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I have first heard and then seen several individual gray catbirds in a mile stretch while walking wooded trails near Lake Waconia.

They are feeding on ripe common buckthorn berries, wild grapes and other fruit. During the summer these birds are largely insect-eaters. Being members of the mockingbird family, in addition to their own melodious songs, they can imitate calls of other birds, plus other animals. The cat-like whines coming from the dense thickets are distinct and indicate their presence.

One of the first birds I learned to identify as a child was the gray catbird. It's slate gray, smaller than a robin, slender, with a long tail and a black cap. They like shrubs, tangles of vines, and edges of forests.

The gray catbird is a favorite dooryard bird in much of the continental United States. It is a summer resident throughout Minnesota but leaves in autumn for its winter range in southern states and an area from the West Indies to Panama. When catbirds depart in September, they fly mainly at night, with radio towers and tall buildings becoming a hazard in their flights.

This month is full of outdoor happenings. Some other observations:

Most ruby-throated hummingbirds leave northern Minnesota by Sunday and the southern part of the state by Sept. 25. But keep those sugar-water feeders up until you are sure the hummers have all left. Tiny snapping turtles continue to hatch out of clusters of eggs laid in late May or into June. Watch for rafts of American coots to return for their autumn stay on certain lakes. Monarch butterfly migration is peaking. Individuals are flying south one by one. You may be fortunate to find a butterfly tree where hundreds have gathered for the night.

It's time to spot the first open common milkweed pods and their brown seeds carried on white parachutes by the wind. Ohio buckeye fruit is falling and the nuts are a chestnut brown. They are fun to collect and keep as special souvenirs of autumn but don't eat them. Many soybean fields display much golden-yellow foliage as plants mature. Edelweiss and Concord grapes are getting harvested. Finally, after getting welcome soaking rains, we are seeing some fall-growing mushrooms like shaggy manes and giant puffballs. The wild rice harvest is well underway in central and northern Minnesota.

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