern cottonwoods, willows, silver maples, basswoods and wild grapevines have various tones of yellow.

There were drought conditions over nearly all of Minnesota during this growing season. We don't know how grand the overall fall colors will be, but for sure autumn colors will abound.

There are people who take road trips to catch panoramic views featuring October's leaf colors. Others will simply walk a neighborhood sidewalk or stand in their own backyard to enjoy the fleeting colors.Some of us feel a sense of urgency to the task of getting out into the countryside before the colors fade and the deciduous woody plants (trees, shrubs and vines) drop their foliage.

In the Twin Cities area, I like the drive on Hwy. 95 from Stillwater to Taylors Falls, and Hwy. 7 from Hopkins to St. Bonifacius for some great views of autumn hues.Out of the Twin Cities, a drive on Hwy. 61 from Hastings to Winona and beyond, or from Northfield to Faribault can provide nice vistas.Farther afield, a drive in the Lake Mille Lacs or Walker areas and the special fall color drives out of Tofte and Lutsen all offer the splendor of autumn.

Ask a dozen people from various parts of the state and they'll probably give you a dozen, or dozens, more places to view spectacular fall foliage.How about Fort Ridgely State Park or Maplewood, Banning, Savanna Portage and Bear Head Lake state parks?All these and many other Minnesota state and county parks are favorite areas to admire the turning leaves.

Here are some other observations of late:

  • Migrating monarch butterflies stop to nectar on New England asters, plus other native and garden flowers.
  • Cattails shed myriads of seeds on small carriers.
  • Shaggy mane mushrooms are popping.
  • Three-year-old red pine needles have turned golden-brown and are falling in numbers.
  • White-lined sphinx moths, also called hummingbird moths, are seen during daylight hours nectaring on flowers on garden plants such as hostas and petunias.
  • Farmers are harvesting soybeans and some corn.

Vast numbers of birds are on the move.A few examples:Flocks of American robins, yellow-rumped warblers and white-throated sparrows.Huge flocks of migrating red-winged blackbirds are streaming overhead in undulating swarms.Sharp-shinned hawks and other raptors are passing over Hawk Ridge in Duluth.

Birds are the litmus test of our environment, an indicator of its health.A decrease of about 30% of North American birds since 1970 is a cause for great concern.

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