Nature begins to paint the leaves

Barbara Hootman

Mother Nature’s fall palette is brimming with yellow, orange and red as she turns the leaves spectacular colors.   The dogwoods are burgundy accented with bright red berries, and the sourwoods wear burgundy overlaid with lacy cream colored pods.  The Maples stand  in pools of golden leaves.  The autumn winds play in the fallen leaves creating mini whirlpools.

A myriad of hues are beginning to show at various elevations.  The colors appear subtly.  You don’t think they were as beautiful early in the morning, and by late afternoon the colors are popping with intensity. It is fall magic at its best.

The lowest elevations are still predominately green with a few color splashed leaves.  The best is yet to come. The lower elevations provide a wide range of colors that add enjoyment to the last part of leaf turning season extending it into November with maroons and browns dominating the trees.

Seasonal temperature and cloud coverage are big influences in determining how bright the fall colors are.

It is pumpkin time in the Valley and there are more than 30 different kinds that will grace steps, porches and yards for Halloween. Save the seeds from pumpkin carvings and feed them to the wild creatures. Some people enjoy roasting the seeds and eating them.  Autumn provides a cornucopia stuffed with what seems to be an endless supply of food for the wildlife neighbors.  As winter approaches the bounty soon disappears.

Fall migration continues to bring birds through the Western North Carolina mountains on their way south. North Carolina plays a key role in the life cycle of many migratory birds in all stages of their life cycles.  They travel thousands of miles yearly to breed, nest, and use the various areas of the state for stopover habitats during migration. Since fall migration is a more prolonged, leisurely trip, bird lovers get to see many more birds in the fall as they stop to rest and refuel. It is important that the migrants find enough food to sustain them through their travels south.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a heavy billed finch with the usual easy to identify notched tail. Grosbeaks have been migrating through the Western North Carolina mountains in large numbers this year. They breed in all of the higher elevations of the mountain counties.  It is during migration that they become evident at lower elevations. Many of those sighted have been juveniles. It obviously was a good nesting season this year. The juvenile Grosbeaks have a hodge-podge of colors that do not reflect their beautiful feathers decked out in black, red and white feathers for breeding season.  The juveniles have the black wing feathers with the white markings and the distinctive white strip over the eye.

Grosbeak heads are black correlating with black wings, backs and tails.   The bright rose-red patch on the male breast gives the bird its name, Rose-breasted Grosbeak. In fall, males molted, their winter feathers drab compared to breeding plumage.  Their upper feathers are brown fringed and the underparts are a creamy white.

The female Rose-breasted Grosbeak is brown and white with a pronounced strip eye mark, and a pale pinkish colored huge bill. Her underparts are black-streaked and her wing linings are tinted with yellow. The females and juveniles have the bold markings on their face throughout fall and winter. By spring the male juveniles will mature with black wings and have at least the start of the red chest bib.

A small flock of males strolled across my front porch to check out the offerings on a tray feeder on the floor. They feasted on stripped and black-oiled sunflowers seeds and then were off.

Some groups of migrating Grosbeaks contain females and juveniles along with males. The Rose-breasted Grosbeak breeds across Canada and the northeastern part of the U.S. as well as in the WNC mountains.  Grosbeaks cross the Gulf of Mexico in one flight to head into the U.S. for breeding and nesting seasons, and then make the long trip back across the Gulf to winter in central to southern Mexico, northern South America and the Caribbean. They spend the winter in forests and semi-open habitats in Central and South America. They winter in Colombia at elevations up to 11,000 feet. They eat seeds, berries, and catch lots of insects during the summer months.

Young raccoons are venturing out on their own to find natural foods.  Small holes in your yard could be young raccoons looking for grubs.

Black bears are hunting for the treasured white oak acorns.

Crows are congregating in large roosts again.

Frogs are beginning to hibernate.

Take in the bird feeders by late afternoon.

Keep out plenty of clean water for drinking and bathing.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.