sunset Henry Park Vernon Autumn 2015 copyright Pamm Cooper

Sunset at Henry Park

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house”   Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Autumn seemed to last forever this year. Colors were especially vibrant on many species because the conditions that are clear, dry and cool but above freezing result in the best fall colors. Coupled with dry conditions this spring, plants produced chemicals that would result in more colorful leaves later in the year. Trees kept their leaves in color longer than usual and warm temperatures were somewhat responsible for this. Many oaks whose leaves are brown to yellowish brown in the fall were brilliant shades of red instead.


Scarlet red oak leaves November 2015

A sudden, severe drop in temperature during an abnormally warm October resulted in sudden leaf drop on some species of trees. In particular, gingkoes and black walnut had most of their leaves drop like stones while they were still green. Others had the leaves turn brown and shrivel up without falling to the ground. Especially hit this way were Japanese maples, locusts, chestnuts and some hickories. This anomaly happened because when the leaves on these species were about to turn color and finish the transition into late autumn dormancy, the leaf abscission process was interrupted or bypassed. Trees and shrubs that turned color before or after the cold snap completed the natural abscission process, while leaves are still clinging to some that could not.

Japanese maple leaves after major cold snap and frost October 2015

Japanese maple leaves shriveled and remaining on tree November 2015

New England experienced mast crops of acorns and hickory nuts this year and apples and crabapples were loaded for bear. Because of the great acorn supply, deer and turkeys are keeping a low profile so far, staying in the woods where the acorns are abundant. Some people that have chronic deer issues on their evergreens rake up acorns and deposit them within a wood line where deer can easily find them and stay off the rest of the property (maybe!).


Fully loaded crabapple tree

Birds that were eating winterberry and crabapples at this time last year- robins and cedar waxwings, among others- have left these fruits untouched. Part of the reason is because cedar berries and many seeds have also been available in large numbers. Worms were still near the surface of the ground recently and robins could snap them up. Moles have been troublesome this fall because of the worms and other insects that have remained high in the soil profile, but the weather has taken a turn as of mid- November, so that will change.

red breasted nuthatch copyright Pamm Cooper

Red-breasted nuthatch- a visitor from the north

Look and listen when outside this fall and winter. Many birds such woodpeckers, chickadees, brown creepers and nuthatches are very vocal in the fall and winter. Pileated woodpeckers have a notable clarion call and can be seen easier while the leaves are off the trees. Red-breasted nuthatches sometimes remain this far north for the winter and may appear at suet feeders. Look for bluebirds where there is plenty of open ground or old orchards. While some migrate, many are still here in the winter. Along the Connecticut shoreline it can make for an interesting day of birding as many coastal birds arrive for the winter. Look for a stray snow goose among flocks of Canada geese.

Female pileated copyright 2015

Female pileated woodpecker

If horseradish, radishes, as kale, Brussels sprouts or other brassica vegetables are still flourishing, be on the lookout for the imported cabbage worm caterpillars. They are still feeding and should be in the final caterpillar instar. Look for chewed leaves with veins remaining. Swiss chard and other leafy vegetables may also be under attack by armyworms and cutworms, which will feed on foliage this time of year before finding overwintering spots.

cabbage worm on horseradish November 14, 2015

Imported cabbage worm on horseradish November 2015

Bagworm alerts are in order. Check out arborvitae, junipers and other ornamental evergreens for the bags fashioned from pieces of the host plant’s foliage. Remove by hand if this is practical as the eggs are laid inside the bags and will hatch out next year and begin a new feeding frenzy of the caterpillars. When they finish eating the foliage of one plant, they will move off that plant and proceed to the next. In this way, they sometimes defoliate an entire hedge or other planting. This is not a surprise attack- a little vigilance will reveal the onset of this pest.

