An Autumn Nature Almanac for Peterborough and the Kawarthas

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably happy with the arrival of fall. It’s a season that represents a fresh start, perhaps of long-standing associations to go back to school.

It makes us feel more motivated and in many ways signals the real New Year. We enjoy the comfort of resuming our daily routines after the less predictable schedules of summer.

The cooler temperatures and vibrant foliage also encourage us to spend more time in nature, which research shows is linked to greater happiness, well-being and even relationships.

If you look back, you have no doubt noticed the abundance of cottontail rabbits this summer. While a full explanation for this population explosion remains unclear, it may be related to a decline in fox and coyote numbers, possibly due to mange and even bird flu. Many people have commented on the relative scarcity of both predators.

According to AccuWeather’s annual fall forecast, another drier and warmer fall is expected in central Ontario this year. Falling warm has become the norm in recent years.

Looking ahead, Canada’s Climate Atlas predicts warming of nearly 2°C in fall temperatures by 2030. Already October 2021 was as much as 5°C warmer than average.

Looking ahead to the coming weeks, here is a list of wildlife events that are typical of autumn in the Kawarthas. Go out and enjoy the show. Also remember to vote for the official bird of Peterborough at connectptbo.ca/climate. The deadline is Monday.

September

  • Fall songbird migration is now at its peak. Be especially wary of warblers and vireos – often in the company of titmice – as they eat quietly in loose groups. Pishing brings them closer. See tinyurl.com/4969fuht. One of my favorite places to see migrating songbirds and summer wildflowers is Trent University’s South Drumlin Nature Area, both in the woods and along the canal.
  • Most birds moult after the breeding season, shedding old feathers and new feathers. Watch out for feathers on the ground.
  • The activity of the autumn webworm is striking. Watch out for the large silk webs spun by the larvae that encircle the tops of tree branches. They are not to be confused with tent caterpillar nests that do not appear until spring.
  • In moist, sunny areas, the orange, red-spotted jewel (touch-me-not) flowers stand out. Look for a thick seed pod, squeeze it and feel it explode between your fingers, scattering the seeds up to a meter away.
  • The first autumn colors are already visible. They come courtesy of Virginia creeper, staghorn sumac, chokecherry, dogwood and poison ivy.
  • Keep an eye out for newly hatched snapping turtles on roads and trails. Look for the “egg tooth” at the end of the snout that allowed it to break out of its shell.
  • As you walk in the woods on a warm day, listen to the high-pitched cry of a lone spring binocular. Light conditions similar to spring can inspire these vocalizations. In the fall I like to give peepers another name: autumn whistlers!
  • Take the time to appreciate the beauty of New England asters, especially where they grow next to goldenrod. As Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote in Braiding Sweetgrass, “Purple and gold, the heraldic colors of the king and queen of the meadow, a royal procession in complementary colors.”
  • The autumnal equinox occurs on September 23 and marks the beginning of fall. The moon and sun rise in the east and set in the west.

October

  • From late summer, deciduous trees form a corky abscission layer where the petioles meet the twigs. It stops water and nutrients to and from the leaves. This causes them to change color and fall.
  • Red and sugar maples usually reach their peak color around Thanksgiving weekend. Tragically, the beautiful wine-purple fall foliage of white ash is now largely absent from the landscape, a victim of the emerald ash borer.

  • This is a great month to see fungi such as pear-shaped puffballs (Apioperdon pyriforme), turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), and orange jelly (Dacrymyces chrysospermus). Everything can be found on dead tree trunks and stumps.
  • White pines drop some of their needles. Note that about a third of the needles furthest from the branch tips are now tan.
  • Sparrow migration takes center stage, making October one of the busiest months for backyard feeders. I always sprinkle millet or finches mix on the ground.
  • A tidal wave of yellow spreads across the landscape from mid to late October. It comes courtesy of aspen, balsam poplar, silver maple, white birch and, at the end of the month, tamarack.
  • Migratory diving ducks such as goldeneyes, buffalo heads, scaups and merganser stop on our larger lakes. Some of the best views are at Pengelly Landing on Rice Lake and at the Lakefield Sewage Lagoons on County Road 33.

