Autumn is in its full glory (and there are hints of winter about, too).


• Whitetail deer are seen in their gray-brown winter coats. Deer rubs on young aspen trees began Sept. 20.

• Muskrats are building their mounded shelters in permanent ponds.

• More painted turtles are up sunning on logs now that the water temperatures continue dropping.

• Dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows are arriving at our feeding stations, announcing that, like it or not, cold weather is on its way. Waves of American robins are migrating through, too.

• I have been watching neighborhood eastern chipmunks work tirelessly lately in an effort to store plenty of food for the winter. They carry many loads in their cheek pouches to underground storage pantries.

The chipmunk does not put on extra fat for winter as do gophers and woodchucks because of the habit of caching large stores of nuts and other seeds near its sleeping nest. Chipmunks wake up again and again from their winter hibernation to eat.

• Fallen leaves fertilize the floors of forests. They contain valuable elements, particularly calcium and potassium, that were originally a part of the soil. Decomposition of the leaves enriches the top layers of the forest soil by returning part of the elements borrowed by trees and other plants and at the same time provides for more water-absorbing humus.

Rather than raking and bagging, we can help enrich our lawns by mulching leaves with a mower. Remember, there is a living carpet down there.

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.