What is that … Sign of Fall?

Waddells

The most melancholy of seasons is here.  Although we love the crisp, clean smell of the air touched with wood smoke, the absence of biting insects, and even the cool temperatures, there is no avoiding the fact that it is time to drain the water system at the cottage, clean out the fridge, and ensure the mouse traps are bated.  The maples are losing their leaves and the milkweed which provided so many photographic opportunities earlier in the year is bursting forth its seed pods.  It is time for us to return to the city.

We never want to leave the lake before seeing the young loons off on their first, perhaps lonely, expeditions south.  For us, it is counter-intuitive that adult loons fly south before the year’s young are ready to go … tough love.  Some adult loons depart as early as September; certainly none are here now, but as we wrote this article on October 14th, two juveniles were still lollygagging on the bay.  We could see lots of diving activity and assume the juveniles’ feeding skills are developed, but they still were not flying.  To be successful, juvenile loons must take off before freeze up.  The particular juvenile loon pictured below seems to be working up to flight.  Always we cheer them on, hoping for the best. It is usual that they are still here when we pack up and head for home for the winter.

Trumpeter swans certainly know how to fly.  Each year we see the trumpeters fly overhead both on their northern and southern sojourns.  Sometimes they stop on the bay for a few minutes or hours before carrying on.  This fall we saw two groups flying overhead, one of eight and another of three magnificent white swans.  The trio set down briefly on the bay.  Hopefully they will call in next spring.

We love watching and photographing the whitetail deer any time of year, but especially the fawns as they progress from wee, spotted newborns, through the fading of those spots over the summer, until even now as their coats darken to winter deep brown and thicken as protection for the coming winter.  It is easy to see where the deer browse our trees and shrubs over the winter and the grasses of our shore-side ‘lawn’ in the summer but only recently did we see and learn that whitetail deer also eat mushrooms.  Early in October, a beautiful array of mushrooms appeared at the side of an old poplar stump beside the boathouse; the next day it disappeared as we watched a doe and fawn eat the mushrooms down to the base of the mushroom stems.  Below is a picture of the mushrooms and one of the fawn chewing away.

Will the winter be long and cold?  Ask a woolly bear.  According to legend, the width of the woolly bear’s orange band can predict the severity of the coming winter.  Who knows?  A favourite of children, the woolly bear is one of the first caterpillars we learned about, during early years in elementary school.  Even our six-year-old niece excitedly pointed out a woolly bear crossing the road one autumn day.  Who knows why they cross the road; according to our viewing they seem to eat the same plants on either side.  Woolly bears overwinter under leaf litter and resume eating in the spring before pupating and transforming into Isabella tiger moths, one of those brown moths we have not yet learned to distinguish from the myriad of other brown moths we see during summer.

We checked Tamara Elder’s Mammals of Ontario to see what deer eat and learned that indeed they do eat mushrooms.  Also, we checked David L. Wagner’s Caterpillars of Eastern North America to ensure we were correct about when woolly bears pupate.