There are another three weeks of late summer before the calendar ushers in the equinox. For a few days, there will be almost an equal amount of daylight and night. But with cool nights, warm days and spots of color in the leaves, there is a sense of fall in the air already.
Queen Anne’s Lace is past its prime a bit early this year. Goldenrod has been blooming for two weeks, and many remaining birds are anxious to be on their way south. Some of nature’s outriders are bringing in the message that Mother Nature has an earlier than usual fall in mind.
Parker Andes, director of horticulture at the Biltmore Estate, thinks fall color will start popping early this year. He bases that on grapes and apples on the estate ripening several days ahead of the last few years. As long as the weather stays within normal ranges, the dry year sets the stage for better than average color. But don’t look for an early frost, because Andes thinks that will hold off until the usual mid-October color stage. The first frost kicks off peak color time in the mountains.
Andes said shrubs will add beautiful color to the fall montage. Oak Leaf Hydrangeas, which dry well, native viburnums and sweet shrubs should be spectacular as September progresses. The tulip poplars can’t be counted on to add yellow to the mix since they have had some earlier issues with the small leaf-mining midge. Dogwoods are already coloring, and sourwoods will follow quickly, with the rest of the tree parade in step. The white and red oaks will bring the color explosion to an end by early November.
September brings the Yellow-rumped warbler back to the Valley, while the other types of warblers are winging their way toward South America, often flying nonstop for the 2,500-mile trip. Thousands of warblers usually winter along the northern coast of South America. The Blackpoll Warbler spends the winter in Brazil. Warblers as a species are labeled “neotropical migrants.”
The Yellow-rumped is an exception spending the winter in the central and southeastern portions of the U.S., some even farther north. The other warblers have to have insects to survive, but the Yellow-rumped has evolved to change its diet to seeds and berries and save itself a life-threatening migratory trip farther south. Some are found as far south as Mexico during the winter.
The Pine Warbler is another short-distance migrator, and you may see it at your feeders this winter also.
The Yellow-rumped warbler is affectionately dubbed “butter butt” by birdwatchers because of the flash of its yellow patch as it flies away (both males and females have it). Its winter dress is a streaked dull brown over most of its body, with a bright yellow patch on its rump. By spring, for the breeding season spent, they will molt into a mix of bright yellow, charcoal gray and white feathers.
They enjoy berries from juniper, poison ivy, poison oak, Virginia creeper and dogwood, as well as wild grapes. You can expect them to eat their fair share of the sunflower seeds throughout the winter, as well as peanut butter, raisins and suet.
Yellow-rumped warblers join flocks of other small birds like titmice and chickadees in the fall to forage for food.
Chipmunks are wasting no time stockpiling their dens with choice foods to see them through the winter. Their cache includes various nuts and seeds. Until they head to their dens usually in late fall, they spend most of their time running back and forth from trees and feeders to their burrows, carrying their cache.
They eat acorns, nuts, fruits, berries, slugs, snails, insects and even young mice.
The burrow can be up to 30 feet long with a depth of 2 to 3 feet. A hole about 2 inches in diameter marks the entrance. There are several sleeping champers lined with soft leaves. There are also several food storage areas.
Chipmunks don’t hibernate, but they do enter a torpid state, which is a superficial, shallow hibernation. The small squirrel wakes about every two weeks to eat and then returns to its winter nap.
Once the temperature reaches 50 degrees, out pops the ground squirrel. They do not put on extra fat for winter like many other animals.
Keep out plenty of clean water for drinking and bathing. Continue to scrub the bird baths every three or so days to keep the algae out of them. Take in the bird feeders at night, including the hummingbird feeder, to prevent hungry bears from wrecking them.
Monarch butterfly migration peaks about mid-September.
May you always hear the whisper of wings.