Autumn is a prime time for road-killed animals as many varieties of wildlife are on the move. Crossing the road is something that all living things do, from large and small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, to insects of all kinds. By driving slowly, I avoid taking the lives of scores of wildlife. One of the easiest ways we can help wildlife is to simply slow down while driving. Unfortunately, itís not as easy as it sounds. Slowing down any part of our lives in this day and age is a true challenge. A good place to learn a slower pace is behind the wheel.
The Painted turtles are gathering in the mud of the backwater to spend the winter. The warm sunshine has lured them to a partially submerged log where they can bask in the rays. They will soak up as much of the sunís life-giving energy that they can before hibernating for the long winter. A green tree frog bravely hops across the busy road to join his friends in the backwater. These still, backwater ponds are so important for the frogs and turtles, but itís too bad they often have to risk their lives crossing a road to get to them.
The most frequently seen wildlife in the road these days are the many wooly bear caterpillars who inch their way across the roads. These furry little caterpillars are reddish-brown in the middle and black at both ends. They evolve into a moth that is called the Banded wooly bear moth, an inconspicuous, grayish, nocturnal moth that is seldom seen. The moths may be seldom seen, but, in the fall, the woolly bear caterpillars are everywhere. I often find myself swerving to avoid them on the road.
The Brown bats are still out and about each evening searching the night sky for insects. Soon they will be moving into the attic for the winter, tucked away and warm in the rafters. The little Deer mice are also looking for a warm place to spend the winter. Of course my old school house looks pretty good to them. Fortunately, the resident house cat is good at persuading the mice to look somewhere else. There are good numbers of Box Elder bugs and Asian lady beetles that are finding shelter in the cracks and crevices of the old school house. There arenít many that actually find their way inside, so I donít pay much attention to them.
A wolf spider found his way into the house and crossed the floor trying to avoid foot traffic. I caught him and released him outside before C.A.T. saw him. Spiders are great fun for cats. Some insects hitch a ride into the house. A tiny Deer tick hides in the hairs of my friend Andyís arm. Ticks are unwanted guests for sure and autumn is when they are looking for a friendly host.
I planned to take some pictures of the beautiful full moon on Friday night, but it clouded over. Saturday night the skies were clear and the almost-a-full-moon was the center of attention. The moon always seems much larger in the autumn.
Saturday I enjoyed part of the day turning concord grapes into organic grape juice with my friend and Queen of the Kitchen, Collette. Those quart jars of grape juice will sure be nice to have this winter. No sweeteners are added to the juice. Itís plenty sweet just as it is. Collette says the best way to drink it is warmed up in a cup or mug; sheís got me convinced. I donít drink coffeeónever haveóso Iím always looking for something new in my cup. I like hot apple cider in a cup, too. The cup warms my fingers as well as my spirit on a cold winter morning.
While picking grapes I noticed a large black and white Bald-faced paper wasp sitting on one of the grape leaves. Now that the leaves have fallen from the trees, the wasps' basketball sized nests are exposed where they hang from the tree branches. Built by hundreds of natureís finest builders, the nests are truly one of natureís finest works of art,.
Iím often asked if itís okay to harvest one of these nests to use for display. The answer is ďsureĒ, but not until the wasps are gone, which means waiting until after a few hard freezes of at least 10 degrees. This is the only way to kill any remaining wasps inside the nest. I collected my first wasp nest fifty years ago. It was early November and not nearly cold enough. I found out what it was like to be driving down the road with a swarm of wasps in the car. Take my word for it: you donít want to go there.
The lovely red-orange Bittersweet berries are in full view on their leafless vines. I didnít think anything could match their colorful beauty when a bright orange butterfly landed nearby. So lovely is the Common buckeye that I forgot about the pretty Bittersweet. Buckeyes are most often seen near the water, and the Kickapoo River was only ten yards away.
Sunday morning I saw another beautifully colored butterfly, one that I hadnít seen for a couple of months and Iíve been wondering why. The Question Mark butterfly is always a special treat to see in the meadow. Could this mean there will be more of them next year?
A lone Shaggy Mane mushroom stands in the yard as though planted there, sticking out like a sore thumb in the green grass. In the neighborís pasture, a large, pure-white Giant puffball mushroom can be seen a hundred feet away. Both of these autumn mushrooms are edible, but only in moderation.
These past windy days have swept 80 per cent of all the leaves from the trees. The colors of fall now carpet the ground. The autumn landscape has taken on its winter look. Itís not hard to find beauty in this leafless landscape, but if there isnít any snow before Christmas, the brown countryside will be looking pretty dull. Snow always brightens things up. Itís the next best thing to having leaves on the trees.
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