bagworms on ornamental evergreen copyright

Atlas blue cedar with bagworms

Check out the sky at dusk and dawn as spectacular reds, pinks and lavenders rule the northeast during the cold months. Extended dry conditions made leaves that much lighter and easy to rake, but Connecticut is about 5-6 inches below normal rainfall. Maybe winter will provide enough snow to make up the difference, but I opt for autumn rains to accomplish that job.

turkey in the snow


Pamm Cooper                                     All photos © 2015 Pamm Cooper

In autumn, don’t go to jewelers to see gold; go to the parks! ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Bush Hill Road in Pomfret, Connecticut October 10, 2015

Bush Hill Road in Pomfret, Connecticut October 10, 2015

Fall in New England is the time when trees, shrubs and vines provide colorful scenery, fruits are ripe, skies are deeper blues and birds and animals are busy reaping this year’s harvest. For this year, 2015, an extended drought from April- September wasn’t helpful for lawns, but enough rainfall seemed to occur about once a month to keep most other plants in good order. The recent hard frost has caused many leaves to drop since the weekend, but there is still plenty of good color.

Carpet of leaves from sugar maples

Carpet of leaves from sugar maples

This year proved to be a banner year for fruits and nuts in New England. Apples, crabapples, acorns, horse chestnuts, black walnuts, Redbud pods, blueberries, cedar and many other fruits and nuts are abundant in quantity and quality. Many songbirds rely on crabapples during the winter as other food supplies dwindle or become unavailable under snow cover. In my neighborhood, crows are eating the black walnuts that have fallen on roads and have been crushed open by cars. A year like this can make you crazy if oaks on your property are dropping acorns like nuggets in Maine. A good cardio- exercise, though, if you rake them up.

 So many acorns1                 So many acorns!

Leaves have been especially colorful this year, and many tree, like ginkos and black gums still have green leaves. But as days get even shorter and temperatures go down, they should begin to lose chlorophyll as photosynthesis is no longer a necessary process. Leaf colors come from three different pigments- chlorophyll (producing green), carotenoids ( creating yellows and orange) and anthocyanins (reds)  While the first two are present in leaves during the growing season, the anthocyanins are usually produced only late in the season, and only under certain circumstances. That is why leaf colors in autumn may or not be as colorful as in former years. Droughts can delay leaf color change by a few weeks, while wetter and warmer weather may subdue colors, making for a duller fall display. Severe frosts can kill the leaves and produce an early, rapid leaf drop. An autumn that has had abundant warm days and cool nights, like this one in 2015, can create a vibrant palette.

Virginia creeper in the fall

Virginia creeper in the fall

Yellows and oranges in leaves appear as chlorophyll disappears and carotenoids can now show through the leaves. Trees with abundant carotenoids, such as yellow poplars, sweet birch, some maples, and spicebush always produce yellow leaves. Sumacs turn brilliant red to orange. Sugar maples can have leaves that range from yellow to orange to red, often on the same tree. Swamp maples are usually first to change color and have red leaves. Hickories turn dull yellow to yellow- brown. Trees can often be identified from a distance in the fall by their leaf color and habitat. Water courses and wetlands can be easily delineated in the fall by observing the yellow leaves of spicebush and the red leaves of swamp maples nearby. Other trees, such as black gum, sassafras and sugar maples produce reds, and sometimes brilliant reds. Leaves of birches, ginkos and tulip trees turn bright to golden yellow. Oaks tend to change later, and are red, brown or russet and will often retain their juvenile lower leaves during the winter. Beech trees can retain a large number of their brown leaves throughout the winter, producing a distinctive rustling sound in the woods.

Staghorn sumac leaves

Staghorn sumac leaves

Long- distance migrating birds can lose up to a fourth of their body weight, and they seek seed and fruit sources high in fat content for the energy required for these flights. Insects also are eaten, but may not be as readily available as fruits and seeds. Fruits with high lipid and protein content help birds replenish energy quickly, and these are often eaten first. Viburnums (except the maple-leafed viburnum) have high fat and carbohydrate content, and poison ivy, black gum, cedar, and Virginia creeper fruit often disappear quickly as flocks of migrating birds devour them before moving on. Other fruits from sumac, bittersweet and winterberry are left for birds that overwinter, as these do not provide the fat and energy needed for migration flights.

