In the mountains, October is a month rich with maturity. The winds begin in the treetops and won’t stop until next spring. The month has so many virtues, it is difficult to single out any one that makes it special.
There is the spectacular leaf color that has just started. There are brilliant blue skies, with chilly nights and warm days. If Mother Nature is in a good mood, there will be a long stretch of Indian Summer.
Invasive bittersweet is brilliant orange, accenting fences and post. The wildly acrid odor of walnut hulls are unmistakable, and squirrels are busy gathering and burying.
These are the hoarding days for some birds and especially for squirrels. Chipmunks are still busy filling their larders, never having enough.
At night the stars are crisp and bright, precluding winter’s diamond glittering skies. Don’t miss the full Hunter’s Moon on Oct. 27. It is also called the blood moon. Check it out, and you will see why.
Autumn days are tantalizing and lull one into slowing the pace a little to appreciate them.
The first hard frost will stop growth and persistent life until spring stirs in the ground again. Sunflowers grow profusely in Valley gardens and yards. They entice jays and goldfinches to make gluttons of themselves.
I’ve picked the heavy heads many times to allow them to dry and reap the sunflower seeds. Mice always beat me to it and in a drunken food fest leave big messes of clutter and empty hulls.
Chickadees undergo a miraculously transformation in the fall. Scientists found that a chickadee’s brain increases in size during fall and winter to better remember where they hide seeds. I want some of that so I can remember where I put my glasses and car keys.
A single chickadee can fly away with up to 1,000 seeds in one day. It is called “scatter-hoarding,” and each seed is individually hidden in a unique location. Usually they are cached under tree bark, dead leaves, knot holes and even under siding and shingles.
The amazing thing is that the chickadee can remember where the seeds are and relies on them when food becomes scarce. Now you can stop wondering why the wild bird feed bill is so high. You are feeding smart chickadees.
Chickadees keep their little half-ounce bodies working efficiently, requiring a lot of fuel. These tiny birds also form mating pairs in late fall and live in flocks of six to 12 birds from late August through February. Unfortunately, only about 20 percent of this year’s hatch will make it through the winter.
Usually a chickadee eats a small amount of a sunflower seed and caches the rest. It is not the only bird caching food, especially from feeders where food is plentiful. Titmice, cousins of the chickadees, choose the largest sunflower seeds available to eat and cache. Scientists have found that seeds are cached usually within 130 feet of bird feeders. Nuthatches like heavier sunflower seeds rather than lighter ones. Nuthatches cache more seeds in the morning than at any other time.
Bears have entered into the hyperphagia phase of the year. They eat around the clock, sleeping short times and then get back up to eat again. It takes a lot of roaming and looking to find enough food to fill a large bear.
It is a time of excess, to prepare for the winter sleep. Bears relish ant brood which is the larvae and pupae of the ants. It is digestible clumps of fat and protein that provides a source of animal protein for black bears. Bears have long, sticky tongues for probing into ant colonies.
They find brood by keying in on pheromones ants use for communication and defense. They usually avoid anthills and mounds. There is too much digging into them which mixes too much soil with the brood. If there is evidence of bears digging into ant mounds, it is a sign of scarce food. Researchers think formic acid is probably a reason bears bite into insulated seats, hot tub covers, and refrigerator walls.
All of these produce formic acid when the formaldehyde in the insulation breaks down, which makes them smell like ant colonies.
Timber rattlers begin to den in early October, as do other snakes. Bullfrogs, snapping and box turtles are also beginning to hibernate.
Watch for wooly bear caterpillars. Late hummingbirds are still migrating through the Valley.
Keep out plenty of fresh water for bathing and drinking. Take in the bird feeders inside by late afternoon. Keep out the hummingbird feeders for a couple more weeks.
May you always hear the whisper of wings.