Farewell Autumn

Cache Valley Autumn Colors Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Cache Valley Autumn Colors
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Many people enjoy Autumn as their favorite season of the year. Temperatures are comfortable, most pesky insects are absent, animal migrations are evident, and beautiful Fall colors on the trees and shrubs are stunning. But why do these deciduous plants change color? Consider daylight, temperature, and chemistry.

Spring and summer growth and leaf production are due to photosynthesis, a process where plants use light to synthesize the cell’s chlorophyll into transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates such as sugars and starch. The cells containing chlorophyll also give the plant its green color. But there are other pigments, besides green, within the leaves all year. Xanthophyll produces orange and yellow colors, anthocyanin develops shades of red. When daylight decreases and temperatures drop in the North, the leaves stop their food-making and the green chlorophyll breaks down, leaving the other pigments to dominate the new Autumn colors.

Soon after these vivid colors appear, the tree develops special cells where leaves are attached. Those cells allow the stems to break away from the tree, due to gravity or the wind, and creates a small leaf scar. Although we may not appreciate bare limbs all winter, heavy snows collected by leaves could cause massive breaking of branches due to the additional weight.

In Southern climates, some broad-leaf trees may keep their leaves and only experience changes during wet and dry seasons. Many stay green all year. And, of course, conifers like spruce, pines and firs, retain their needle-like leaves all year.

Now picture yourself in your favorite, quiet, outdoor setting in the Fall as I read a section from the beautiful writings of Aldo Leopold, found in his book “A Sand County Almanac”. It is titled November – If I Were the Wind.

The wind that makes music in November corn is in a hurry. The stalks hum, the loose husks whisk skyward in half-playful swirls, and the wind hurries on.

In the marsh, long windy waves surge across the grassy sloughs, beat against the far willows. A tree tries to argue, bare limbs waving, but there is no detaining the wind.

On the sandbar there is only wind, and the river sliding seaward. Every wisp of grass is drawing circles on the sand. I wander over the bar to a driftwood log, where I sit and listen to the universal roar, and to the tinkle of wavelets on the shore. The river is lifeless: not a duck, heron, marsh-hawk or gull but has sought refuge from the wind.

Out of the clouds I hear a faint bark, as of a far-away dog. It is strange how the world cocks its ears at that sound, wondering. Soon it is louder: the honk of geese, invisible, but coming on.

The flock emerges from the low clouds, a tattered banner of birds, dipping and rising, blown up and blown down, blown together and blown apart, but advancing, the wind wrestling lovingly with each winnowing wing. When the flock is a blur in the far sky I hear the last honk, sounding taps for summer.

It is warm behind the driftwood now, for the wind has gone with the geese.
So would I—if I were the wind.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Autumn Colors, Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, http://wildaboututah.org/autumn-colors/

Red leaves in autumn: What’s in it for the tree?, Holly Strand, Oct 18, 2012, http://wildaboututah.org/red-leaves-in-autumn-whats-in-it-for-the-tree/

Autumn Leaf Color Change, Linda Kervin, Sept 23, 2010, http://wildaboututah.org/autumn-leaf-color-change/

Jack’s Urban Deer

Jack's Urban Deer: Click for a larger view of Mule Deer, Odocoileus hemionus, Courtesy US FWS, Ryan Moehring, Photographer

Mule DeerOdocoileus hemionus
Courtesy US FWS
Ryan Moehring, Photographer 
As I look out my front window, 7 mule deer are cavorting, feeding, with some lying down for a mid-day siesta. With the final week of the regular season deer hunt winding down, some have taken sanctuary from the nimrods to join the urban herd.

For our 30 years in Smithfield canyon, deer have been regulars, disappearing for the most part from mid-May to mid-June to give birth, as do the bucks, perhaps somewhat embarrassed with strange bumps forming on their crowns.
Spotted fawns begin adorning our lawn in mid-July. With enough speed to outrun all but the fastest predator’s, mom drops her guard a bit. Bucks begin parading their new, fully formed head gear.

As fall and winter approach, the neighborhood herd grows, with a few dozen hanging out when winter finally sets in. Their snow trails through the yard become conspicuous, further defined with sprinkles of fecal material. Out back the steep hillside across Summit Creek becomes a winter playground as small groups run repeatedly up and down and around. Apparently, their abundant stores of energy allow them to break winter’s lethargy. This is generally not the case for deer in the wilds where every calorie is conserved for winter hardships as snow deepens and temperatures plunge.

