The beautiful fall colors have peaked, and after a week of afternoon rains and morning frosts, much of that color is now on the ground. Today was sunny, fifty degrees and windy, blowing the dry leaves off the tress in tumbling waves of orange and yellow. They leave behind them the dark bare branches of the big hardwood trees. Their coats of leaves are gone and the now naked arms reach for the sky while their feet are covered with Autumn's splendor.
A Bald eagle perches in the leafless branches of a cottonwood tree. Below him flows the west fork of the Kickapoo River. He watches patiently for a fish to appear. If he were in the same spot a week ago, I probably wouldn't have see him hidden in the yellow leaves. Eagles have nowhere to hide once the leaves are gone. They will be quite easy to spot from now until next spring, when the leaves return. Many of the eagles will spend the winter here in southwest Wisconsin. As long as they have some open water and can catch a fish to eat, they are happy.
The frost has claimed the large, lush leaves on the pumpkin vines. They quickly shrivel up in the sun, exposing all the pumpkins that weren't picked, some of which are still quite green. If the winter is hard, with a lot of snow, the deer will be grateful for these.
The ground won't freeze until the second week of December at the earliest, and the ground moles are still busy digging tunnels in the yard. When the ground freezes and the worms go down deeper, the moles will follow them. They will stay quite active all winter below the frozen ground.
Soon the fields of soybeans will dry and fade to beige, but for now they are a sea of yellowed-orange that covers the valley.
Under the eave of a neighbor's house we found a big surprise. A colony of bald-faced hornets had decided it was a good place to build their home—a very large paper hive that took a month to build in mid-summer. It is truly a work of art, by some of nature's best architects. There is only one entry hole in the hive, which will not be used again. The hive won't survive the winter, and neither will the adult hornets. The young hornets of late summer will spend the winter asleep elsewhere.
I had twenty guests join me on a short walk down nature's trail. The Boy scout troop from La Farge, led by Scoutmaster Jim Pierce, were out doing what they do best—rubbing shoulders with nature. They stirred some distant memories of when I would join my fellow Boy scouts for an autumn hike, exploring the natural world with my friends and building a lifetime of memories.
So often I'm grateful for simply being in the right place at the right time. This morning, I was in the right place inside the house when I glanced out the window. At that moment a young White-tailed buck came prancing into the yard. He acted like he owned the place, and walked right up to the house. He sniffed around the flowerbeds and nibbled some grass, then up went his white tail and off he bounded into the woods. He was an odd fellow, with one of his fork antlers broken off two inches from his head, and he favored his right foreleg a little. I shouldn't have any trouble recognizing this guy if I see him again, if he makes it through the coming hunting season.
There is still time to plant some flower bulbs. Imagine how nice it would be to have some pretty tulips or daffodils when the snow melts in the spring. After a long, cold winter without much color, those first spring flowers can be so nice to see.
There are still some white-throated sparrows moving through the area, and a single male towhee comes to the feeders each day. The "winter birds" showed up last Wednesday. That's what I call the juncos, because they aren't here in the summer but come down from the far north to spend the winter. It's good to see them, but it's a sure sign that colder days are ahead.
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