Thursday was the first day of meteorological autumn. Across the state, the green prime is ending and we are seeing tinges and patches of red and golden-yellow fall foliage.
Pumpkins continue to grow and some are already orange. Ragweeds keep shedding a lot of pollen into the air. Woodchucks are busy foraging on plant materials and storing up fat for hibernation. Acorns fall from various oaks and become vital food for many animals including wood ducks, wild turkeys, red-bellied woodpeckers, whitetail deer, and black bears. Waves of warblers and shorebirds have been migrating through.
Within the next few days nearly all the Baltimore orioles coming to our grape jelly and sugar water feeders will leave to winter in Central America; they migrate at night. In late afternoons to sunset, watch for variable-sized flocks of migrating common nighthawks. These dark-colored birds with long, pointed wings and white patches on each outer wing are seen gliding, diving and circling and feeding on insects in the air. They are headed south. Having been residents throughout the state and way into Canada since May, they are on their way to winter in South America.
Insects singing through the night include snowy tree crickets, katydids, black field crickets, and Carolina ground crickets. Alert observers can see monarch butterflies, one by one, heading south. Giant swallowtail and eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies visit garden flowers.
In northern Minnesota, the last fireweed flowers have moved to the top of the plant, marking the end of summer. Showy blooming wildflowers include pearly everlasting, tansy, large-leaved aster, and several goldenrods. Green darners, the largest of the dragonflies, become a common sight in September as they make a massive migration south. Most wing their way to the Texas area.
In the southern part of the state, some soybean fields have begun to show golden-yellow foliage as plants mature. The chopping of field corn for silage has started, the sweet corn harvest continues, the potato harvest is on, and alfalfa hay getting cut. Look for rafts of migrating American coots to return to certain lakes.
At the beginning of this week, I visited with apple grower Denny Havlicek. He and his wife, Lynn, are the owners and caretakers of Havlicek Orchard near New Prague. During the last few days, cultivars such as SweeTango, Lakeland, State Fair, First Kiss, Beacon, and Zestar — all University of Minnesota introductions — have been picked and sold by Denny at Minneapolis neighborhood markets. They also are picking Parker and Asian pears, and spot-picking some early Red Haralson, Minjon and McIntosh apples. Each apple variety has its own special flavor and texture. So far, 2022 has been a good growing season for this orchard.
Jim Gilbert has taught and worked as a naturalist for more than 50 years.