We’ve witnessed a few humorous behaviors during our 3 decades of observation. Deer are very curious which occasionally works against their best interests. We had an especially aggressive rooster who became our “feathered” watchdog. A small deer herd passing through the front yard noticed the stocky cock guarding the front door and decided on closer inspection. The lead deer approached stretching his neck and tender nose to get a closer whiff. Old roaster rooster gave her a welcoming sharp jab to the nose which sent the herd bounding off.
On another occasion, our tomcat found itself taking refuge under the trampoline as 4 deer approached from a patch of forest. The cat’s movement piqued the deer’s curiosity. They surrounded the trampoline, bent down on front knees with noses poked underneath for a close-up. Poor tom was terrified- to be munched by a deer- what a horrible end!

Of course, we realize that not everyone is enamored with deer in their space. Deer can be a nuisance causing damage to landscapes and gardens. With proper fencing and plant selection, this can be managed. A greater concern is safety, vehicle-deer collisions. Here again, with proper signage, this can be minimized. I’ve experienced close encounters on my bike, so always go slow when deer appear near or on the roadway.
An excellent resource for landscaping is found at wildlife.utah.gov/habitat/deer-browse.php Blending a variety of native and ornamental plants into a home landscape can create a highly attractive environment for family, friends, mule deer and other wildlife species. Enhancing the home environment and replacing some of the lost wildlife habitat can be enjoyable and beneficial.

This is Jack Greene for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy US FWS Ryan Moehring, Photographer
Text:     Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society


Additional Reading:

Copeland, H. E., H. Sawyer, K. L. Monteith, D. E. Naugle, A. Pocewicz, N. Graf, and M. J. Kauffman. 2014.
Conserving migratory mule deer through the umbrella of sage-grouse. Ecosphere 5(9):117. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/ES14-00186.1
https://www.fws.gov/greatersagegrouse/documents/research/muledeer_mig_grouse_14-00186.pdf

Mule Deer, Species-Utah Conservation Data Center, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=odochemi

Mule Deer, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/learn-more/mule-deer.html

I Love the Four Seasons

Red Admiral Butterfly, Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS Digital Library
Red Admiral Butterfly
Thomas G. Barnes
US FWS Digital Library

Glacier Lilies
Erythronium grandiflorum
Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore


I love the four seasons. Having spent my 72 years residing in the mid latitudes, I’ve learned to celebrate each of our seasons, but especially spring!

This is the rebirth flush with abundant water, new greenery, and air filled with bird song and sweet aromas as new flowers perfume the air hoping to lure in a pollinator.

With mid-April upon us and our 42 degree latitude, spring is in full swing here in northern Utah! Winter departs grudgingly slapping us with snow squalls intermingled with glorious, early summer days, a wild roller coaster ride which I truly enjoy!
I’m an avid phenology follower. Phenology is the study of how life adapts to seasonal changes. I revel in the first floral bloom, the first neotropical birds returning from Latin America with a heart full of song, and newly emerged, gaudy butterflies.

With a relatively stable climate, until recently, the timing of these events has evolved to near perfection
Let’s take a closer look at some of these phenomena. I’ll begin with our neotropical birds such as lazuli buntings, yellow warblers, and Western tanagers to mention a few. These species spend over half of their year in Mexico, Central and South America flying thousands of miles to for the breeding and nesting season in the Intermountain West. This may seem a bit extreme for these tiny flurries of life.

On closer inspection, you will find they have good reason for this daunting and dangerous task. The tropics have a relatively stable climate without the dramatic seasonal change that we experience. This results in relatively stable populations of flowers and insects, the primary food sources for most species. Further, the ratio of daylight to darkness is nearly constant with 12 hours of each. Our days lengthen as we journey toward summer solstice with nearly 16 hours of daylight! This allows a burst of energy to flow through ecosystems resulting in eruptive populations of insects and floral bloom. It also offers long hours of daylight for parents to gather food for their young which grow rapidly toward fledglings, thus reducing the possibility of predation and also preparing them for the arduous flight south as fall approaches.

Let’s examine flowers and insects. With our very warm winter and spring, I was expecting a much earlier arrival of both and was not disappointed. I counted 17 species of flowers by the second week of April! And butterflies were on a similar schedule with 9 different species during the last week of March- remarkably early! Although delighted, it occurred to me that returning birds may not be so pleased. If the flowers begin to fade, and insects begin their downward slide at the peak of birds rearing their young, trouble is afoot! A five year Audubon study revealed that 1/3 of our birds are predicted to be severely impacted by these rapid climate shifts.

On a more positive note, spring will continue as will bird song, vernal waterfalls, eruptions of wildflowers and butterflies. And spring repeats itself as we move to higher elevations. As cornices on our mountain ridges recede, up pops flowers for yet another spring bloom, and with them butterflies, bees, and birds!

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS
Pictures Lilies: Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

http://wildaboututah.org/usa-national-phenology-network/