In October, look for migratory birds such as Yellow- rumped warblers on cedars and other trees with small fruits. They are commonly found feeding on berries of poison ivy, black gum, the seeds of goldenrods, and many other plants. They are often found in flocks, like the waxwings, so if you see one, there are probably several more in the vicinity. Listen for their sharp chek call made while flying or when foraging a key call to learn both to locate birds and identify them. Crabapples are a good food source for the pine grosbeak, often a late migrator coming through in late fall or early winter. Chipping sparrows that bred here this summer have long since departed, but ones from northern are now coming through from the north, and they can be seen where seeds from grasses, goldenrods, wildflowers and other plants are abundant. In the fall, look in disturbed areas and fields or woodland edges for flocks of these small sparrows.

Yellow-rumped warbler feeding on red cedar fruit

Yellow-rumped warbler feeding on red cedar fruit

The Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperis virginiana, is a tree can be found in many old cemeteries where it was planted for its ornamental value. But it is also a valuable wildlife plant as well, supplying deer with edible foliage and twigs, and birds with its blue berry-like fruit. These trees produced an incredible amount of fruit this year and many birds can be found eating them at this time. Cedar Waxwings were named for thneir affinity with the red cedar which provides shelter as well as food for these birds. Listen for their high pitched whistle made both when in flight and when perched or feeding. Bluebirds and robins as well as many other birds will also eat the fruits, sometimes later in the winter, though. Last year juncos arrived early and cleaned out a lot of the small bluish cones before other migrating birds arrived or passed through.

White oak acorns are a valuable wildlife food source in fall and winter, as they have less tannins than the red oak group and so are less bitter. Deer, turkeys and bears may restrict their winter territories to oak stands in years where acorns are especially abundant, as acorns tend to be high in carbohydrates for the energy needed to survive the winter. White oak group trees also produce heavy, large acorns every year, while red oak group trees produce smaller acorns in alternate years. White oak acorns also germinate in the fall, but produce no cotyledons until next spring.

Autumn landscape

Autumn landscape

Autumn is a good time to identify trees and other plants by their fruits and leaf color. Oaks can be easy to distinguish by family- the white oak family leaves have rounded lobes, and red oak family leaves have pointed lobes, sometimes with veins extending beyond the leaf margins. Acorns can be tricky, but the white oak group usually has larger acorns than the red oak group. Of course acorns will fall directly under the tree that they grew on, so the fruit plus leaves and bark and other identification features will all be there.

Kentucky coffee trees, Catalpa, Mimosa and locusts all have characteristic pods. Jack-in-the-pulpit berry clusters produce a flash of bright red in an otherwise dull monochrome in the forest understory, and some ferns form striking rusty brown stands nearby. Tulip trees are the tallest deciduous trees in North America and their distinctive leaves have a squared-off tip and are golden yellow in the fall. Their fruits are cone-like aggregates of winged carpels that open from November through March and can disperse prolific amounts of seeds.

Black walnut, tulip tree leaf and carpels, horse chestnut, Jack-in-the-pulpit berries, mimosa pod, Kentucky coffee tree pods, Saucer magnolia seeds

Black walnut, tulip tree leaf and carpels, horse chestnut, Jack-in-the-pulpit berries, mimosa pod, Kentucky coffee tree pods, Saucer magnolia seeds

Getting out to observe the autumn display of color, texture and wildlife can be accomplished from a car, a hiking trail, or maybe even your own backyard. Enjoy it while it lasts, which this year has been a delightfully long time. Even raking leaves may be a little less burdensome if it becomes more of an opportunity to appreciate the leaf colors and shapes than just a monotonous chore. Just sayin….

raking leaves abstract Pamm Cooper photo

Pamm Cooper       All photos copyright 2015 Pamm Cooper