November

  • At least some species of northern finches, such as redpolls and siskins, usually emerge in late fall. To find out which birds to expect this year, Google “winter finches forecast 2022-2023”. It should be available by the end of September.
  • Non-native trees and shrubs such as lilac and buckthorn, along with our native oaks, tamaracks and silver maples are about the only species that still retain foliage in early November.
  • Beavers are actively cutting and preserving large piles of branches – their winter food – on pond bottoms near the lodge. The posts are usually visible. The section of track east of Ackison Road is a place to see these.
  • Standard time returns on November 6 at 2 AM
  • The antlers of white-tailed deer are now matured and hardened. The deer are “in rut” – at the peak of their sexual readiness. Drive carefully as deer accidents are common this month.
  • Bird nests are now clearly visible. If you hang under a branch fork in an understory tree, you may find a beautiful, red-eyed cup-shaped vireo nest. It usually contains birch bark strips, wasp nest paper, and vegetable matter glued together with cobweb glue.
  • This is a great time of year to focus on evergreens from the forest floor and rockeries. Look for mosses, liverworts, lichens such as British soldiers, wood fern, rock polypody fern, and clubmoss. iNaturalist is the go-to identification app.
  • Bullet-like swellings, known as galls, are easily seen on goldenrod stems. If you open the gall with a knife, you will find the small, white larva of the goldenrod gall fly in it.

UPDATE CLIMATE BREAKDOWN

Heap: California has decided that all new vehicles sold in the state must be electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen fuel cell by 2035. By 2026, 35 percent of new cars sold must meet this requirement. In just 13 years, 9.5 million fewer conventional vehicles will be sold in the state. However, the move will require 15 times more chargers, a more robust energy grid and a choice of vehicles for all income levels. Up to 17 other states are expected to take similar measures. See tinyurl.com/3zd894zm

Upcoming events: On September 12 at 7pm, Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma will be the guest speaker at 4RG Meets. Puneeta is an author and guide to food and sustainability for anyone seeking low-waste, planet-friendly and delicious solutions for everyday cooking and eating. Her ‘Eating with Benefits’ approach is inspired by the scientific evidence surrounding food and its link to climate change. Register for this Zoom event at tinyurl.com/25by6esu

Carbon Dioxide: The atmospheric CO2 reading for the week ending Aug. 27 was 416.06 parts per million (ppm), compared to 414.29 ppm a year ago. Rising CO2 means more climate catastrophes ahead, such as the catastrophic fires, heat and drought in Europe this summer.

Climate update

Heap: California has decided that all new vehicles sold in the state must be electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen fuel cell by 2035. By 2026, 35 percent of new cars sold must meet this requirement. In just 13 years, 9.5 million fewer conventional vehicles will be sold in the state. However, the move will require 15 times more chargers, a more robust energy grid and a choice of vehicles for all income levels. Up to 17 other states are expected to take similar measures. See tinyurl.com/3zd894zm

Upcoming events: On September 12 at 7pm, Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma will be the guest speaker at 4RG Meets. Puneeta is an author and guide to food and sustainability for anyone seeking low-waste, planet-friendly and delicious solutions for everyday cooking and eating. Her ‘Eating with Benefits’ approach is inspired by the scientific evidence surrounding food and its link to climate change. Register for this Zoom event at tinyurl.com/25by6esu

Carbon Dioxide: The atmospheric CO2 reading for the week ending Aug. 27 was 416.06 parts per million (ppm), compared to 414.29 ppm a year ago. Rising CO2 means more climate catastrophes ahead, such as the catastrophic fires, heat and drought in Europe this summer.

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