“The crickets still sing in October. And lilly, she’s trying to bloom. ‘Tho she’s resting her head on the shoulder of death, she still shines by the light of the moon.” Kevin Dalton

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Red maples show how they got their common name

If you know where to look, October has drama unfolding every day. Autumn isn’t just about the colorful leaves. Don’t forget the drama in the midst of them. The last of the migrating birds are coming through, catbirds are leaving as soon as pokeberry fruit is disappearing, gray tree frogs are ready to call it a night and bees are getting the last nectar of the season from any flowers that remain. Virginia creeper and poison ivy have berries that are ripe now and provide an important food source for both migrating and resident birds. Insects are becoming fewer in numbers, and who will miss those mosquitoes and gnats that were so annoying for such a long time this year? Moving into autumn provides a relief from some things and an enjoyable period of cooler weather and deeper blue skies and a palette of warmer colors in the landscape.

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Virginia creeper climbing up two tree trunks

For instance, you may notice the sweet aroma of cotton candy or burnt sugar in the breeze while walking near a Katsura tree that is losing its apricot-colored, heart-shaped leaves. The Katsura tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, is noted for both its dapper form, warm autumn color, and especially for the scent of its fallen leaves. Leaves that are still on the tree do not have this aroma as strongly as those that have fallen and turned brown, but as the chlorophyll production stops, malt sugars are now the prominent component of the Katsura tree leaves. The fragrance that floats in the air surrounding this non-native tree is stronger on dry days.

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Katsura tree leaves have a strong burnt sugar smell after they fall from the tree

For a plant of an entirely different nature, head for the salt marshes of the shoreline in early autumn. Splashes of brilliant red among the otherwise brown grasses and sedges in the coastal landscape are most likely glasswort, Salicornia spp, a fleshy low- growing salt tolerant plant with scale- like leaves that form on segments of fleshy stems. Related to certain cactus, the stems are edible when young, and are often eaten pickled- thus its common name is pickleweed or sea pickle. One of the first plants to colonize bare areas in marshes with high salinity (pannes), glasswort can often form large stands, adding a bursts of brilliant red in the otherwise drab late season marshes.

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Glasswort adds a splash of red in a salt marsh

When preparing to pull annuals out of pots or bring large potted plants indoors, you may find some hitchhikers aboard. Gray tree frogs often decide to pass the winter in the mulch or soil in large planters or pots. If the potted plants are brought indoors intact, after a while, as plants may need watering, a little trill may come from below the plants. This would be the gray tree frog that thought it had the perfect place to spend the winter. If you discover them in the house in the late fall or winter, it is best to leave them be until spring. Then bring the pot out again, and they should hop away to better quarters. Do not put the frogs outdoors after weather has turned cold, as they will not be able to acclimatize properly and they will perish.

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Sleepy gray tree frog removed from a large pot was returned to the landscape in October-plenty of time to acclimate for the winter

 

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars are still around, but not for long. Black swallowtail caterpillars and spicebush caterpillars are both abundant right now, and should be approaching the last instar before forming their chrysalises. On October 12, my friend and I found three spicebush caterpillars on the same sassafras tree, and two were even sharing the same leaf shelter. As leaves lose their color, caterpillars will not eat them, and they may perish before entering their pupal stage. But these cats should be fine as the host plants for both species are still in fine form.

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Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar turned gold before forming a chrysalis

Last Friday- October 7, 2016- there was a heavy fog in the morning. As the fog slowly lifted there was evidence that spiders were very active the day or night before. Webs and the start of webs appeared everywhere, it seemed- on shrubs, herbaceous plants, trees and man- made objects. Dew drops on the silk made them even more spectacular as they glittered like thousands of little diamonds. That is about the only thing I may find delightful about spiders, though, even though they serve a good purpose outdoors. That’s right, I am an arthropod snob.

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Spider web strands of silk in morning fog

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Last Friday- October 7, 2016- there was a heavy fog in the morning. As the fog slowly lifted there was evidence that spiders were very active the day or night before. Webs and the start of webs appeared everywhere, it seemed- on shrubs, herbaceous plants, trees and man- made objects. Dew drops on the silk made them even more spectacular as they glittered like thousands of little diamonds. That is about the only thing I may find delightful about spiders, though, even though they serve a good purpose outdoors. That’s right, I am an arthropod snob.

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Praying mantid hiding in asters caught a honey bee

In October, crickets are singing in the night, sometimes joined by the few katydids that still remain. Birds that have ceased their breeding songs still can be heard in their contact calls. Catbirds have left, but a few stragglers may still be seen and heard. The large darner dragonflies migrate south, but some are still around, and the usual house invaders- boxelder bugs, lady beetles and brown marmorated stink bugs – can be seen on sunny sides of buildings waiting for you to open a door.

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Closed gentians along a water way- a late-blooming native wildflower

As autumn increases in cooler weather, duller landscape colors and shorter daylight periods, try not to be a SAD sufferer. Look to the skies at dawn and dusk for spectacular sunrises and sunsets that occur as the atmosphere gets colder. Enjoying the warm, red colors of the sunrises and sunsets of autumn and winter may be a countermeasure to the otherwise dismal aspect of the landscape. And a brighter start to the day and a warmer beginning to the evening is a great antidote to those of us who look forward to spring while having to endure the winter. So…

Listen! the wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves. We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves. ~Humbert Wolfe

Pamm Cooper                 all photos copyright 2016 Pamm Cooper