October was warm and dry, continuing in the pattern of September. The first two-thirds of the month brought 0.11″ of rain, and given the last rainfall of > 0.5″ had been all the way back on September 12, things were getting pretty crackly. Thankfully, the last nine days of the month gave us about an inch and a third with a gentle, soaking delivery. We technically saw the first frost crystals on October 3, but a killing frost was slower to come. The morning of October 15th brought the first crop-damaging frost (on a night that had been forecast above 45 until a few hours before dark). The next two nights, which had been forecast as clear and in the 30s, didn’t yield a single ice crystal, and instead we woke to dense cloud cover. Such is weather.
Sumac is about as reliable as it gets in offering a nice show of fall color. Fragrant Sumac on the right. Some of our maples put on nice shows of color, as well.
However, leaf color was overall relatively subdued, as these photos suggest. In the upper photo, the tall grasses are Big Bluestem and Indian Grass that we planted in an attempt to re-establish some stands of native, warm-season grass. They’ve been slow to take hold on this badly eroded upland site which had significant zones of bare soil when we moved here, but each year shows improvement.
Cuteness in a nutshell, or rather next to one. Remember that Three-toed Box Turtle nest from the June natural events post? Well, apparently they hatched. In preparation for cover cropping, I (Joanna) was gently removing some weeds with a scuffle hoe in the vicinity of the nest, the corn long gone from the site, and I noticed a depression in about the right spot. So, I dug down about an inch with my finger and found this little cutie. There was at least one more below that, but I didn’t want to disturb the nest further, so I didn’t go any deeper. I had read that they may continue to use the nest for some time after hatching. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this area. We love the fact that this nest could co-exist, and succeed, in the same location as a patch of corn, that evil mono-crop of industrial agriculture. Of course, in our case, we grew the corn without tillage or chemicals, in an ecologically minded way. A nice example that agriculture and wildlife need not be mutually exclusive.
Dry weather is sometimes the best time to explore aquatic life, as they become captives in small pools. In spite of having authored reports on fish habitat, fish ID is still mysterious to me. Any readers have a suggestion?
Stream walking also yielded some other finds. Left: Our stream bed contains some large chunks of fossilized plant trunks, though some of the bigger pieces–such as this one–are submerged anytime the stream is flowing. Center: A gastropod in one of the carbonate layers of bedrock; this is a large one, a bit bigger than a quarter. Right: Though we have found artifacts in the stream bed, this broken point came out of the sweet potato beds. Harvest time for potatoes or sweet potatoes is one of the best times to find artifacts in our fields, which is where most of our discoveries happen.
We’ve had a surprising number of years in which we haven’t checked off “Wild Turkey” on our October bird list, and we would’ve missed them this year, too, if our trail cam hadn’t gotten this photo. Deer also fit into the we-know-you’re-there-even-if-we-haven’t-seen-you-lately category. We often don’t see many through the summer months, but then the pesky creatures tend to become visible sometime in October. This year, it wasn’t until October 30 that we chanced to see one in person, but the trail cam confirmed that they’re around and active, with the majority of photos documenting activity at night. Only very late in the month did we begin to see signs of scrapes in the woods.
Some plants of note, from left to right:
- The blue of a late-blooming Common Chicory flower looked out-of-place against the otherwise autumnal color palette of a late October day.
- Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus) has pretty fruits at this time of year.
- The appropriately named Seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia) has seed pods of an interestingly box-y shape. The seed pods caught my attention years ago in an open, upland site, but the last few years I’ve looked for flowers/seeds and not seen them. The plant seems to be a moisture lover, and so perhaps these only bloom on this site in years that are wet in early-to-mid summer; this year sure qualifies.
- Autumn Olive, an annoying & aggressive invasive, puts on berries in the fall that can be a tasty snack on a walk, a sort of consolation prize for having to put up with this otherwise annoying shrub/tree. The berry yield wasn’t particularly high this year, which is great, since we don’t need more seeds and more plants popping up all over the place. Although Autumn Olive fits on our short list of most-hated invasives, this plant also has the most side benefits of any plant on that list: nitrogen fixation, blossoms that smell heavenly in spring, and tasty fall fruits.
A couple of moths, thus far unidentified. The warm weather mean butterflies and moths continued to be active through the month.
A stand of chrysanthemums near our house hosts an impressive insect extravaganza. They bloom beginning in mid-October, and on warm days during their bloom period they are often swarming with insects. One warm afternoon in late October, I took about half an hour to watch and photograph; the diversity was impressive. The photos above show arthropods that were large enough and still enough for me to photograph, but many more were too small or fast to capture by camera. A number of these seem to be bee-mimicking flies. The lower right photo is of an ambush bug with prey.
In bird news, October was exceptionally birdy. The species count wasn’t out of the ordinary, but the landscape seemed full of birds for much of the month. Large flocks of grackles showed up on a few occasions in early October, and later in the month, large numbers of sparrows and robins kept up the activity. We also had one interesting new arrival: Red-headed Woodpeckers. We had technically seen one fly over the farm some time in the past, but we’ve never seen them interacting with the farm. Until now. A group of juveniles (with gray, not red heads) showed up and started caching acorns in various places, suggesting, it would seem, that they’re thinking of settling in to stay. Since our first sighting of them on October 14, they’ve been a regular feature of our local bird-scape. It’s pretty exciting to have them; we only hope they don’t like tomatoes and apples.