Ready for Fall

It seems inevitable, just when we get used to enjoying the balmy days of summer, fall starts creeping up on us. For wildlife it means many changes. For early migrants it is time to close up the summer residence and head south. These migrations include seemingly almost impossible feats.

Young Kirtland's warblers begin migration from the jack pine barrens of northern Michigan before their parents. In most cases, these young birds have never been more than a mile from their nest but will travel 1200 miles without adult supervision to their Bahamian wintering grounds.

Monarch butterflies also fly thousands of miles to a few valleys in Central America. Here they congregate in masses covering the branches like a living carpet. More amazing, these butterflies are not necessarily the offspring of the butterflies which returned north last spring, but in some cases are the second or third generation.

Everything seems to kick into high gear. Mice and squirrels furiously gather nuts and seeds for storage. (I know this because this is also the time that locating stashes of dog chow stored away in my garage is a daily event.)

At the same time, these animals must expend energy to thicken their coats for the long, cold winter days. Many animals have two types of fur. Stiff guard hairs make up the over layers providing protection. In the case of aquatic animals like beaver, muskrats, and otter this layer of fur is oiled to keep water away from their bodies. The underfur is a soft fluffy layer that captures air and provides insulation for the animal.

Other animals like bear and woodchucks have spent the last few months eating as much as possible to gain weight. Seeing them you would think they were not much more than a pelt covering a tub of fat. They will spend the next few months sleeping or hibernating, losing all of the fat stored-up over the past summer.

Keep an eye out during the warm rains of late summer and early fall. That moving road or path ahead just might be a migration of frogs or salamanders heading to their wintering wetlands. About this time, I usually end up with one or two gray tree frogs peering through the screen door.

Once they have reached their hibernation site, these amphibians actually bury themselves alive! Some will dig below the water line of lakes, others just above the water table. Their bodies will reach near freezing temperatures.

The fall is a time of many changes. Many things are happening right under our noses. While changing your storm windows or cleaning the remains of this year's vegetable garden, take a few extra moments and see what changes you can find.