The cold finally came to the Kickapoo Valley Friday night. Thursday night was the last time I will hear the crickets' chorus for another nine or ten months. Just before sunrise on Friday morning, the temperature was 28 degrees, and everything was covered with a thick white frost. Just after sun-up, the leaves from the Box elder trees began to fall like rain. Within an hour, the roof of the house was half covered with yellow leaves.
Most of the nighttime insects may be gone, but today in the warm sunshine, I saw one of the season's last Monarch butterflies. He reminded me of all the fond moments that these beautiful orange and black butterflies gave me this summer. It was so nice to see them here again, after being nearly completely absent in recent years. There weren't a lot of them this time, but enough to see them around every day. The Monarchs used some of the Milkweed plants in the meadow, and I was lucky enough to see a few caterpillars go through their metamorphosis, changing into adult butterflies.
Most of these regal Monarchs migrate each fall to warmer winter homes in Florida, Texas and Mexico. Unlike some species of butterflies who live only a few days, the hardy Monarchs may live for nine months.
I'm not the only one who has seen a huge cloud of Monarchs as they migrate together. I did see one particular cloud of Monarchs that completely covered a small apple tree. That was many autumns ago, but the vision of that tree all dressed in orange is still clear in my mind.
The exposed, dark branches of the Box elder tree are where the white mushrooms grow. They are the edible shelf fungus known as Oyster mushrooms. I love the way they stand out against the dark tree limbs, as though they were begging for someone to pick them.
Oyster mushrooms are very tasty when sliced up and browned in some butter or added to your favorite casserole. They should be rinsed under some running water to wash away any insects that may be hiding in a mushroom's gills.
I saw a large flock of Nighthawks passing through on their fall migration. These large, swallow-like birds are constantly searching for insects while airborne, and they hunt while they migrate. They seem to know when it's the right time to move south, and the frost usually comes just after they leave. Gone too is the Whip-poor-will, and he took his evening song with him. He is a cousin to the Nighthawks, and both make their living catching flying insects on the wing.
The frost has changed the daily lives of most of the wildlife. It's the first harsh reminder that winter is within shouting distance.
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