The coronavirus pandemic has curtailed most of our travels, so this summer and now into fall (meteorological autumn began Sept. 1) my wife, Sandy, and I spend a lot of time in our yard. We’re also out and about daily on a local walking and biking trail (Dakota Rail Regional Trail) and take day trips in our car into southern and central Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
We’re always interested in observing what’s going on and to continue learning how nature works in this part of the world.
We have observed that the loudest and most constant sound of the animal world now comes from annual cicadas and various crickets.
Wood ducks, wild turkeys, blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, squirrels, whitetail deer, and black bears up north are among the animals eating fallen acorns.
This is prime time to see monarch butterflies flying south one by one, at a speed of 11 mph, on their way to winter in Mexico. Some of us will be fortunate to see “butterfly trees” where hundreds of monarchs gather for the night. American robins, warblers, shorebirds and common nighthawks are among the bird species migrating through. Chimney swifts gather by the hundreds nightly in certain chimneys as they stage for migration.
During this time of staying home, or close to home, and having more hours to actually observe and study life around us, more people from different walks of life have told me they are learning to appreciate the natural world again. For some, it’s the first time.
Yes, there is much going on. Juvenile male wood ducks take on adult plumage. Whitetail deer fawns lose their spots, and bucks shed the fuzzy velvet covering their antlers. Tiny newly hatched snapping turtles head for ponds or lakes. Woodchucks feed on plants and store fat for hibernation.
Asters, goldenrods and sunflowers bloom nicely along roadsides. The wild rice harvest is beginning in central and northern Minnesota, where also young common loons are showing some adult colors. Their parents still watch over them.
Across the state, the green prime is passing and it’s easy to find patches of fall leaf colors. Fall mushroom watching is good. Some soybean fields in southern Minnesota display golden-yellow foliage as the plants mature. Field corn is being chopped for silage, and sweet corn still is available. In gardens, butterflies and other pollinators visit Mexican sunflowers, Autumn Joy sedum and blooming hostas. Gardeners harvest tomatoes. Apple growers pick ripe Wealthy and SweeTango.
If you can, get outside. Pick and eat some wild grapes or plums, take a swim while the water temperature is still close to 70 degrees, watch the sunset and then look for Saturn and Jupiter, listen to the crickets, and smell the fall-blooming roses.
There is just so much to explore and learn. Do it!
Jim Gilbert’s 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.